Eat, Drink and Stay in Wolfeboro
Fall in love with Wolfeboro
Temperatures may have dipped, but the Lakes Region is just as beautiful in fall. Combine autumn leaves reflecting in the water with the charm of a resort town with fine dining and you have a place worth the drive (or boat trip).
As you drive into Wolfeboro, you will see a sign that proudly announces that this is “America’s First Resort.” The town was chartered by Gov. Wentworth in 1759, and the fact that he built a mansion on Smith Pond, now Lake Wentworth, is the basis for the claim. (Hope he enjoyed a swim and caught a few trout while visiting his summer home.) Unfortunately, he missed the great restaurants and shops that now populate the town by a few hundred years.
I’ve always liked Wolfeboro — it’s one heck of a walkable downtown. It’s just a couple of blocks from the public library to the Harvest Market to Bradley’s Hardware for residents, and a skip and a jump from the Pickering House Inn to The Wolfeboro Inn, with loads of dining and shopping opportunity in between.
The dining scene here, as is happening in other towns, is a changing feast. Many family restaurants have stood the test of time and remain popular. Some change names and families, but serve the same customers. Morrissey’s Front Porch seems to be Wolfeboro’s version of Manchester’s Puritan Backroom, with comfort foods like fried seafood, turkey dinners and haddock stew served in a cozy setting. Roasted chicken and fresh boiled or stuffed lobsters are on the menu all year. The best deal may be to add a 1-pound lobster to any meal for a mere $14.99. There is also a separate space for ice cream window service.
Another contender for longevity is East of Suez, which has roots back to the Eisenhower administration. Well, 1967 to be exact, but there is a signed photo of Ike in the hallway. The menu is a delightful mix of pan-Asian tastes, all offered in their home-like restaurant and screened porch. The restaurant does, unfortunately, close for the season sometime after Labor Day.
Old sentimental favorite the Yum Yum Shop, painted in bright blue and white inside and out, was sold by the Kellys but Peter Kelly was hired back to help run the store. The familiar gingerbread men remain available, as does an entire 20-foot-long case of cupcakes, cookies and cream-filled donuts. You can also find several selections of their own bread, including anadama. The welcoming patio out front offers picnic table seating for their ice cream walk-up windows, and there is a small patio in back with views of the lake for a quick lick.
There are plenty of breakfast spots to stop at right on Main Street. Adjacent to Made on Earth, one of my favorite shops in town, is Lydia’s Café. They are well-known for their blueberry pancakes and No Name wrap made with baked beans, salsa, avocado and cream cheese. Also nearby is a new eatery called North Main Café that offers an abundance of baked sweets and breakfast sandwiches served all day, along with upscaled avocado toast made to your liking. Down the street, Downtown Grille offers full breakfast options including a variety of ways to enjoy eggs Benedict. Sip a great coffee in their spacious café or outside deck with prime viewing of the lake and Cate Park.
Owners occasionally want to retire, but shuttered restaurants become business opportunities for the next generation of ambitious cooks.
La Boca Bakery owners and chefs, Liz Rice and Steven López, opened La Boca Restaurant in the former Strawberry Patch space while the bakery replaced the Wolfe’s Den. They offer an adventurous menu that changes daily. You might be able to find paella or Prince Edward Island mussels with a savory sofrito broth or a housemade pâté — if you’re lucky. For entrées, you can find anything from shrimp and grits to chicken Provençal to Thai red curry, all with the common denominator of bold flavor showcasing a love of world cuisine. For lunch, enjoy creative sandwiches made on their own bread, plus housemade soups. The couple run a series of Passport dinners off-season, each focusing on far-flung world cuisine. Chef Liz recently won top honors in The Wolfeboro Top Chef competition held at the Wolfeboro Inn.
Across the street, Nolan’s Brick Oven Bistro is packing them in with their thin-crust, hand-tossed pizza and a bustling atmosphere. There is a large bar, a fair amount of table seating, and additional seating on the patio on the left side. On the right is Mckenzie’s Pub at Nolan’s with a separate entrance, pub atmosphere and patio seating facing the adjacent courtyard. Owner Caroline Nolan recently purchased and overhauled the Cider Press at the Barn in South Wolfeboro.
Opportunities to dine with waterfront views line both sides of downtown Main Street, with the Back Bay hosting both Wolfeboro Dockside and Dairy Bar and Wolfetrap Grill & Raw Bar, the latter now owned by the McDevitt family. Garwoods Restaurant & Pub is located right on Main Street and is owned and run by the Roark and Ling families. I suggest checking out the back patio for a pleasant spot for a drink on a sunny late afternoon. Jo Green’s Garden Café, owned by Chris Ahlgren, also offers lake views from its upper deck.
Side streets running north off of Main Street are worth exploring too. On Railroad Street, Butternuts Good Dishes is basically a homegoods store packed with giftable kitchen gadgets, but their front deli case is filled with the makings for a cook’s lunch with fresh salads, mac and cheese, homemade soups and desserts. This is also a good place to buy locally made Winnipesaukee Chocolates bars, each featuring a bit of Lakes Region lore on the label. Who knew that Madame Chiang Kai-shek once lived in the area? Her dark chocolate with ginger is one of my favorites.
Across the street, Gatherings by Stellaloona looks like a gift shop, and it is, but you will also find a deli case filled with beautiful French pastries, including buttery breakfast croissant sandwiches with cheese and ham, must-try decadent brownies and more eye-popping treats, both savory and sweet. The owners focus on catering for private gatherings, but the shop is filled with great hostess gifts and delightful serving pieces. I couldn’t pass up a salt and pepper set shaped like eggs in an egg carton.
If you travel a block up Union Street, you will find El Centenario. The restaurant opened in 2007 in the former cozy space of the first Wolfe Den. You will find a real taste of Mexico here. Authentic is often a point of view or conflated history lesson, so that designation is fairly problematic. Sure, chef and owner Izzy Lira was born in New York, but he trained with his father and has made many trips back to the city of his ancestors to explore and learn local culinary history and techniques. That being said, the menu offers many real Mexican dishes besides the usual Tex-Mex offerings. Chef Izzy is well-known for his mole, a rich and spicy savory sauce accented with chocolate. His chile en nogada is a picadillo-stuffed poblano pepper graced with a slightly sweet, creamy walnut sauce and dotted with fresh arils of pomegranate, a traditional dish of Mexico originating in Pueblo. Don’t forget to check out the tableside guacamole service where the waiter comes to the table with a cart of ingredients and you are left to direct the show.
Like every other town in New Hampshire, local craft beer thrives in Wolfeboro. Lone Wolfe Brewing Co. on Mill Street rotates 10 of their beers on tap. This beer hall features a locally milled 27-foot live edge bar top and authentic, communal beer hall tables imported from Kulmbach, Germany. You can also find margaritas made with fresh-squeezed lime and local produce in the limited dining menu.
The other brewery, Burnt Timber Brewing and Tavern, also a few blocks off Main Street, offers about six of their brews on tap and a limited, but tasty menu, in a space adjacent to Mise en Place, a fine dining venue. It’s a strange juxtaposition and a sign of the changing tastes of the land.
Mise en Place has managed to hang in there with white tablecloths and a French-inspired menu offered by the chef/owner. Other fine dining or other upscale options exist if you wander way from the water. Scott Ouelette’s O Bistro at The Inn On Main offers a laid-back dining experience and a friendly bar frequented by the locals and inn guests. The menu offers upscale comfort food — steaks, chops and oysters Rockefeller.
Back in town, The Wolfeboro Inn has a comfy bar where hundreds of mugs hang from the ceiling as part of their General’s mug club. Wolfe’s Tavern has a historic feel with exposed timbers and offers comfort foods with an upscale twist. On the fall menu, Executive Chef Shawn Deegan especially likes the New Hampshire mushroom ravioli and the braised venison stroganoff with fresh egg noodles and dill. They frequently host a variety of events, including a Downton Abbey-inspired dinner scheduled for October 26.
If you venture to the south end of Main Street, you will find the recently renovated Pickering House Inn, which offers tastefully designed accommodations plus breakfast for guests at a unique breakfast bar. The attached historic barn is used for private events and a few special dinners open to the public. The restoration has already won many awards (including a Best of NH Editor’s Pick in 2019).
Wolfeboro is, at its heart, a family destination with a variety of attractions beyond the lake. It’s a great place to get your museum fix with the Wright Museum of WWII, The Libby Museum of Natural History, Clark House Museum run by the Wolfeboro Historical Society, and the New Hampshire Boat Museum. Thankfully, there is something good to eat after the tour is over from any of the many family restaurants in town.