Explore Hampton Ahead of the Summer Crowds
With spring in the air, we begin to think of weekends at the beach, even though it’s a bit early for ocean swimming
On our way to Hampton, we kicked off the weekend — and the summer — with dinner in the upstairs bar at The Carriage House in Rye. To match the ocean view, we ordered native sea scallops Florentine in a champagne cream over spinach and the signature Island Lady — pan-roasted lobster, sea scallops and vegetables flamed in Pernod.
We awoke to the sun streaming into our east-facing Garden Rose Suite at The Victoria Inn, on a quiet street in Hampton, and drank our first cup of coffee on the glass-enclosed sunporch that was part of our room. Breakfast began with raisin scones and warm poached pears, continuing with thick wedges of savory quiche. Our respective coffee and tea were served in full-sized china pots. We were a 15-minute walk from North Beach, where we beachcombed for a bit before noticing what looked distinctly like a World War II observation tower high on the headland of Boar’s Head. Curiosity got the best of us so, before we set out to explore farther up the coast, we found the cement tower, largely in its original form, one of the few remaining from that era. Driving north along the coast, we admired the grand “cottages” in the Little Boar’s Head Historic District and followed Rte. 11 to North Hampton.
Luckily for us, The Airfield Café is open until 2 p.m. because it took almost that long to feel hungry after our Victoria Inn breakfast. By then we were ready to enjoy hot pastrami and a sandwich brimming with tender chicken while we watched planes land and take off just outside the window. Inside were model planes, flight-themed advertising and a new addition: vintage aircraft modeled from soda cans by a local craftsman and for sale here.
What remained of the afternoon we spent engrossed in the many displays at the Tuck Museum, a complex of several buildings that reflect Hampton’s nearly four centuries of history. Here we saw early fire equipment, tools for haying in the salt marshes and antique furniture. We also learned about Goody Cole, who was convicted of witchcraft in 1656, and in 1838 officially restored to Hampton citizenship. A little late, I’d say. A bit of Hampton Beach nostalgia was the restored and fully furnished 1938 beach cottage that was originally part of Young’s Cabins on Ocean Avenue.
We arrived in time for the 6:30 tour of the shiny new Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, where we learned about the art of brewing while we stood under 270-barrel fermenting tanks. After a couple of restrained samples (they weren’t stingy, but we had the rest of the evening ahead of us), we returned for cider and fresh-baked cookies with fellow guests in The Victoria Inn’s elegant parlor. (Editor's note: After this issue went to press Smuttynose opened its restaurant, Hayseed, just across the parking lot from the brewery in the renovated farm house. Check it out!)
We’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Chef Ron Boucher’s cooking classes and Savory Square Bistro in downtown Hampton, but not as good as the dinner we ate there. I’m not a great fan of poutine, but when I see it as an appetizer on a menu of this caliber, my curiosity wins. Wow! The frites were thin, crisp and creamy inside; the squeaky cheese curds didn’t inundate the dish, chards of rendered smoky bacon scattered throughout; and in place of the usual gravy was a rich, dark demi-glace that transcended any I’d ever tasted. Tim’s escargot Bourguignon was meltingly tender, with a hint of brandy and served in a toasted baguette basket. Our highly informed server explained that the signature dishes on the menu were those created by Chef Boucher, while the rest were by Chef Aaron Duvall. Anxious to sample both, we ordered the signature grilled duck breast in a brandy-orange glaze with peach chutney rice, and Chef Duvall’s tenderloin Bordelaise. The menu description couldn’t do justice to the blend of flavors and textures in this complex dish of rare tenderloin, whole wild mushrooms, Great Hill bleu cheese and a red-wine demi-glace. Beneath this was a mound of thin strips of lightly steamed zucchini. The accompanying sour-cream-chive croquettes were delicious, but superfluous after my poutine. The duck was meltingly tender and flavorful, the sauce beautifully balanced; roasted baby root vegetables surrounded the duck.
For breakfast we chose plates of fluffy scrambled eggs with crispy bacon and toast from a menu that included four different entrées. Had we been here a month later, we would have spent the day on a boat with Al Gauron Deep Sea Fishing, but they don’t open until May, so we took our kayaks into shallower waters of the tidal creeks at Odiorne Salt Marsh.
New Hampshire’s oldest winery, Jewell Towne Vineyards, is in South Hampton, so we visited their reproduction 18th-century post-and-beam barn for a tour and tasting, after which we browsed among the works of local artists in their balcony gallery. By then it was mid-afternoon and we were finally hungry, so before heading home we stopped for an early dinner of baked stuffed jumbo shrimp and a good old-fashioned seafood platter with creamy coleslaw at Petey’s Summertime Seafood in Rye.