Hopping Hampton: Find Great Dining in Hampton Beyond the Beach

There's more to Hampton than the beach scene

When a town or area of town gains enough good restaurants it reaches a point of critical mass. Everybody wins as folks are drawn to the area by the synergy of new chefs and new offerings.

Hampton, not the beach but the Lafayette Road area, has become a restaurant hot spot with the addition of three new restaurants within a few short blocks. You could consider the venerable Old Salt at 490 Lafayette Rd. the anchor point, but nearby are the new The Community Oven, Savory Square Bistro and the Bai Cha Thai Restaurant. Within walking distance also is a new location for Ron Jillian's and a cozy wine bar upstairs at the 401 Tavern.

Heading south on Lafayette, starting at number 853, the new location for Ron Jillian's Italian Bar and Grill is bright and clean space offering more room for servers to maneuver and a larger bar for patrons. Find Italian-American classics, from pasta dishes to pizza, all resounding in a good garlicky flavor. They are open for lunch and dinner.

Across the parking lot is The Community Oven. Owner Shane Pine wants his diners to have plenty of room to spread out at this new wood-fired pizza place. Oversized tables and plenty of floor space, a fairly large bar and even some patio seating enable a short wait even on busy nights. Shades of gray is the décor theme – finished concrete floors, bar and table tops are punctuated with a brick oven that churns out about eight varieties of pizza. Pine is most proud of his pepperoni pizza made with Applewood pepperoni. The sausage maker use sustainably-raised pork and without excessive fats. His chicken wings are also a crowd pleaser – crispy and juicy.

The Oven keeps about 16 local beers on tap including the newest nano-brewer on the block (literally), Blue Lobster Brewing, right next door due to open toward the end of June.

Remodeling the space left by Ron Jillian's at 822 Lafeyette Rd., Alice and William Bowen have opened Fores Restaurant recently. They specialize in old-time comfort food including lobster pie and baked stuff shrimp.

The Old Salt Restaurant at the corner of Lafayette and Rte. 27 was built in 1740 and exudes Colonial charm out of every ancient pore. The readers of this magazine love their Sunday brunch and thick creamy chowder as both were Readers' Poll winners in this year's Best of NH.

Bai Cha Thai Restaurant at 442 Lafayette is a nice addition to the scene. I wish there was one on every corner. The food is fresh and spiced to your liking. Offerings include a variety of curries, Indonesian fried rice and noodle bowls. The dishes are nicely composed and garnished with fresh herbs. The Larb Pla Tod Grop ($15.95) is an upscale version of a fish taco without the shell. A fried fish fillet is topped with red onion, peppermint, scallions, dried chilies, ground, dried rice and soaked with lime juice – very light and refreshing. The space is bright and clean combining two storefronts for seating area.

Savory Square Bistro
Photo by susan laughlin

At Depot Square, Chef Ron Boucher has opened Savory Square Bistro, a restaurant and bar, as part of his Chez Boucher Culinary Arts Training Center. Students are given real-world experience as they are directed by Boucher and his staff. The menu is French-inspired to utilize skills gained by students in their six-month certification program in either culinary or pastry arts.

The bar area, on the left as you enter, was nicely designed, complete with a historic mahogany bar and high-top tables.

The bar and restaurant are only open Wednesday through Saturday and for Sunday brunch. The evening menu offers burgers and sandwiches for lighter fare and full entrées, with everything from to flat iron steak au poivre ($19.99) to duck l'orange ($21.99) to a sea scallop and wild mushroom risotto ($24.99).

Hagan's Grill, across from Depot Square, offers a tempting menu with influences from French, Italian and American comfort food. Both the dining area and bar are cozy and inviting. Open at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The 401 Tavern at 401 Lafayette Rd. fills the historic space of the former Widow Fletcher's, with an old-style tavern, sports bar and outdoor deck for drinking. Newer is a wine room upstairs where co-owner Dan "Dasi" Lanio and his wife Paula run wine dinners and stock the bar with her favorite wines. On the ceiling and walls is an interesting array of empty wine bottles – 1,200 in all, and all different. Paula is in the process of getting her sommelier certificate and aims to diversify the wine list. When national wine makers are in the region for larger wine festivals, the 401 Wine Loft is now on their list of stops.

The Galley Hatch Restaurant at 325 Lafayette Rd. is well known for their bakery and desserts. In addition to a classic American comfort food at reasonable prices, they have recently opened Kay's Kafé (open at 6:30 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends) offering muffins, pastries and hot breakfast sandwiches.

Lastly, heading out toward the interstate via Rte. 27 is Bontá, a highly regarded fine dining establishment that has changed chefs and management with the seasons. I think they have it right now. Chef Kevin Riley, formerly of Brookstone Grille in Derry, is on board, and here he is fully able to strut his stuff. Presentations are beautiful (see page 58) and he has re-envisioned the menu to appeal to the casual diner too, with interesting appetizers including veal polpette. The room itself is very seductive and it is a pleasure to sit at the bar or the low-lit dining room. The barkeep, Al, has been on board since day one. This place is a bit hard to find, so listen carefully to your GPS.

For more information about Hampton and Hampton Beach businesses and events visit experiencehamptonnh.org.

Categories: Features