Where to Eat Along Rte. 125 From Epping to Rochester
Discovering the new and revisiting the classic along Route 125
The stretch of highway between Epping and Rochester is both scenic with rolling farmlands and newly developed with contemporary strip malls. In between are historic buildings, landmark restaurants and enterprising individuals.
I headed up Rte. 125 with breakfast in Rochester as my first goal. With a little online research, an array of dining options had been winnowed down to a select three. Along the way I noticed other stop-worthy spots, but as I had learned from previous trips, pressing on was the right thing to do. Maybe there would be time on the way back. That’s the good thing about returning on the same roads.
Arriving in Rochester, I immediately got lost. This city must have been designed by a drunken spider. The web of roads involves several center points and deflects out from there on one-way streets. The town obviously has French-Canadian roots. I twice passed a private club called, what else but, “Le Club.” Of course, I think in my best Pink Panther imitation. Eventually, I found South Main Street east of North Main Street, or so it seemed. My destination was just as described on all the foodie sites — a breakfast mecca for locals set in a congested parking lot.
I had chosen Benedict’s Grill () because eggs Benedict is the ultimate breakfast — and a good harbinger of morning happiness, if done right. The place was packed on a Saturday morning and obviously with locals. They knew, right off, the thing to do was sign in on the clipboard mounted near the door. Owner Alicia Frye was continually helping people get seated. The vibe was very much mom-and-pop breakfast joint with friendly chatter, a good splay of windows for light, plus homey décor with table and counter seating.
A crowded parking lot can be a good sign, plus in this case, if you find a spot your wait will not be too long. In about 10 minutes I was shown a seat at the counter. The service is quick — had the coffee and menu in no time. I noticed about eight or so Benedicts on the menu, but most seemed like typical offerings with spinach, asparagus or guacamole. The blackboard specials were very appealing and I chose the tandoori chicken Benedict with hummus and a curried Hollandaise sauce. Turned out it was very flavorful. The Hollandaise sauce was not my favorite rendition, as it was more cheesy than lemony, but with the curry spices it worked.
Other popular blackboard specials that are often repeated are the taco scramble and strawberry cheesecake French toast. While dining, I saw some beautiful pot pies go out the door and a batch of freshly fried cake donuts being taken across the street to sell at a local Saturday market. “Alicia makes them by special request,” said a server. Maybe she should put them on the menu too.
Alicia and her husband Ron, the chef, have been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, opening Benedict’s about 12 years ago. Some of their clientele have been following them for years, says Alicia, adding, “I have seen families grow up through the years.” It’s that kind of business — family to family. But, even if you are a first-timer, you’ll soon feel the love. Total strangers helped me with my camera, my dropped glove and overlooked my annoying stares at their food.
Following North Main Street around those infernal three-block roundabouts, I located a relatively new gastropub. Revolution Taproom & Grill, opened last October in the location of the former Fat Tony’s in the heart of downtown. Rochester’s Main Street is a step back in time. Fortunately, there aren’t many vacancies, though the nearby Publick House recently closed. But retail options on the block are an odd assortment of formal wear, vintage video games at Collec-tiques, historic vinyl at Skele-Tone Records and old comics at Jetpack. Certainly it’s a hot destination for those living in an alternative, but nostalgic, universe. All right, all right, all right, I confess to picking up some “Star Wars” figures.
But step into Revolution and Rochester looks like it won the war. At least owner Mark Marchionni had the confidence to put money into a rundown site and give people a reason to come to town. He had been told Rochester was a little rough around the edges, but he says, “I’m from Philadelphia, where there are areas you just should not walk through. This town has only small problems in comparison.”
Marchionni had experience owning and running brewpubs and wanted to make beer the focus of this enterprise. Now he has a great choice of 40 beers on tap, with a few local and the other top choices including Lagunitas Brewing Company, Victory Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery. The back of the bar also sports a nice selection of whiskeys and bourbons. It’s always good to have a nice brew in hand, but the food and the ambiance are the real stars.
The space is nicely arranged with no area so large it seems impersonal. A perfect blend of brick, barn board and metal give the rooms a very pleasant feel. Upstairs, a new game room offers darts, pool tables and a Wii. For some reason I just wanted to sit and stay the entire afternoon under the gaze of the George Washington portrait. I guess the General is there to free diners from the tyranny of boring meals.
The inspired and somewhat revolutionary menu is under the direction of Executive Chef Dale Raymond, formerly of the Eagle Mountain House in Jackson. He has something for all appetites, from pub snacks to entrées and salads in two sizes, plus the requisite burgers and fries, here labeled frites. Their veggie burger is made with roasted beets and beans. How’s that for a coup?
Other creative takes on pub dining include cauliflower “wings,” a gnocchi mac and cheese, kale fried rice and bourbon-glazed drumsticks. Creative salads include baby arugula with confit red and golden beets dressed with a blood-orange basil vinaigrette. The frites are twice-fried Green Thumb potatoes served with truffle oil and Asiago cheese. Or offered plain, but who would order that?
With snow on the horizon, I pried myself from the bar stool and headed out of town. I was going south, but it seemed like west. Somehow that town has its own rules for global positioning.
For a diversion I stopped at Calef’s Country Store in Barrington. They are the perfect Disneyland version of a New Hampshire country store. It’s really prettier than it should be. They have all manner of jarred and packaged foods and candies, some of it locally sourced, including the breads. Their sandwich shop is an option for a to-go lunch. Their own cheeses are in the deli case and a beautiful pile of fresh, nicely rendered bacon was ready to layer between two slices of Jessica’s bread.
A half block south on Rte. 125 is Dante’s Pasta & Vino, or as it is also called, Dante’s Bistro Bar and Grill. Oh, and Adagio, a salon and spa extraordinaire, is part of the operation. This is another mom-and-pop shop of sorts where Dante D’Antilio, from Italy, runs the restaurant and his wife Jules operates the spa.
Dante’s restaurant has been there for almost 25 years, but he continues to improve the menu and space. As an old farmhouse, the dining space is tucked in tiny rooms, and the bar area is also welcoming. Somehow the bricks and old wood and assorted ephemera that line the walls create a nice womb-like space to spend time in idle chatter with a nice glass of wine.
Red wines are the perfect accompaniment to many of the menu items. Dante likes to offer good value, and many are just $7 a glass and range from $22 a bottle. One of my favorite menu items is the pizza crudo a mano. Dante had just returned from Rome in 2006 and brought back this simple concept of grilled Italian bread with prosciutto di Parma, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, sliced tomatoes, cherry peppers and olive oil. It’s like an uncooked pizza, but a sublime experience ($10). Many of his dishes are inspired by the Spaghetti House of Montereale in Italy. Outsourcing is often local; in summer, the backyard garden.
Dante was headed back to Italy for another extended trip soon and, alas, the snow was getting heavier. I needed to head home too. Along Rte. 125, many more roadside eateries, friendly folks and interesting stories were beckoning.
Get Your Jive on Route 125
Dining options and other diversions heading north on Rte. 125 from Rte. 101
8 Exeter Rd., Epping
Irish pub in an old Catholic Church
64 Main St., Epping
Roselynn Homemade Ice Cream
Breakfast, brunch and Ice cream
153 Exeter Rd., Epping
Frank Jones Restaurant and Pub
556 Calef Hwy., Barrington
George Calef’s Fine Foods
Butcher shop, cheeses and more
495 Calef Hwy., Barrington
The Christmas Dove
Everything Christmas, every day of the year
11 Christmas Ln., Barrington
Get your Hunger Games fix at the range.
7 Tolend Rd., Barrington
Wild Willy’s Burgers
12 Gonic Rd., Rochester
Stonewall Kitchen Warehouse Store
Discounted and discontinued items
7 Amarosa #1, Rochester
Lone Oak Ice Cream
Homemade ice cream
175 Milton Rd., Rochester
Rochester Opera House
Upcoming events include “Seussical the Musical,” “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and the Strafford Wind Symphony.
41 Wakefield St., Rochester
The Garage at the Governor’s Inn
Hidden spot for a quick bite and music.
78 Wakefield St., Rochester
Chocolate Night is April 18 at the Governor’s Inn.
Rochester's 11th Annual Summer Music Series runs through the summer, Thursdays through Sundays.