Friday, July 15, 2016

Dipperz

Dipperz are an interesting way to eat your veggies - dehydrated and flavored.  Basically, turning veggies into chips, which, given how much I love to munch on things, is potentially a very good idea for me to try turning my snack time into something a bit healthier.  They are also vegan, paleo, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, etc, etc.

Their product page describes them as:
"Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Carrots pre-dipped and ready to eat. Just think of the veggie party tray. Three delicious flavors Ranch, Lemongrass Chili and Cheezy. 1 pound of vegetables in each serving. Give them a try and be a part of the new healthy snacking revolution!"
Yes, each bag of Dipperz has one pound of veggies packed into it.  I found this fact shocking, as, the bags really aren't very large.  The veggies are a mix of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  I was eager to try them out, really hoping to find a healthy snack for myself.  I wanted to join the "new healthy snacking revolution!"

Alas, they weren't really for me.  I almost liked them, but, not enough to buy another bag  The same parent company also makes Snip Chips (parsnip chips), Brussel Bytes (Brussels Sprouts, Coconut, and Pumpkin Seeds), and Coco Roons (macarons).  Maybe I need to try one of those items next?
Cheezy Dipperz.
So, these were certainly different.

I've had a lot of different veggie chips, and dehydrated vegetables, but, these were still unlike anything I've ever had before.

The broccoli and cauliflower pieces were still florets, yet, dehydrated and crispy.  They were nice sized chunks and had a good crunch to them.  The carrots were shredded, and generally in little clumps.  I found the form factor of all of the elements actually pretty fun to eat, and, they had a nice crunch about them.

The pieces were well coated in the "cheese", a mix of nutritional yeast and cashews for the cheesy flavor, plus basil, garlic, and rosemary, and, coconut nectar.  The seasoning mix was a bit strange though.  It wasn't quite cheesy (well, duh), but it wasn't bad. But it wasn't great either.  I couldn't ever make my mind up about this, so, I kept on munching.

I clearly didn't love it though, and wouldn't get another bag.
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dairy Twirl, Lebanon, NH

Many years ago, there was an oil company in Lebanon, NH called Pete & Rogers.  At some point, circa 1975, it was turned into an ice cream stand.  I'm pretty sure the ice cream stand was called Dairy Twirl from the start, yet, the locals all still called it Pete & Rogers.  I remember this being very confusing when I was a kid.  "Who wants to go to Pete & Rogers?", folks would say, and then we'd wind up at Dairy Twirl.  I don't think I ever questioned it, as I was getting ice cream, but, now that I think about it, it is pretty confusing.  I think it has changed owners a few times over the years, but, not much has changed.

Anyway.  Dairy Twirl is the ice cream stand in town.  Technically, there is one more option, located at the mini-golf course in the adjacent town, and of course places like McDonald's do serve ice cream, but, really, Dairy Twirl is the place to get ice cream.  No question.
Menu: ice cream, shakes, sundaes.
Dairy Twirl is a quintessential east coast ice cream stand, open only seasonally, generally memorial day through labor day.  They offer ... ice cream.  Nothing else really.  No token hot dogs or anything like that on the menu.  Just ice cream.  It is not house made, it is not artisanal.  It is just ice cream.  But it is good ice cream, and they do a few things to set themselves apart from most other ice cream stands.

They do have hard ice cream, in many flavors, but, it is the soft serve that we go for.  (Side note: why anyone would ever get a hard ice cream at an ice cream shop that doesn't make their own boggles my mind.  It is the exact same product you can get in a grocery store.  And in a grocery store, you get a full half gallon for nearly the price of a single cone.  Why, why, why?  Its like throwing money away.)

Anyway, I digress.  Dairy Twirl actually has an extensive menu of hard ice cream, all made by Hershey.  I've tried a few when others have gotten it, and, yup, standard hard ice cream.  They also have a couple hard frozen yogurts and I think a sorbet or a few non-dairy options.

But again, I go there for the soft serve.  Dairy Twirl has 6 flavors at a time, including 4 standard flavors (vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and black raspberry) and 2 that change weekly.  Most other soft serve establishments only offer 4 flavors at a time, so, bonus points to Dairy Twirl for offering 6.
Lilac Soft Serve: Black Raspberry and Vanilla.  Half-Small.
The soft serve base is Hood.  They use the 10% milkfat base, not the 5% seen at other shops around town.  You might think you want the healthier version, but I assure you, that milkfat really makes a difference.  Dairy Twirl soft serve is by far the creamiest around.

Like most shops you can get any two that are on the same machine swirled, but, unlike most shops, they also offer layered versions with any flavors from any machine.  In fact, they even suggest these on the menu, like, the "Lilac" pictured here, a layered version with vanilla and black raspberry, or a mocha with chocolate and coffee, or the "Thin Mint" with chocolate and mint.

So, if you want vanilla and chocolate, but not swirled together, you could get them layered one on top of the other too.  I love this, as it allows me to pick multiple flavors that don't necessarily mix together perfectly in a swirl.  Oh, and they don't just layer them once.  In the smallest size, if you pick two flavors, you get two layers of each.  If you get the next size up (which is actually the small), you get 6 layers!  Oh, and you can pick more than two flavors.  Even for the smallest size ice cream, you can pick up to three flavors.  I know making cones like this is more work, but, I absolutely love that they do it.

Another reason I love Dairy Twirl is that they are always happy to let you sample a flavor or two.  I know which of the standard flavors I like, but, it is always good to try one of the weekly specials before ordering.

In addition to standard cups, cones, and waffle cones, you can also get a shake, float, sundae, or "razzle", which is just soft serve blended with toppings.

Sizes range from half-small to pints and quarts.  Do not be fooled by the sizes.  A "half-small" is still considerably larger than most mediums in the rest of the world.  It is certainly not a child sized, but, no "baby" cone is available here.  For years, the "half-small" was not listed on the menu, although everyone knew you could order it.  Now they actually list it.  Soft serve is cheaper than hard serve, which I really appreciate, as it is cheaper for them to make, store, etc, but most places charge the same.

And, that is it.  (Ok, they sell bottles of water and frozen dipped bananas too).  When I was younger, they also had slush puppies, and made a creation that was soft serve added to a slush puppy, like a float, but with slush puppy instead of soda, and a soft serve swirl instead of a scoop of ice cream.  I forget what they called these, but I loved them, and that was my standard order back in the day.  Blue raspberry slush puppy with vanilla soft serve.  So amazing.  Sadly, they no longer offer these, but, the soft serve is great enough that I don't mind.

Dairy Twirl is an institution in town for good reason, and I hope it continues to thrive so I can always get in a few cones while I'm home in the summer.  But, warning, yes, you will wait in a line, and yes you will be eating your non-artisanal ice cream while standing in a parking lot.  And, if you are like me, you'll love it.
"Great Nighttime Place"
The sign out front was changed several years ago, and always makes me laugh.  "Great Nighttime Place" it boasts ... open until 9pm!  Ahh, small towns.  Gotta love them.
Ordering Window.
Dairy Twirl is an ice cream stand.  It is not a restaurant.  You order at a window.  There is no where to go inside.  No bathroom.  The window is adjacent to a parking lot.  They did add a few picnic tables a while back, but they are down on the other end of the parking lot.

As you can see, no frills here.  You don't go for the ambiance.  You go for the ice cream.

It is always busy.  I laugh when we drive by on a cold day, or a rainy day, and see the crowds.  But, you know what?  We join them.  On a recent visit, I really wanted "one last Dairy Twirl", so, even though it was cold and raining, my family went, and we just ate our ice cream in the car.
Back Seating.
There are some picnic tables off near the back of the parking lot.  Some people do congregate there, but others just go sit in their cars to eat the ice cream, or stand around the steps out front.

Some Creations

I've had more ice cream cones from Dairy Twirl than I can possibly count, and I certainly haven't taken notes or photos every time.  The following is just a collection of ones I happen to have.

Summary though: get dip or sprinkles, get more than one flavor, and certainly don't get bigger than a half-small.  The ice cream is always perfectly creamy, never icy, and exactly what I want.
Mint with Chocolate Sprinkles, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Mint is one of my absolute favorite flavors they offer.  Like all of the ice cream, it is very creamy.  The mint flavor itself is, well, minty.  It is fairly strong, and a bit refreshing.

My mom always combines the mint with chocolate ice cream, the signature "Thin Mint", but this is one where for me, simple is better.  I just want the mint.

Mint is the flavor that challenges my general approach to ice cream at Dairy Twirl.  While I normally want to combine multiple flavors in my cone, mint is the only flavor where I'll actually settle on just one, as I like it that much.  I also forgo dip and go for sprinkles, chocolate.

The combination of creamy mint and chocolate sprinkles is perfect for me, sorta like mint chocolate chip.  And Dairy Twirl coats the cone perfectly in sprinkles.

Mint, with chocolate sprinkles, is a very solid choice, and I'm always thrilled when they have mint on rotation.

Like all half-smalls, this was $1.75 for the ice cream, $0.50 for the sprinkles.
Mint and Vanilla with Chocolate Sprinkles, Half-Small.  $2.25.
On my next visit, I decided to mix vanilla with the mint, just to try something a bit different.  This gave me 4 layers, 2 vanilla, 2 mint.

It was fine this way, and it was kinda nice to have something besides just mint, but, the vanilla didn't actually add anything to the experience.

Note: The folks working at Dairy Twirl generally make perfect cones every time, layering the different flavors like experts, and dipping them perfectly in dip or sprinkles.  I think this is the only time I've ever seen a not perfect job (and really, it wasn't that bad).
Red, White, & Blue! (Forth of July Special), Half-Small. $1.75.
On the 4th of July, my mom went for the special "Red, White, & Blue", with strawberry at the base, vanilla in the middle, and blueberry on top.

I have to admit, it looked great, and everyone in line was very interested in what she had.

I asked to sample the blueberry and strawberry before deciding on my flavors though, and I'm glad I did.

The strawberry, while vibrant, didn't have very good strawberry flavor, it tasted a bit fake.

The blueberry, also quite vibrant, tasted more like blueberries, but it still wasn't awesome.  Better than strawberry, but not high on my list.

My mom agreed once she tried her cone, but, enjoyed it regardless.
Blueberry, Vanilla, Black Raspberry, Coconut Dip, Half-Small.
On the same 4th of July visit, I learned that I could pick not one, not two, but THREE flavors for my half-small.  It made decision making so much easier.

My choices were vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and black raspberry as always, plus the strawberry and blueberry my mom had.  Since I don't really like chocolate or coffee, and I didn't like the strawberry, I decided not to put any more thought into it, and just go for the other three.

I did care about the order in the cone though, because I wanted to try a new dip, and opted for coconut.  I decided the black raspberry would go best with it, so I wanted that on top, since it would come in most contact with the dip.

All flavors were about as I expected.  The ice cream was super creamy and melted perfectly in the 80 degree weather.  Just as fast as I could eat, but not too fast (well, it was way too fast when the shell was still on, which of course turned into a sticky mess).  The black raspberry wasn't as flavorful as I'd like, but it was still good.  The blueberry had good flavor, but, again, just not one I was super excited about.  The vanilla was solid vanilla.  No earth shattering choices, but, all fine.

The coconut dip looked great, loaded up with shredded coconut.  However, it didn't have that much coconut flavor in the dip itself, it was just kinda sweet and waxy.

I still enjoyed this cone, but, it wasn't one of my favorites.
Black Raspberry, Chocolate, Vanilla with Peanut Butter Dip, Half-Small.
On my next visit, I wasn't excited by any of the flavors - strawberry and blueberry were still the extra flavors.  I sampled the coffee flavor, and found it fairly flavorless.  So, I went for the other three classics, although I wasn't particularly excited about any of them either.

I decided to make my ice cream more interesting by adding peanut butter dip, and, asked for the chocolate and vanilla on top as they'd best compliment the peanut butter.  But, since chocolate and vanilla are kinda boring, I put black raspberry on the bottom as well.

All flavors were creamy and melted nicely.  The peanut butter dip was ok, not as intensely peanut buttery as I remembered from the past, but, still some extra flavor.

As always, I didn't really like the chocolate ice cream, but, it went decently with the peanut butter.  I did make the mistake of putting the chocolate in the middle though, and it did not combine nicely with the black raspberry.  The black raspberry was my favorite of the flavors.

Overall, this was fine, but, not a particularly great combination.
Lemon, Vanilla, Mint. Chocolate Sprinkles.  Half-Small.
On this visit, the special flavors were lemon and mint.  Of course, I tried both before committing to my selections, even though I knew I loved mint, and I knew I never like lemon desserts.

Best move ever.  The lemon ice cream turned out to be absolutely amazing.  It was sweet, a bit tangy, creamy as always, and just really, really good.  I was shocked, and didn't know what to do.  I loved it.  But I also love the mint.  And I didn't think mint and lemon would work very well together.

So, what's a girl to do?  Get them both, and add a separator.

I put the lemon on the bottom, since I knew that is the flavor I'd get the most of, and, well, I liked it the best.  I loved it.  I added vanilla next, just as a separator.  It felt like a waste, and I was tempted to say, "a very small portion of vanilla", but, I decided not to be even more complicated.  The vanilla was fine, but just vanilla.  It did its job separating my two real choices.  On top went the mint.  It was minty, creamy, and great as always.

I added chocolate sprinkles, as I wanted something to compliment the mint, and I just wasn't feeling chocolate dip that day.  The chocolate sprinkles were perfect with the mint, and helped add a bit of flair to the otherwise boring vanilla.

Overall, a total success, and I was very happy with this combination (although sad to get vanilla).  However, I did better the next day ...
Mint, Black Raspberry, Lemon.  Blue Raspberry Dip.  Half-Small.
The next day, my family went out to a big lunch at 4 Aces Diner.  We were all stuffed.  It was also cold and raining.  And my last day in town.  I didn't care that it wasn't "ice cream weather" and that I didn't need more food.  I wanted more lemon and more mint ice cream.  I couldn't leave without getting them again.

I was perfectly satisfied with my previous creation of lemon on bottom, vanilla divider, mint on top, with chocolate sprinkles, but, I wanted to get even crazier.  Rather than vanilla divider, I decided to try black raspberry.  Black raspberry is a flavor I enjoy on its own, and I thought that lemon and black raspberry would go well together, and mint and black raspberry might not be awful.  I knew they wouldn't be the best match, but, I really wanted something other than vanilla.

And then ... I added the crazy blue raspberry dip.  I had wanted to try it for years, but couldn't come up with a flavor combination it made sense with.  But lemon and blue raspberry sounded great and black raspberry and blue raspberry sounded fine. Mint and blue raspberry, well, no, but I'd put the mint in the bottom and it wouldn't touch the blue raspberry much.

This was an excellent design.  The mint on the bottom meant that I had basically a plain mint cone at the end, satisfying on its own, creamy, and always a favorite.  The black raspberry and lemon were wonderful together, both complimenting each other well, and both just as good as always.  They also started my eating journey on a fruity note, before diving into the mint to finish.  It was a nice progression.

And the crazy dip?  It looked awesome (and got me a LOT of stares as I walked away with it), and, it was awesome.  Like my old favorite Slush Puppy flavor.  It was perfect with the lemon and good with the black raspberry.

I'd totally get this again, and it was an absolute favorite.  I also now wonder what other flavors would go well with that blue raspberry dip ...
Black Raspberry and Vanilla, Peanut Butter Dip, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Sometimes, even I'm not a pro at making ice cream choices.

This was one of those times.  I blame the cold weather (the reason I was eating this in the car).

I knew I liked the black raspberry soft serve the best.  I also knew I liked the peanut butter dip.  So I combined them.  I did put vanilla on top, so it would come most in contact with the peanut butter dip, but, I still had a fair amount of black raspberry and peanut butter combining, which, just didn't work great (it does sound a bit like a peanut butter and jelly, but, alas, no).

Note to self: don't mix black raspberry and peanut butter dip!
Black Raspberry, Vanilla, Orange Pineapple.  Rainbow Sprinkles.  Half-Small.  $2.25.
Dairy Twirl makes names for all of the layered creations, such as "Barney" for pistachio and black raspberry, "Pancake" for maple and blueberry, etc.  Two of my mom's favorites are the "Lilac" with black raspberry and vanilla, and "Creamsicle" with orange pineapple and vanilla.  I decided to combine them both, with the vanilla serving as the layer between.

This was a nice combination.  The black raspberry and vanilla went well together, the orange pineapple and vanilla went well together, and I'm not sure the black raspberry and orange would have been nice together, so having them separated was good.  All the flavors were creamy and melted perfectly.

I added rainbow sprinkles because it was very hot out and I was worried about it being too hot for dip, and I still wanted something, and they were fine.

Overall, a decent choice, and a good one for a time when the flavors available weren't my favorite.

Black Raspberry/Vanilla/Orange Pineapple, Chocolate Sprinkles, Chocolate Peanut Coated Specialty Waffle Cone, Half-Small. $3.75.
The next day I returned, and, alas, the flavors were the same.  I tried the coffee flavor (fine, but not for me), and decided to just get the same cone as the previous day.  But I couldn't really get the *same* cone, right?

I wanted to add dip, but it was 90 degrees, and I knew that was a recipe for disaster, as the ice cream would melt too fast and I'd turn into an ice cream covered mess, and my mom would threaten to wash me down with a hose (yes, some things never change).

I swapped my rainbow sprinkles for chocolate, since chocolate sprinkles go better with black raspberry, which I was putting on top.  And then ... I swapped out my standard cake cone for a specialty waffle cone, dipped in chocolate, and coated with peanuts.

Why did I go for this cone?  While, they were on display right in the window, and looked appealing.  I also had the choice of just chocolate dipped, or with chocolate or rainbow sprinkles, but nuts were the most unique.  I also picked this cone because, well, I actually hate cake cones.  They generally taste stale to me, I hate how they get soggy, and it always feels like eating styrofoam.  But I prefer my soft serve in a cone, as I like the experience of licking it.  Which means I always hit a point of profound disappointment when I hit the cone, not for the reasons that most people get sad because their ice cream has run out, but rather, because I know that I have to deal with either eating the cone I hate, sacrificing some ice cream, or somehow digging it out.  I figured if the waffle cone was good, then I could solve this problem.

Of course, the waffle cone was HUGE.  Even though I still ordered a half-small, you couldn't really put a half-small in this cone, it would look ridiculous.  My mother ordered a regular small dish, and there was certainly less in her dish than in my cone.  The volume of this thing was ridiculous.  We concluded that it was at least the same amount of ice cream as a medium.  My mom had finished her entire small before I even finished the top layer of mine.  It took effort, but, I finished it.  I felt extremely accomplished, and, uh, had quite the stomach ache.

So how was it?  The cone itself was better than the cake cone, but still just a Joy brand standard waffle cone, not homemade.  The chocolate coating was fine, the peanuts added a bit of crunch, but, there was really nothing special about it.

The bigger problem is that it was hard to eat.  I want a cone for the licking purposes, and this wasn't lickable in the same way.  So, I failed to achieve the most important part of eating a soft serve cone for me: licking around it, as it melts, in the sun.

It also didn't allow me to experience the mixed layers.  I could only reach the black raspberry at first, and then the vanilla, and then the orange pineapple.  I like the mix of orange pineapple and vanilla, a la creamsicle, but it wasn't possible to ever get to both in the way it is in a regular cone.  Same with the black raspberry and vanilla.

So ... not something I'd do again, certainly.  Cone was eh, form factor wasn't right for me, and it was too much ice cream.  But I'm glad my curiosity was satisfied.  (Oh, and the ice cream itself was great, just like the day before, perfectly creamy!)

$1.75 for half-serve + $0.50 for sprinkles + $1.50 for specialty waffle cone.

Toppings

The toppings list is extensive, with all sorts of chocolate candy (M&Ms, Snickers, peanut butter cups, kit kat, etc), gummy candy (gummy bears, gummy worms, etc), fruit (pineapple, strawberry, etc), sauces (fudge, caramel, butter scotch, peanut butter, marshmallow), and of course whipped cream, cherries, and nuts. I've actually never seen anyone get any of these.

The toppings people do get?  Sprinkles of course, and both rainbow and chocolate are offered.  And ... dips.  Dairy Twirl also stands out in this area, offering not just chocolate and cherry dip like most places, but also peanut butter, coconut, and blue raspberry!  Sprinkles and dips are both $0.50 to add on, and totally worth it.

I tend to go for the dips, because they are more novel and rare, but, they do require care and caution when eating on a hot day.  Soft serve melts quickly, and when you can't get to it to lick it because of the dip shell, it can cause quite the runny mess very quickly.  On hot days, or when I'm particularly wanting sprinkles, I'll go for sprinkles instead.  I very, very rarely opt for no sprinkles or dip, as they genuinely add to the experience for me.
"Creamsicle": Orange Pineapple and Vanilla, Coconut Dip, Half-Small.  $2.25.
Dips:

  • Coconut: The coconut dip actually has shredded coconut in it.  The shell itself didn't have much coconut flavor though, most like a kinda waxy sweet white chocolate.  It was fine, but, I wouldn't get it again. [ Previous notes: not very flavorful, although it did have visible chunks of toasted coconut. ]
  • Peanut Butter:  Clearly not actually peanut butter, but, I did really like the flavor, and it went well with vanilla. [ Previous notes: I really like the peanut butter! It goes great with chocolate ice cream. ]
  • Blue Raspberry: Stunning color!  Sweet, and actually does taste a bit like blue raspberry.  Amazing combination with lemon or black raspberry ice cream.
The chocolate and rainbow sprinkles are standard sprinkles, no more, no less.  Great for adding some texture and fun, but, yes, just sprinkles.

Soft Serve Flavor Notes

  • Black Raspberry: Creamy, decent raspberry flavor [ kinda standard, creamy, but not much flavor. ] [ Creamy, but meh, flavor not awesome ] [ Don't really like the black raspberry soft serve] [ A bit too raspberry for me? ] [ Creamy good, nice raspberry flavor ]
  • Blueberry; about teh same as black raspberry, creamy, but not tons flavor [ Creamy ,ok blueberry flavor but not awesome ]
  • Chocolate: Creamy, decent but I never like chocolate. [ This is fine, but, it is chocolate soft serve, which I just don't usually like.  Ok to mix with mint, but, really, I'd rather not have it. ]
  • Coffee: Very sweet, not much coffee flavor, do not like [ Creamy and smooth, but, not much coffee flavor ] [ Good coffee flavor, but a bit icy ] [ Creamy, mild coffee flavor, just not my thing. ]
  • Lemon: Amazing!  I don't like lemon in desserts usually, so I don't even know why I tried this, but, I loved it.  Slightly tart, sweet, and great lemon flavor.  I really loved this, and it paired nicely with both vanilla and black raspberry.
  • Mango: Didn't taste too fake, decent.
  • Mint: quite refreshing, great with chocolate sprinkles [Good mint flavor, very creamy] [ Very good ] [ One of my absolute favorites.  Really strong mint flavor.  Fine on its own, or mixed with vanilla ]
  • Orange Pineapple: I didn't really taste the pineapple in this, but the flavor was sweet citrus, and it goes well with vanilla a la creamsicle. [ When you have this alone, without vanilla, you can almost taste the fruity pineapple, but it is a much stronger orange flavor ... which is fine actually. ]
  • Peach: Very creamy, very good peach flavor.  A favorite.
  • Pistachio: I didn't like this.  My mom says it is too sweet, which wasn't my problem exactly.  It was too ... pistachio flavored?
  • Strawberry: Tasted a bit too fake.
  • Vanilla; creamy, not much flavor, meh [ Very good vanilla creamy decent flavor ] [ Creamy, solid, good. ] [ Creamy, solid, classic, good. ]
Strawberry Shake. $4.75.
On one visit, my mom picked up a strawberry shake for someone else.  I may have snuck a sip.

The shake was, well, a shake.  Strawberry ice cream and milk, blended.  No topping was offered.  It was served in a thick styrofoam cup with a large boba style straw.  It took considerably longer to prepare than a cone, and was priced fairly high ($4.75 for hard ice cream based, $3.75 for soft).  I guess if you wanted a shake this is a fine option, but I'm not sure why one would opt for this given the other options.
Dairy Twirl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Campo Enoteca, Manchester

Whenever I visit my family in New Hampshire, I fly into Boston, and one (or both) of my parents graciously travel to pick me up.  As I've mentioned before, my father is not a very adventurous eater, and neither of my parents are comfortable driving in cities, so our dining options for the return voyage are a bit limited.

A year or so ago, I discovered Republic Cafe in Manchester, a bigger city than my parents really want to drive (and park!) in, but not out of the question.  We had three different meals there, all quite impressive, so I was particularly excited when I read that they opened a sister restaurant, just a few doors down.  Republic Cafe is mostly Mediterranean, but Campo Enoteca is an Italian restaurant, open for lunch and dinner.  Italian cuisine is one that both of my parents are familiar with, so I was hopeful that this could become a new destination for us.

The menu is radically different than Republic Cafe, as you'd expect since Campo Enoteca serves Italian cuisine, and Republic, Mediterranean.  Their specialties are fresh made pasta, housemade bread, and an impressive charcuterie and cheese selection, available at both lunch and dinner.  The lunch menu is rounded out by an assortment of paninis, salads, and a few antipasti.  For dinner they have the same salads and pastas (available in half portions!), plus more antipasti options, and full entree plates rather than paninis.

The Setting

Wooden tables and chairs.
The decor is very bright.  The walls are all quite colorful: orange, red, purple.

Tables and chairs are wooden, slightly rustic style.
Benches.
Some of the seats are dark red benches, complimenting the regal color scheme throughout.
Bar Area.
Up at the bar, I saw the facilities for freshly squeezing lemon, and the other side of the bar area had the charcuterie station.

Service was shockingly quick.  After placing our orders, I went to use the bathroom, and by the time I returned my mother's drink had arrived.  We had barely each taken a sip, when our salad arrived.  My mom wasn't even done the salad when the pastas arrived, which was great, as it meant that I had time to snap photos, while she was distracted :)

Drinks

Water Jug on Table.
Just like at Republic Cafe, we were provided with our own jug of water on the table, which I greatly appreciated, given how much water I tend to drink.  I never had to deal with waiting for refills!
Basil Lime Spritzer. $4.
My mother decided to splurge and get a fancy non-alcoholic spritzer.  She picked the Basil Lime Spritzer, and I think we were both a little surprised when it showed up looking pink.

It didn't taste all that "pink" however, and the basil flavor was super strong.  It really grew on her, and she enjoyed it, and thought it was worth the $4 price.

Cuisine

Sourdough Bread and Olive Oil.
I had read great things about the housemade bread, but, sadly, it was sourdough, and I dislike sourdough.  That said, it was good bread, super moist, with a perfectly crispy crust.

The olive oil was amazing.  Clearly really high quality.  I wished repeatedly that I had something that I wanted to dunk in the oil.  Seriously good stuff, with a pleasant grassy quality.
Small Roman Salad. $6.
"Parmesan dressing, shaved asiago, parmesan crisp."

My mom decided to start with a salad, to have some greens before eating heavy pasta.  Even though I said I didn't want salad, of course I had to try a bite ... or two, which she obliged.  I think she is even getting accustomed to being told she must wait for me to snap a photo before diving in!

We were offered fresh ground pepper table side, which she opted for.

The greens were fresh and crisp.  The dressing had a nice tang, and it was not overdressed.  Large shreds of parmesan plus a ridiculously flavorful, super crisp parmesan crisp completed the salad.

It was just a salad, never that interesting to me, but it was a good one, and the parmesan crisp added a really nice twist to a classic caesar.  My mom also enjoyed this.

The $6 price for a side salad was reasonable.
Orecchiette. $10.
"Broccoli rabe, chili, herb ricotta, local cream."

After a lot of research, I knew which dish to order: the orecchiette.  It was as great as I had hoped.

We were offered fresh ground pepper and parmesan cheese, again served table side.

It was served piping hot, clearly fresh.  Major points for this.

The pasta was perfectly cooked, al dente.  The chili added just a hint of spice.  It was perfectly creamy, from the mix of cream and ricotta, with chunks of ricotta distributed throughout that felt like little gifts whenever I discovered one.

There were little bits of chopped onion that added additional flavor, plus a decent amount of slightly bitter broccoli rabe.

Overall, quite successful, and I'd gladly get it again.

The portion was generous.  I could have finished it if I wanted, although I would have been stuffed, but I decided to stop at a comfortably full level and save some for later that night.  Note to self: just finish it.  It wasn't as good cold, and when I reheated it, it got very oily.  The $10 price for fresh made pasta was quite reasonable.
Classic Roman Carbonara. $11.
"Bucatini, parmesan, guanciale, local eggs, black pepper, parsley, no cream."

My mom's pick was the carbonara, an authentic dish, relying on only the eggs for the richness, no cream.  The bucatini was a fresh pasta with a good chew to it, but there wasn't a lot of flavor to the dish.  I did like the bits of crispy guanciale, and was glad to try this signature dish, but overall this was disappointing, and I was glad it was her pick, not mine.

The portion was again generous, and the price right, and she also brought home leftovers.
Campo Enoteca Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Republic Cafe, Manchester, NH

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote about a cafe I discovered in Manchester, NH, that proved me to me that New Hampshire does have some innovation in the dining scene.  My original review was of lunch with my parents, with a fun take on fish & chips.  I recommended the restaurant.

I followed by own advice, and returned two years later, for dinner with my mom and sister.  It was again quite good, and, for some reason, I never published that review, until now.

I continued to follow my own advice, and returned this summer, for lunch, with my mother and Ojan's family.  I enjoyed it again, although, at this point, I think I'd like to try somewhere new.

If you didn't read my original review, I suggest you start there.  Then check out the summer 2015 review, and finally, the latest.

Update Review #2, Summer 2016

My next visit to Republic Cafe was for lunch, with a rather interesting assortment of individuals: my mom, and Ojan's mom, dad, brother, and Ojan himself.  I was visiting his family down near Boston, and needed to then go visit my family in New Hampshire.  At the same time, his family was going on vacation in New Hampshire, but no where near my family.  Manchester was the half-way point, so we agreed to all meet there so I could transfer from their car to my mom's, and we'd continue on our way to Lebanon.

Since we weren't exactly sure what time we'd arrive, I didn't make a reservation, which proved to be problematic.  6 people, busy weekday lunch service, at a location that doesn't really have tables that can seat 6.  In fact, they had only one table that can seat 6, and it had just been filled.  We were quoted 1.5 hour wait for that table.  I suggested pushing together some of the smaller tables inside, but was told that those are reserved for walk-ins (which we were ...) and that we couldn't take them all over, that the owner likes to always have tables available for walk-ins.  I suggested waiting for a few of the smaller tables outside to finish (many had food or were paying), and then push those together.  They didn't think that would work.  The staff really wanted us to split up, but, that kinda defeated the purpose of getting the two families together.  Finally, Ojan pointed at a tall table for 4 in the front of the restaurant, and just said that 2 of us would be fine kinda standing on the side.  We'd be out of the way since the table was right in front along the wall, and we really didn't mind standing, as we'd be in cars all day.  They agreed to this, and it was fine, although, yes, a bit hard to fit everything on the table.

Anyway, as on my previous visits, I was impressed with the quality of the food.  I genuinely enjoyed several dishes.  We finally tried dessert, which, was the weakest part of the meal.

Service wasn't great however.  Ojan's mom ordered an entree, and it never came.  The server delivered dishes to everyone else at the table, and didn't notice that he didn't bring one to her.  She didn't say anything, assuming it was coming.  10 minutes later, literally, I finally flagged him down to investigate.  It took me that long to get his attention.  He then realized it never came, and that the kitchen never even started the order.  He said he'd get it going right away.  Her food came long, long after the rest of us finished, and no one really apologized for the error.  The meal was not comp'ed.  I also had to flag the server down to order dessert, again, after trying for quite a while before he paid attention to us.  The cafe was busy when we arrived, but by this point, it was not busy at all, and he just kept walking away, or was even just standing on the side drinking coffee.  I wasn't impressed with the service.

I'd still return, as they really do serve quality food, well prepared, but, the menu doesn't really seem to change except for the specials, so at this point, I'd like to try somewhere else.

Appetizers and Mains

Bread and Oil.
I'm not one to fill up on bread before a meal, but, I wanted to just try it again.

I ripped off a tiny chunk, and, then promptly devoured my whole slice.  And then Ojan's slice.

I really liked it.  The bread is just pizza dough, the same they use for the flatbreads, but it is fluffy, fresh, and served warm and toasty.  I like bread like this, it reminds me of the pizza bread rolls they had a pizza place in my town growing up.

And, the oil.  Super flavorful, high quality.

I enjoyed the bread and oil far more than any other bread in a restaurant in recent memory.  I'd gladly eat more of it, and would actually consider trying a flatbread next time to experience more of it.
Kellie Brook Panini, Side Salad. $11.
"Ham, baby swiss, onion jam on sourdough rye with poached egg."

Ok, this was delicious!

Let me rewind though, because, you might be wondering why I had this in the first place, as, well, I don't like sandwiches, simple salads, or poached eggs.

Ojan suggested getting a panini, and normally I wouldn't be interested in one, but, so many people raved about the Kellie Brook in reviews, and, I knew it wasn't a panini, but rather, an open faced sandwich.  Still, a sandwich, and still, poached eggs.  What was I thinking?  I guess I knew I was hedging my bets, as we were sharing a few things.  If I didn't like it, I had plenty of other food to eat.

But, wow, it was good.  The bread was soft, fluffy, fresh, and a decently thick slice.  It was smothered in creamy, melty, flavorful cheese and bits of ham.  The poached egg on top did add a luxuriousness, but, I could have done without it.

The best element was the onion jam on the side.  Oh man.  Sweet, but also intensely flavorful.  It went soooo well with the cheese and ham.

The salad on the side was just mixed greens, with cubes of cucumber and tomato.  I tried a few bites, but, meh, salad.

I only cut off a chunk of this to try originally, and after I devoured my portion, I found myself stealing the plate back, and then even going for the chunk Ojan had cut off for himself.  I really, really loved the fresh bread, cheesy goodness, and the onion jam together.

I'd get this again, actually.  Splitting with one other person is still probably the right move, as it would be a lot of richness for one person.
 Falafel Fried Fish. $19.
"With hand cut frites & two sauces."

Since I remembered liking the falafel fried fish the first time, we ordered it again to share.

This time, I was much less into it.

The fish was flaky haddock, two large chunks, coated in the falafel coating.  The coating was crunchy, but way too oily this time.  The fish was fine, not fishy, but, not particularly great.

I again didn't love either of the creamy dipping sauces.  I wanted to, since I love aioli, but, alas, neither one quite did it for me.

Under the fish was also another sauce, which I thought was a mix of red peppers and ground nuts perhaps, but others thought was tomato based.  I also didn't love that.

The fries also didn't impress, thin fries, a bit soggy, nothing special.  I did again love the little fried capers mixed in though.

So, overall, I actually didn't like the dish this time.  The fish was too oily, I didn't like the fries or sauces.  I wouldn't get it again at this point, but, others did seem like it.

Ojan's brother ordered a seared tuna special served with risotto that he seemed to enjoy, his father opted for a lentil stew that he didn't really like, and his mom, a burger that she felt was cooked exactly as she ordered.  Mostly, successful orders.

Dessert

I was always too full to order dessert at Republic Cafe before, but, I figured that with a large group, we could order one and split it.  I really wanted dessert, particularly as so many people rave about their signature dessert.
Iced Decaf Americano. $2.75.
To go alongside dessert, I ordered coffee, iced due to the hot weather.

My iced americano was very, very strong.  I liked it once I watered it down, but originally, it was a bit much.  Not really a problem, since we had a jug of water on our table and this way I basically got twice the iced coffee, but, worth noting.

The ice melted quickly, leaving me with just chilled cold coffee.  Luckily, Ojan had a glass of ice left over from his cream soda, so I added it in, but otherwise, I would have been disappointed.

Solid effort, and fixable, but, the form it was served in was not very good.
Loukomades. $6.50.
"Fondly known as Greek doughnuts. Tossed in honey and topped with hazelnuts."

We never ordered dessert at Republic Cafe before, but after reading so many rave reviews of the loukomades, I made the decision to order a batch for our group, even though we were all stuffed.  I knew the donuts would be little donut holes, and, with a group of 6, I figured we'd make a dent, even if everyone just wanted one bite.

The donuts came as an order of 7 irregular shaped balls, all freshly fried and hot.  They were a bit greasy, but not too bad.  Hot and fresh dough, but, somehow, they didn't have much flavor.  I love fried dough in all forms, but, this just didn't wow.

On the plate, under some of them, was a smear of yogurt.  It was tart, and, as everyone agreed, really strange to serve with doughnuts.  I get what they were going for, but, the thick, tart yogurt just didn't really work as a dipping sauce for the doughnuts.  The yogurt was good with the sweet sticky honey though, which also did kinda work with the doughnuts.

Finally, some chopped hazelnuts were sprinkled all around.  Again, didn't really work with the doughnuts, but did work with the yogurt.

This dish felt a bit confused.  The yogurt, honey, and nuts made sense together, although, not quite a dessert.  The donuts were fine but pretty plain and boring on their own.  But, I didn't want to put it all together.

We didn't finish this, and I wouldn't get it again.

Update Review #1, Summer 2015

My second visit to Republic Cafe was for dinner, rather than lunch, this time with my mom and sister.  The themes of the meal were pretty much the same as my first: very fresh, flavorful, well spiced, good food, served in a casual setting.

There were little things throughout the meal that made it obvious to me that we were dining in a place with lower standards than I am used to, like failing to bring share plates, no serving utensils, and refills that never came even when we asked.

But overall, it was good, and we had a nice meal.  I look forward to more of their seafood specials.

Patio Seating.
It was a beautiful evening, so we still sat outside in the front, even though there were booths and bar seats available inside.  The tables and chairs are all brightly colored and quite charming.
Complimentary Bread and Olive Oil.
Once we ordered, we were asked if we'd like some bread and oil to start.  I appreciated that they asked, since so often the bread goes untouched, or people prefer it to not be brought, so it was nice to have it explicit.

The bread was served slightly warm, I think fresh off a grill.  Clearly house made, and it had a nice char to it.  My sister said it reminded her a bit of naan, which I did sort of agree with.  I think it is the same as what they use as a crust for the flatbreads.  Anyway, for bread, it was quite good, and a nice change from standard table bread.

It was served with a small dish with olive oil, with sesame seeds and perhaps some other seasoning.  My sister and I were both disappointed that the other seasoning didn't really come through, and it was basically just olive oil.

Overall, though, still quite good.  We did note that no bread plates were provided, so we didn't really have anywhere to put down our pieces of bread.
Cold Antipasti: Red Quinoa, Beet & Moroccan Spices, Apples & Beets, Carrot Masala. $10.
One large section of the menu is antipasti, each available for $4 each, or you can get any trio for $10.  Last time , we tried the North African spiced pickled vegetables, this time, my sister picked three.

I wasn't really planning to have any of them, but, curiosity got the better of me, so I had to try them all.  Plus, didn't they look stunning?  We did a great job of selecting items with such vibrant colors!   Unlike the bread, the antipasti was served with small plates for us to share, but without any serving utensils.

Along with our three selections, the platter included a bunch more of the yummy bread.  Since none of the antipasti we selected were really spreads, this was a bit strange, but my sister was quite happy to have more of the bread.  It would have made more sense with the bean dip or hummus-like selections.  Anyway, same bread, still good, less char on it this time.

The quinoa was my least favorite, as I don't really like quinoa.  The texture is just strange to me, but, the spicing was good, with citrus notes.

Next was the apples and beets, both julienned.  They were clearly fresh, not crazy crisp, but also not mushy.  The apple was very tart, the beet was very ... beety.  Fine, but not really something I was into.

Last was carrots.  These were crazy crisp and fresh.  Clearly they hadn't been prepared long in advance.  I loved the crunch.  And, like everything else on the platter, well spiced.

I wouldn't have ever ordered any of these things, so I wasn't in love with any of them, but I could appreciate them for what they were.  Very fresh ingredients, nicely prepared, expertly spiced.  My mother and sister both loved them.  Very light and perfect for a hot summer night.  $10 price for the platter was quite reasonable.
White Sangria.  $8.
To go along with my meal, I decided to stick with the summer spirit, and get a glass of the white sangria.  It was pretty much what I expected, light, fruity (citrus), refreshing.  Not too sweet, not too boozy.  It fit the mood perfectly.

My sister had the housemade lemonade which she raved about, and my mother had ice tea.  She did ask for a refill before our mains came, which never came, until our server remembered it and noticed when she was clearing our dishes.  She brought it immediately then, so points for that, but, a slight mis-step.
Dinner Special: Skate Wing.  $24.
The main menu has only a single seafood choice, the falafel crusted fish, which I had before and enjoyed.  I love seafood though, so I was thrilled when the server told us that there was not one, but two seafood specials.

And the first ... skate wing.  OMG.  Now, let me rewind a bit.  On the west coast, I never see skate wing on a menu.  So this was a special treat for me.  The first time I had skate was at the 3 Michelin starred Le Bernadin in New York.  The last time I had it was at Home Hill Inn, when I declared it the best seafood dish I had in 2012.  So, my bar for skate may be a bit high, given that whenever I've had it, it has been insanely good.

The skate wing was pan roasted.  The bottom was nicely seared, and overall it was moist and well seasoned.  I really love the mild, sweet flavor of skate, and the almost stringy texture to it.  It somewhat reminds of scallops, if that makes any sense.  The skate wing was well prepared, but not at the calibre of the aforementioned skate dishes.  I still really liked it, and will certainly continue to order skate wing whenever I see it on a menu.  The portion was generous.

I was already pretty much sold when the server said the special was skate wing, but, I perked up even more when she described the rest of the dish.  Roasted brussels sprouts.  Sunchokes.  Sage brown butter.  Serious OMG.

Brussels sprouts and sunchokes went out of season a few months earlier in SF, so it was a treat to see them again.  The brussels were fine, roasted, but unremarkable.  I really love it when brussels get all crispy.  My sister gladly stole all of my brussels and devoured them.

Now, for the best part: sunchokes!  You can't see them in this photo, but they were sliced, served under the fish.  I absolutely adore sunchokes, but the most common preparation, at least on menus around SF, is always as a puree.  I get to enjoy the flavor of sunchokes that way obviously, but it is never quite as satisfying as biting into a slice of sunchoke.  I was delighted to get to really enjoy the sunchokes.  They had great flavor, and were prepared with a bit of onion and pepper too.

So, the fish was well prepared, although not the best skate I've ever had.  The veggies, good enough.  Where the dish fell down however was the brown butter.  Now, I like brown butter.  But this was just way, way too much.  It felt like the dish was just swimming in oil.  I wanted to squeeze and drain everything.  It didn't ruin the dish, but, it really wasn't successful.  The crispy bits of sage on top however were a delight.  

Overall, a decent dish, and I was glad I selected it, and that I got to enjoy skate wing.  And I applaud them for serving skate and sunchokes, both not common ingredients.  $24 price seemed a bit high for a casual place, but, for fresh seafood, well prepared, with quality vegetables on the side, it wasn't unreasonable at all.
Dinner Special: Dayboat Hake.  $25.
My mother ordered the second seafood special, dayboat hake.  I would have gladly ordered this, but the skate did call out to me more strongly.  I of course offered to exchange several bites with her.

The hake was well cooked, clearly fresh fish, mild flavor, moist, and flaked nicely.  It was crusted with herbed focaccia breadcrumbs, which gave a slice crunch, almost like a baked fish and chips, but much lighter.  Much better preparation than the hake I had a few weeks earlier at Restaurant Alcanada de Golf in Mallorca.

I liked the fish, but I really would have wanted a tartar sauce or something with it.  Instead, it was topped with a spring pea mash.  I absolutely loved the mash, it was just absolutely loaded with pea flavor.  Best bite of the night.  But, as a "sauce" for the fish?  Not really.  It was thick and not really what I was looking for with the fish.  But oh so good.

It was served atop a mushroom risotto cake.  The cake was moist and creamy, not seared and pancake-like as I expected.  Almost more like a risotto mound rather than cake.  It was slightly cheesy, and had great mushroom flavor.  A nice component, although a bit odd with the fish.

The rest of the plate consisted of rainbow carrots, beautiful assorted colors, but a bit overcooked.  Not horribly, but more mushy than I'd prefer, and they were cooked so much that the awesomeness of the fresh carrots was masked.

Overall, there were many good aspects to this dish, but they didn't come together all that well.  Republic changes out their specials daily, so it makes sense that every specially wouldn't be tightly conceived.  The risotto was good, the fish was well prepared, and the pea mash was stunning, I just didn't necessarily want them all on the same plate.  I'd still continue to try any other seafood specials they come up with though.

$25 is a little high for standard prices in the area, but for fresh fish and quality produce, it is entirely warranted.

[ Not Pictured ]
Chicken Panini: Chicken from P. Allen Farm, Heart Song Goat Cheese, Roasted Reds, Pesto. $8.50.

My sister ordered a chicken panini.  Now, I don't really care for sandwiches in general.  And I really dislike chicken.  And I hate goat cheese.  I had no intention of interacting with her panini, so I didn't bother take a photo.

But ... I asked her how it was, and her response was to hand me a big chunk.  The bread was really nicely toasted, good crust on it.  And like everything else, the pesto was really flavorful, well spiced.  The chicken and goat cheese were, well, chicken and goat cheese.  I didn't like them.

It was served with a small side salad that I also did not try.

I appreciated how well prepared the panini was, but, it was just a panini.  My sister didn't love it either, and commented that the chicken was dry.  $8.50 seemed like a fine price.

Original Review, Summer 2013

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, where my family still lives.  When I go visit these days, it  is quite a change, as I'm used to living right in the middle of San Francisco.  It isn't the hustle and bustle, and certainly isn't the weather, that I miss when I'm away however.  It is the good food.  San Francisco is very much a foodie city, and I have embraced that lifestyle wholeheartedly.

On my recent trip to the east coast, I flew in and out of the Boston airport, where my parents picked me up and dropped me off, before driving the 2.5 hours to their home in New Hampshire.  I used the flights as an excuse to check out some new restaurants, dragging my parents along with me.  Well, dragging my dad along with me.  My mom is a fairly adventurous eater, although she hasn't been exposed to all that varied of cuisine. But my father ... has a very limited set of things he eats.  I'd describe him as mostly eating only American-Italian food, and as a mostly vegetarian, who doesn't really like vegetables.  Which means, he eats pizza, spaghetti, and some simple sandwiches, and if given no other options, will eat a hamburger.  He will never, ever eat any seafood, chicken, etc.  I'm pretty sure the only animal proteins I have seen him eat are beef and bacon.  So, finding restaurants to satisfy us both is always a challenge.

I picked a charming place right in Boston for my arrival meal.  I was certain the menu would appeal to us all, no easy feat (and, it did for the most part!).  But I neglected to consider an important point: my father is not at all comfortable driving, much less parking, in a city.  So when it was time for me to fly out, I was a bit stumped.  Everywhere I wanted to go was in Boston.  When I looked in the suburbs around Boston, I could find plenty of Panera, Applebees, and other chains, or local places with bad reviews, but none of those are what I wanted.

So I looked closer to home, and discovered that Manchester, NH actually has a bit of a culinary scene.  Manchester, while not the capital of NH, is the largest city.  When I started reading reviews of restaurants there, one place was mentioned again and again on Chowhound: Republic Cafe.  I was delighted when I pulled up their website to see what they were about.  They focus on sourcing all ingredients locally when possible.  The animal proteins are all vegetarian fed.  Each dish on the menu has the producer's name listed before the ingredient.  It really could be like a menu from any of my favorite places in San Francisco.

Excited, I read on.  The restaurant is Mediterranean influenced, but not really Mediterranean.  Sure, they have hummus and falafel on the menu, but they also have a slew of interesting flatbreads, salads, and paninis.  The menu has a lot of variety in the type of food you can order.  There are cold antipasti or warm mezze to get started.  Entree salads, paninis, and flatbreads for lighter main dish options.  Main entrees feature a little bit of everything: pasta, seafood, chicken, steak.  In the morning, they serve breakfast (eggs, omelets, yogurts, granola), and have a full espresso bar.  They turn more wine bar-eque at night.  At lunch and dinner, the full menu is offered, and you can choose to just have a light cafe style meal, some small bites over wine, or a full entree and dessert.

I liked everything I was reading.  Great reviews, local sourcing, and the menu was really appealing, not just to me, but I hoped to my family as well.  I looked it up on Google Street View to get a sense of how "city" it was going to be, to make sure my dad would feel comfortable driving there.  While more urban than he is used to, it didn't look too bad.  Done!

I was even happier when we arrived and I saw the space.  Inside the restaurant was a narrow space, but it had an incredibly comfortable vibe to it.  Casual, but chic.  However, it was a beautiful sunny day, and they had tables available outside.  Since I was about to head back to the horrible cold San Francisco "summer", I eagerly took the opportunity to sit outside.

The overwhelming feeling I had while dining at Republic Cafe was that it was just so comfortable.  Everyone, diners and staff alike, seemed happy.  Almost everyone around us ordered classic lunch fare, paninis and salads, and they all looked fresh and light.  We of course somehow managed to order the least healthy dishes on the menu, which is impressive, since almost everything else was really really healthy!  Even the desserts use greek yogurt instead of ice cream.

Anyway, I was very impressed by the creativity and composition of the dishes, the execution of the cooking, the plating and presentation, and in particular, the very well thought out flavors.  Every dish was very refined.  Very unexpected for the region.  I'd certainly return.

So if you ever find yourself in Manchester, NH, and need a place to eat, you should try out Republic Cafe.
NH Maple Cream Soda.  $5.
Republic Cafe has a strong beverage program.  In the morning, they have a full espresso bar, and later in the day, they offer wine by the taste, glass, 1/2 carafe, or bottle.  But they are  known for their non-alcoholic drinks as well, including all sorts of house-made spritzers and sodas.  My mom and I were both drawn to the cream soda, a custom blend of cream and seltzer, but then, even more drawn by the next option: maple cream soda.  The maple syrup was from a NH producer (Just Maple's amber-grade maple syrup), the cream from a local dairy (Barlett's farm).

It was good, clearly a freshly made, with real cream in it, but neither of us tasted as much maple as we expected, or would have liked.  Fun to try, but not all that special.

Not pictured is my dad's lemonade, fresh squeezed with simple syrup, also $5.  I didn't try it, and asked him for a review, and his response was: "it is lemonade".

We were also provided with a jug on water on the table, which was most welcomed, as it was hot out, and we quickly depleted our water glasses several times.
North African Spiced Pickled Vegetables. $4.
The cold antipasti section contained a slew of interesting sounding dishes, but most were far too exotic in their spicing for my family, and as it was lunchtime, we weren't wanting a large number of starters anyway.  We settled on a single selection: the pickles.

The pickles came with cute little skewers for ease of stabbing and eating, a nice touch.  The mix of veggies was pretty interesting: standard cucumbers, but also carrots, onions, green peppers, red bell peppers, and very spicy red peppers.  They were all fresh and crisp, the carrots particularly enjoyable with a serious crunch.  The spicy red peppers were too much, even for my father, who can take some serious heat.  They made me really appreciate that water jug!

I'm not sure exactly what the "North African" spices were, but they were nicely spiced.  They seemed like a quick pickle, not much vinegar flavor.  Overall fine, and it was nice to have something to nibble on early in the meal, but I probably wouldn't order them again.

Cold antipasti are all $4 each, or you can get a trio for $10.  A fine price for our little bowl of pickles.
Field Mushroom Bolognese with grilled polenta and whipped ricotta. $9.50.
Next my mother and I moved on to a hot mezze.  So many of these choices sounded great to me, but the bolognese was the only one my mom was interested in, and my father didn't want to try any of them.   It was my first choice anyway, as I do love mushrooms, polenta, and whipped cheese.

The presentation was beautiful, far more sophisticated than I was expecting at a little cafe in New Hampshire!  And food mirrored the plating, surprisingly complex.

The bolognese was composed of mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, and onions.  All were chopped to a fine dice.  The knife skills were particularly impressive, everything really was exactly the same size.  The veggies were all well cooked, but they weren't really popping with flavor themselves.

The flavor came from a few different components drizzled on the plate, including an herb based oil and a balsamic reduction.  Such a highly refined dish!

The polenta was very nicely grilled, with great grill marks, crispy exterior.  Definitely good, but it was just grilled polenta.

My favorite component was the herb whipped ricotta.  It had great seasoning, was super fluffy.

I really appreciated the combination of textures from the chunky bolognese to the crispy polenta to the creamy ricotta.  I also liked the contrast in temperature from the warm bolognese and polenta to the cool ricotta on top.  This was such a well thought out dish.

Overall, this dish wowed me in its plating, and in the clear skill of the chef in the level of cooking execution of each component, and in the level of sophistication in the dish as a whole, but somehow, I didn't love it.  I'm honestly not sure why.  I can't pinpoint anything at all to fault it.  I think perhaps I'd just had too much polenta lately, and I've been preferring it more creamy and cheesy style.

My mother really enjoyed the dish, and $9.50 seemed like an amazing price for such a polished dish.
Daily Special: Cheeseburger with hand-cut frites.
I selected Republic Cafe for several reasons, one was that it had amazing reviews, another is that it had dishes I was interested in, but the final reason is that I thought my dad would actually be happy eating there too.  While he isn't familiar with Mediterranean food exactly, and I knew the terms would be unfamiliar, I thought the flavors and ingredients were ones he would be comfortable with.  I also felt bad because I spent the week dragging him to places I wanted to eat, where the only things he'd consider eating were the burgers and flatbreads.  I wanted him to have a chance to actually get something different.

So while Republic Cafe did have flatbreads and salads that were Dad-friendly, I had my eye on a couple of the entrees I thought he'd really like, particularly the veggie tagine.  Sure, he didn't know what a tagine was, and didn't know cous cous, but he does like veggies over rice, and I tried to explain that he'd like it.  But, he wasn't willing to try something new, and went for a special of the day ... the cheeseburger.  Sigh.  I tried!

The beef was of course local New Hampshire beef, grass fed.  Served with fresh looking baby greens, tomato, onion, on a toasted thin bread.  I think the bread was the same as they use for their paninis, it certainly wasn't a standard hamburger bun, as it was square, and not fluffy.  The cheese was perfectly melted.

My dad ordered it medium-well.  When my mom asked him how his grass fed beef tasted, he said he couldn't tell, because it was "so raw" and "dripping blood".  What?  I took one look and almost laughed.  It was not raw.  It was not rare.  It was totally medium-well.  Perhaps slightly on the medium side of medium-well, but I'd certainly call it medium-well.  If I'd ordered medium and received it, I'd be slightly grumpy that it was overdone.  I'd also order it medium-rare anyway.

Anyway, I know my dad is used to well done burgers.  In fact, that is the only way I'd ever had them until I left home, so I can see how this was less cooked than he is used to, but he ordered medium-well, not well done, and I honestly think he got what he ordered. He managed to eat most of it, but clearly did not enjoy it at all.  I felt pretty bad, because I really had been trying to please him with this restaurant choice.  Sigh.
Falafel Fried Fish with hand cut frites & two sauces. $19.
But the number one reason we were at Republic Cafe was for this dish: falafel fried fish!  I've had a serious, serious craving for fish and chips since my previous visit to the east coast.  (Side note: if you know of anywhere at all in the San Francisco Bay Area that has good fish and chips, please let me know!  The problem is that they all seem to use Rock Cod, which I just can't stand.  I wish we had haddock!)  Anyway, I was determined to get fish & chips on this trip, yet I struck out every time I tried.  It was my absolute last chance to get fish & chips, and Republic Cafe had a version that sounded fascinating. I knew it wasn't going to be traditional fish & chips, but I was hoping it would satisfy my craving.

It mostly did.  Two large pieces of fish, I think haddock, served atop a serious mountain of frites.  My dad commented a couple times on the fact that his burger came with far, far fewer fries.  I'd say his came with a reasonable portion, whereas this was just insanity.  I don't think anyone could ever possibly finish all the fries.

Anyway, back to the fish.  It was tender, flaky, moist.  Not at all fishy.  Exactly what I was looking for.  The falafel coating was obviously different from the normal beer battering, but was very successful.  I'm not certain I would have identified it as falafel exactly, but it was seriously crispy.  I absolutely loved how crunchy it was, far more crisp than any other coating I've ever had on fried fish.  Everything should be done this way!

One of the best parts about fish & chips for me is always the tartar sauce.  I'm such a sauce girl in general, and mayo based dips have a special place in my heart.  While I obviously wanted the fish, I think there was a part of me that was in it for the dipping sauces :)  I'm notorious for always using far more tartar sauce than anyone else, and for using it in all sorts of creative ways ... I'll dip anything in it!

So, I was curious what we'd have instead of standard tartar sauce, as the menu just said it was served with "two sauces".  It actually came with three sauces!  Two were dipping sauces in little containers, one was a lemon aioli, the other a lemon caper remoulade.  The aioli did indeed have a strong lemon flavor, but was a bit thin for my liking, and somehow just wasn't that great.  I dipped fish in it, I dipped fries in it, I kept going back for it, but it was just missing some tang or something to it.  The remoulade was better.  It had chunks of caper in it, and I wanted to love it since I do love remoulade, but again, it was just missing a little something.  The three sauce was a red pepper romesco, actually spread on the fish.  Now this was a serious surprise!  The romesco paired absolutely perfectly with the crispy falafel crust.  Such a great idea.  My favorite bites were the fish, coated in romesco, then dunked in the remoulade.  Together the remoulade and romesco worked together quite well.

The frites were thin, served piping hot, visibly seasoned.  They also had fried capers mixed in.  I don't tend to care for thin style fries, and these were fairly oily, but I did end up consuming far more of the mound than I ever expected to, so they must have not actually been too bad :)

We also asked for some ketchup, which I'm guessing was house-made, or at least a local product.  It was unlike any ketchup I've had before, such intense tomato flavor, not loaded up with sugar.  Ketchup that actually tastes like tomato?  Who knew?  I commented on the ketchup to my dad, who had the same ketchup for his fries, and he said he couldn't taste any difference from standard Heinz.  Sigh.

Anyway, this was a really unique version of fish and chips, as I expected.  Well prepared, and like the mezze, clearly well thought out.  I was impressed, although the sauces did leave me a bit disappointed.  I'd certainly consider getting it again.
Republic Cafe and Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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