Improving the Manchester dining scene

By Courtney Hoppe

As a former New York resident and current food and beverage writer for New Hampshire Magazine and The Nashua Telegraph, I was asked to put together my thoughts on what palate-related establishments Manchester is lacking.

Having moved to New Hampshire in 2005, I do feel that the Queen City has been going through a bit of a Renaissance with the addition of a few new restaurants and bars. However, one of my favorite things about the New York lifestyle is location hopping – i.e. pre-dinner cocktails (and a “tasty”, as we call it) at one location, dinner at the next, dessert at another, after-dinner drinks somewhere else. I realize the early curfew works against this idea in New Hampshire – dinner reservations in New York are rarely made before 9pm – but it’s not impossible if one starts early enough. Here’s my suggestions as to what could fill in the blanks surrounding the decent crop of restaurants that we already have.

  1. A wine bar. Something moody and lush, with deep wood and velvet chairs, a jazz band, and a brilliant selection. Portland Pie has a small but solid assortment of wines on casket tap; Republic has two. It would be great to blow this idea up, but leave the cigar smoking to Castros and Karma.
  2. A place to get brunch on Saturday, not just Sunday. Right now, our only choices are the Red Arrow, Jewell & the Beanstalk, and Julien’s, which are all Mimosa and Bloody Mary-free. Someone needs to fill in the gaping hole left here. And honestly, Sunday brunch is sorely lacking as well. I think the only real options (that include cocktails) are Firefly and Richard’s now that Mint is closed for renovations.
  3. While we’re at it, a place (besides the Red Arrow) that serves a full breakfast menu after 1pm. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Red Arrow. But it can be hard to get a seat and I feel the need to shower the greasy smell off of me afterwards. I wish places like Jewell & the Beanstalk and Julien’s were open later. And I wish Julien’s didn’t only take cash.
  4. An independently-owned coffee bar with evening hours. A place writers like myself could collect for an amazing cappuccino, snacks, outlet access, and cushy seating. The Bridge Café is on the right track (and has a small breakfast menu that’s served until closing at 5pm) but the seating doesn’t fit this bill. Ditto for Republic. And J.Dubs is more grab & go.
  5. More restaurants that offer al fresco dining. I feel this has picked up a bit, but I still want MORE. Outside dining turns a simple meal into an event.
  6. A restaurant that specializes in family-style meals. One of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan features a menu of pass around-sized dishes, which forces everyone at the table to share, and is fantastically affordable. Sharing leads to better dinner conversation. And again, an event. I’m told Richard’s offers family-style dishes on Sunday evenings but I’ve yet to try it. Have you?
  7. A café and bakery. Maybe someplace like Michael’s Pastries in the North End, where you can get a delicious dessert and an after-dinner coffee. I’m excited about the cupcake place that’s coming to Elm Street but I fear they’re only going to be open during the day. (This could also be the same location as #4.)
  8. A pretzel stand. Where can you get a pretzel in Manchester besides Fisher Cats stadium or the Verizon? A warm weather travesty.
  9. An oyster bar. If I could transport Surf from Nashua to Manchester, and make it a tad more casual, I would. I’m glad that Hooked has joined us, but what’s great about Surf is that the bar is huge and there’s also the option of sitting outside.
  10. Bring back the Korean Place! Although they had odd hours and only took cash, the Korean Place has left a gaping hole in my stomach.

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8 comments

  1. Katie says:

    For over a decade Unwined has done a phenomenal job of being a destination Winebar — it just isn’t in the downtown section but is well worth the trip to the West side/Bedford Line they offer terrific wine flights, and have a knowledgable staff, comfy and versatile seating areas and great food as well.

    and as i said on the FB and Twitter feed- Republic serves terrific breakfast/brunch Saturday and Sunday and their farm egg souffle is so good you’ll want to marry it. I’ve lived in Manchester for 21 years and the restaurant scene is amazing and wonderful right now – love it!

    • Courtney says:

      Hi Katie:

      You’re right, Republic does have a Saturday breakfast menu that includes Mimosas. I completely forgot about them when putting together this piece. I did try an omelette there awhile ago and was underwhelmed, but I don’t remember seeing the egg souffle you mentioned. This gives me a reason to go back and try again. Thank you!

      I like Unwined as well, but I mentally consider it located more in Bedford (I realize the address is technically in Manchester) and more of a restaurant than what I was describing. What I envision is a dark moody wine bar that doesn’t serve entrees. More Corks at the BVI-like in atmosphere.

      Thanks for reading this piece and posting your comment. I hope to see you out sometime!

  2. I like all your thoughts. As a craft beer lover, I’d like to suggest a beer bar along the lines of the Publick House in Brookline, Mass., Novare Res in Portland, Me. or the Alehouse in Amesbury, Mass. among others. There are plenty of places in Manchester that offer a solid beer list and some really enjoyable spots among them, but nothing quite like the places mentioned, where a long and well-selected beer list is accompanied by an interesting (even if short) menu and environment focused on the enjoyment of beer. Especially with more local breweries popping up and gaining traction, a local beer bar would be great.

    And as much as I’d like to see more of the things you mentioned show up downtown, where I agree there’s been a lot of improvement in the dining scene, I’d like to see some solid neighborhood eateries and bars, too. The North End, Rimmon Heights and other dense, walkable neighborhoods would really benefit from a coffee shop, bakery-cafe or small, family-friendly bar/restaurant, as well as more sidewalk dining that would cater mostly to residents within walking distance.

  3. Ashley says:

    Manchester lacks any real Asian restaurants now that the Korean place is gone. There are too many “Chinese” places to count, and those don’t really “count” as real Asian fair in my opinion.

  4. Kristin Marie says:

    Couldn’t agree more Courtney! Only thing – Julien’s started accepting credit more than a year ago. One wish answered anyway. 🙂

    • Courtney says:

      You’re so right, Kristin! I happened to see the credit card sign when I drove by a few weeks ago (after writing this post, obviously) and have been a few times since. It makes me so happy!

      Btw, did you all see that Po Diner is moving in at the intersection of Chesnut and Amherst Street? Wondering if it’ll be Julien’s-esque.

      • Is the Po Diner the old Post Office Fruit Luncheonette? I’d love to hear more about the place–watching the shabby old building come back to life has been great, and I’d love to see a lively, thriving cafe facing Victory Park like that. I think it would be a great place for a sort of cafe-bar, sort of like the old Gala Cafe, where people could gather for a light meal, a cup of coffee, or a glass of beer or wine in a relaxed atmosphere. Whatever it is, though, having a restaurant there will help extend the feeling of downtown a bit further east of Elm.

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