A sweltering Saturday afternoon motivated us to strap our kayaks on the car and head to one of Mrs. Gourmet’s favorite paddling spots, at the northern end of Newfound Lake in Hebron. And after we cooled off on the water, we drove a little further north and experienced one of the nicest little restaurants we’ve come across in a long time.
We had discovered Rumney Rocks Bistro in an online search, and one look at the menu convinced us to check it out.
The name, by the way, comes from a geological formation in the area that’s popular with climbers (though we’re confident that the town of Rumney does, in fact, rock.)
When we found it, just off Route 25, it was a little less to look at than we expected. It’s a low, long building that seems to have been added onto several times over the years. There’s a curved-top greenhouse wall wrapping around the front corner, giving a sort of 1980s feel. But having seen the menu, we knew there was good stuff inside.
Entering the knotty-pine lobby, it seemed like a typical rustic/casual roadhouse you’d find in rural New Hampshire. There’s a bar (with the greenhouse wall) to the left, continuing the pine theme. Straight ahead, there are two dining rooms and a small function/buffet space. In the dining spaces, the decorating theme changed completely. Dark red walls, cream colored ceilings and wainscoting, birch bark trim, exposed beams, plus black table linens and formal place settings give a casually classy air to the dining spaces — the feel we were expecting from what we saw online.
Our server, Abby, met us at the entrance and led us into the second dining room, slightly smaller than the first but, she told us, the better air-conditioned of the two. She took our drink order, delivered some fresh hot dinner rolls, and left us to study the menu.
It’s not a big menu, but there’s a good selection of daily specials, and it’s clear that there’s plenty of thought, care and creativity at work in the kitchen. The appetizer section is a good example. There are a few standards, including onion rings and spinach and artichoke dip, but even the familiar dishes have twists. Rather than steamed mussels, there’s Sauteed Littleneck Clams. There’s nachos, and then there’s Meatloaf Nachos. Vegan offerings include Kale or Edamame Potstickers.
Mrs. G started with Coconut Shrimp ($7.99), six butterflied shrimp , coated with a light, sweet batter loaded with coconut flakes. The shrimp (tails still on) were gently fried, slightly crispy and tasty enough on their own, but the Thai chili sauce served alongside was a perfect spicy/sweet complement.
Even though it was 90 degrees outside, I started with what would be an ideal winter appetizer: Baked Overstuffed Mushrooms ($5.99). Five or six small mushroom caps were arranged in a crock, then topped with a moist crumb stuffing, rich caramelized onions and topped with melted mozzarella cheese. The flavor profile was very much like French onion soup; put some beef/onion broth under the melted cheese and this rich dish would make an equally good winter soup.
As much as I liked the menu I saw online, the one we saw at the table was even better. One of the entrees that took me by surprise — and which I haven’t seen on another New Hampshire menu — was Trout Almondine ($13.99). Since we were in a trouty part of the state, I decided to give it a try.
A whole trout (sans head) was butterflied, completely deboned and gently seared. No almonds were in evidence, an extremely mild Amaretto sauce standing in for the nuts. The fish was mild, though I needed no extra seasoning. It was perfectly cooked, each forkful sliding effortlessly off the slightly crisped skin.
The entree came with two sides. I chose sweet potato and cole slaw. The slaw, served on a bed of lettuce, was crisp, lightly dressed and as classy a slaw as you’ll find. The sweet potato was actually a half, sliced longitudinally and baked with a mild, slightly sweet glaze (though that sweetness could have been coming from the tuber itself). I was very happy with the whole plate.
Mrs. G. ordered from the specials menu. She chose fish as well, though hers was of the saltwater variety. Crabby Haddock ($15.99) was a large casserole filled with tender haddock and topped with a crabmeat bread crumb stuffing. Once it cooled down a bit, she loved the flavors, even as we puzzled over the unusual spice we noted in the stuffing. We finally agreed that it was curry powder that gave a hint of the exotic to what would be a pretty standard (but very good) New England seafood dish.
Mrs. G couldn’t finish her generous entree, and I really shouldn’t have ordered dessert, but there were a handful of homemade selections that sounded too good to ignore. The staff (and some of our neighboring diners) were talking up the locally-sourced strawberry rhubarb crisp, but I decided to try the Margarita pie.
This tropical beauty was similar to a good key lime pie, with a tart/sweet filling in a graham cracker crust. But what made the link to its namesake cocktail was the sprinkling of salt on the plate, partly in the form of crushed pretzels, waiting to be collected with a bite of pie. Excellent.
Rumney Rocks wasn’t busy when we arrived on Saturday at prime time, but maybe it was too hot for people to leave their lakeside retreats to head out for dinner. Also, our server told us that the place had just reopened after the untimely death of one of its founders, so perhaps word had yet to get out.
Initial visual impressions aside, it was every bit as good as our online research suggested. The menu and the food were excellent, the service was friendly and helpful, and the value factor is good.
Now, the next time we’re kayaking at that favorite spot on Newfound Lake, we know we have a favorite restaurant nearby where we can refuel and relax afterward.