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Our Gourmet: New England's Tap House Grille in Hooksett is another outlet for thirsty, hungry NH

1292 Hooksett Road, Hooksett NH

According to the Beer Institute, New Hampshire drinks more beer than any other state in the country, consuming a whopping 43 gallons per year per person. So it comes as no surprise that another restaurant that features a large and varied draft list has opened in the Granite State. And of course, given our penchant for beer, we had to stop in and check it out.

New England's Tap House Grille recently opened in Hooksett at the strip mall which is also home to Goodwill. If you aren't looking for it, it's easy to miss.

The place is brand new and it looks like the owners worked hard to come up with a contemporary décor in the space, which features a large bar in the middle of the open room. The place is spacious and features an open kitchen. It's nicely lit and we can tell you that the booths are very comfortable.

If you are going to call yourself a tap house, you better be able to back it up. We knew we'd be in luck after spying the keg room that extends down the left-hand side of the restaurant. The Tap House has about 50 beers to choose from in all different styles from different places. We were happy to see that for beer newbies they break down their list into the different styles. Still unsure what to choose? They offer beer flights, or a selection of samples, and they are also happy to oblige if you want to taste a beer before you order a whole glass.

But enough about the beer; we did actually eat at the Tap House Grille.

The menu is sizable without being overwhelming and offers a variety of dishes. Stereotypical bar food has been left off the menu or is served with an upscale twist.

After perusing the appetizer list, it was an easy choice for me: the Poutine with pomme frites ($9), billed as House fries with Parmesan cheese, black truffle oil, rosemary, peppercorn sherry wine gravy, cheese curd, and topped with jalapeno. Overall I liked the mix of flavors, although the jalapeno was absent. There was plenty of cheese and just enough gravy to be good without being soggy. The gravy and cheese could have conspired to make the appetizer overly salty, but the seasoning was spot on. This dish would have been close to a home run, but unfortunately it was cold in spots.

The Dining Companion chose the Smoked Meatballs and Crostini ($9), hand-rolled meatballs smoked then topped with smoked gouda and fire-roasted marinara, which surrounds the large portion of meatballs and fills the bottom of the bowl. The gouda and marinara serve a dual purpose as both a topping and as a delicious dip for the crusty bread served with the meatballs. These have a real deep smoked flavor that you'll either love or hate (TDC loved it.)

In an attempt to balance out my calorie-heavy appetizer, I opted for the North Atlantic Salmon ($17), grilled with light seasonings and maple glaze (alternately served spicy blackened in a cast iron skillet), served over sweet corn and bacon maque choux with grilled polenta. The salmon was nicely cooked and seasoned, although I couldn't really taste the maple in the glaze. As good as the salmon was the corn and bacon maque choux stole the show. The Louisiana-based dish, which features corn, peppers and onion, was addictive.

The TDC had the beer-brined rotisserie half-chicken ($14). The all-natural chicken is served in one of two styles - lemon herb or, his choice, barbecue style - with cornbread stuffing and a vegetable. The chicken was tender, but TDC raved about the stuffing, which was mixed with cranberries and was absolutely delicious. The dish was worth ordering for the stuffing alone.

We were looking to satisfy our sweet tooth but unfortunately desssert is where New England's Tap House Grille misses the boat.

TDC chose the crème brulee, rich custard topped with a layer of caramel and cinnamon. One of the best parts of ordering crème brulee is that satisfying crack you feel and hear when you break through the hard sugar layer to get to the creamy custard. But the top layer was soft, making this crème without the brulee. I decided to give the bread pudding a shot. But once again something was missing, and this time it was the "pudding." The dessert was a dry slab of bread without enough glaze to save it.

New England's Tap House Grille has a lot going for it: a sizeable beer list, cool atmosphere, and conscientious wait staff. We suspect some of the missteps on the food are because they are just getting their feet under them. We hope they will eventually be worked out, because the Grille is a much-needed and welcome addition to the restaurant and bar scene in Hooksett.


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