Summer tourists, let this be fair warning: When we visited the recently opened Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Company on a recent Saturday night BEFORE Memorial Day Weekend, the wait for a table was an hour and a half. So if you’re planning to check it out (and we absolutely, positively recommend that you do) on a summer weekend, you’d better call ahead for a reservation.
Hobbs, which had only been open a month when we visited, occupies the sprawling farmhouse and barn formerly known as the Whittier House restaurant. More accurately, it occupies the bones of that building, because it has been dramatically renovated in a 14-month reconstruction project that yielded spectacular results.
The entrance, lined with granite and fieldstone, leads to a large lobby area. To the left is the main restaurant, which includes two large dining areas, a central bar and an upstairs lounge and dining space, all with beautifully finished barnboard floors, walls and ceilings, with an upscale sort of contemporary/country feel. Straight ahead from the lobby is the brewing room, which was still under construction when we visited but was expected to be up and running in a matter of weeks.
We managed to avoid that 90-minute wait by taking the hostess’ invitation to grab two open seats at the bar, where full menu service is offered. I ordered one of the dozen or so draft beers served in beer-can shaped glasses (the taps will gradually be converted to Hobbs’ own brews as they become available), and we got down to ordering.
Hobbs’ menu is concise, but as interesting, comfortable and imaginative as the décor. There’s a touch of Pacific Rim, a bit of down-home comfort food, and some seasonal choices along with salads, flatbreads and sandwiches.
I was unusually decisive as I scanned the menu, quickly nailing down my appetizer and entree (perhaps a touch too quickly, but more on that later).
The Dining Companion started with Paper-Wrapped Ginger Shrimp ($12), an Asian-inspired dish featuring 4 large shrimp in a thin, delicate wrapper and lightly deep-fried. It was served with a soy, sriracha and honey sauce, which hit the trifecta — salty/sweet/hot. The shrimp was tender and the medley of flavors was fantastic. TDC says it’s a must-order the next time we visit.
TDC stayed with seafood for her entree and chose the Line Caught Swordfish ($25) — a perfectly chargrilled swordfish steak, topped with avocado and a cold smoked scallop. It was served with mashed potatoes and herbed white bean broth. Served in a bowl, at first it looked like a fish stew, the swordfish and scallop surrounded by creamy mashed potatoes topped with the beans in their thick, rich, buttery broth.
The fish was gone by the time she finished, but there was enough of the potato/bean combination to bring some home for me to polish off as a side for the next day’s lunch.
Every once in a while, I will make a menu choice strictly on gut instinct which turns out to be completely wrong. Such was the case with my appetizer, Calamari Steak ($11).
In three years of dining around New Hampshire and countless hours of staring at food TV, this was our first encounter with calamari steak, and so we did not have benefit of the research that I have done since. Nor did I ask any questions.
The menu describes it thusly: “panko crisped / capers / dijon lime aioli / beurre blanc.” When I read that description, for some reason I leapt to the conclusion that “Calamari Steak” would be little strips of beef, panko coated and quick-fried in the style of traditional calamari.
I could not have been further off base. In fact, the dish is one large squid tube, butterflied and flattened so it assumes the shape of a steak, then breaded, fried and cut into julienne strips.
As regular readers may know, we are big calamari fans. But calamari steak? Not so much. Not only was it not beef, which I thought was going to be impressively innovative, but it was also not particularly light, bite-sized or tender, qualities which we highly prize in our calamari.
TDC, on the other hand, enjoyed it and says she would order it again. Had I not been so flummoxed, I would have offered to switch appetizers, which would have made me much happier.
But as far off as my appetizer choice had been, my entree was right on target: Roasted Squash Lasagna ($18). This large dish featured pasta layered with soft chunks of winter squash, zucchini, wild mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes and ricotta cheese with a basil pesto over the top. Unlike the typical tomato-sauce lasagna, this version let each ingredient take its turn in the spotlight — first the soft orange squash, then the mushrooms, then, further down, the tomatoes and zucchini. The ricotta tied it all together in a delicious, ample package. So ample, in fact, that I brought home enough to serve as my dinner again a couple of nights later.
We caught another hint of Pacific influence with our selection from the dessert menu, which changes nightly. We chose an ice cream sandwich of sorts, made from two flattened puffed sesame cakes over and under a scoop of coconut curry ice cream. It was a generous portion, creamy and sweet, but surprisingly light. A terrific finish.
Our visit to Hobbs was pure happenstance. We were cruising north on Route 16 and on the lookout for a casual but upscale dining destination. Clearly, the locals are already well aware of the quality of food and friendly service to be found inside the beautiful barn-red building’s walls.
Our tab came to $92, so it’s not inexpensive, but the wow factor (we must have used the word a dozen times during the evening) is huge.
Once the brewery operation is up and running, there’ll be even more reasons to make the trip. Just remember to call ahead.