Our Gourmet: Great food and beer found on a WHYMJune 06. 2017 10:36PM
WHYM Craft Beer Cafe3458 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth; 501-0478; whymportsmouth.com
Hours: Sunday noon-9 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday 4-11 p.m.; Saturday noon-11 p.m. Closed Monday.
Pricing: Appetizers $5-$8; sandwiches and burgers $9-$14; entrees $8-$16.
The scores for WHYM
We do our best to keep up to date on the dining scene around the state, but occasionally the ol’ radar screen needs to be recalibrated because we’ve failed to pick up something noteworthy.
Such was the case in the past few weeks, since we discovered WHYM Craft Beer Cafe in Portsmouth.
We had never heard of this place before. We’ve googled Portsmouth restaurants plenty of times over the years, but this was the first time WHYM caught our attention. “Must be new,” I thought.
Boy, were we surprised when our waiter told us WHYM has been open for three or four years.
WHYM — which stands for Water, Hops, Yeast, Malt — is a very low-profile place. It’s in the Wren’s Nest Motel complex, almost to the Rye town line on Lafayette Road (Route 1). We’ve driven by it countless times, but never noticed the WHYM sign sharing space on the motel sign until we were looking for it on a recent Sunday night.
Even if you spot the sign, the restaurant isn’t obvious. You have to drive into the motel complex and around a loop to find the entrance in the back of one of the motel buildings. But we did finally find it, and we are very glad that we did.
Inside, it’s a small, pub-like space, with 12 to 15 tables on two levels and a few more seats at the bar. Unique beer bottles from tiny craft breweries decorate many of the room’s horizontal surfaces. There’s a patio out back for use if it ever warms up enough. Photos online show patrons out there hanging out, playing cornhole and basically having a great, relaxing time.
As its name suggests, craft beer is the dominant offering at WHYM. It’s not a brewery, but there’s a full-sheet menu of small-scale regional brews. A large blackboard lists the current on-tap offerings. There were at least a dozen the night we were there.
While beer is the headline attraction, we are here to tell you that you won’t need to love beer in order to love WHYM. The food menu may be smaller than the beer menu, but that just means the kitchen can focus on making the food as good as it can be. (There are daily specials along with the menu items.)
Like all the menu sections, the appetizer list is brief — pretzels, fries, pickles, charcuterie — but in the execution, it shines.
Having become addicted to deep-fried pickles over the last few months, we needed to try WHYM’s version. The Beer Frizzled Pickles ($7) were big thick slices, clearly cut from the kind of monster dill pickles that used to be found in big barrels in old country stores. They were sour, but they were terrific; an ample serving breaded and fried to a light crunch, served with a honey mustard and a red-pepper aioli.
Our favorite appetizer, though, was the Caulifritter ($7) — a hamburger sized fried patty of mashed cauliflower, shredded carrot and herbs, topped with taboule and drizzled with a light aioli-style sauce. The flavors were sweet, aromatic and tangy, the texture alternately soft and crunchy — an amazing combination that convinced Mrs. Gourmet that three of these would make a very satisfying meal. It’s not on the online menu, but if it’s offered when you visit, do yourself a favor and order it.
Limited as the other menu sections are, the “Large Bites” entree section is downright tiny: four items. But having sampled 50 percent of the dishes, we’ll take a chance and say everything is really, really good.
I had the Mussels & Frites ($14), a small pot of mussels steamed in a witbier reduction with garlic, herbs and finely diced pancetta, with fries on the side. The broth was mild, tasting more of the mussels than of the beer base. The only gripe here was there was no bread to soak up any of the extra broth.
Mrs. G ordered the Stumbling Cow ($16), described as a “boozed & spiced up 8 ounce sirloin.” Mrs. G has encountered some great steaks recently, but she was adamant that this one, with its thick bourbon-based sauce, was the best of the bunch. It came with a kicked-up cajun slaw and fries.
We both ordered Truffle Frites ($2 upcharge) as our fries. They were very good, heavily seasoned and trimmed with herbs, truffle oil and parmesan cheese. In retrospect, one of us should have tried the house Belgian Frites, served with spiced ketchup, just for comparison.
We weren’t offered a dessert menu (there was at least one available as a special), but no matter; we were fully satisfied with our meals, and hey — there’s nothing wrong with leaving the table before becoming stuffed.
WHYM is a great spot — extremely casual, reasonably priced, with great food and beer. If the weather ever warms up, the patio will be an attractive place to go for a beer and a bite. It’s a great alternative to the high-end dining and pricing to be found in downtown Portsmouth.