Our Gourmet: A great spot for dinner, whether you golf or not

June 19. 2018 10:55PM
The Toll Booth Tavern at Crotched Mountain Golf Course could well have been a tavern along the 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike centuries ago. 
Toll Booth Tavern at Crotched Mountain Golf Club
1 School House Road, Francestown; 588-1800; crotchedmountaingolfclub.com

Hours: Monday-Tuesday, noon-8 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday until 9; Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Cuisine: American pub/bistro.

Pricing: Appetizers $6-$9; dinner salads $9-$17; burgers and sandwiches $9-10; entrees $11-$23

Scores for Toll Booth Tavern
Atmosphere: 17/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 17/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 89/100

I don’t play golf nearly as often as it takes to be good at it. And knowing how long it takes me to get my swing back in the groove, it’s probably just as well that we were at the Crotched Mountain Golf Club on a recent Saturday to eat, rather than to play.

Not only did we have a great meal in beautiful surroundings, but I didn’t lose a single ball or feel the need to use any of the colorful words that usually follow most of my golf shots.

The golf course and its Toll Booth Tavern are in Francestown, maybe 20 miles from Manchester as the crow flies, but the drive through the pretty countryside to get there makes it feel much further afield. It’s just down the road from the Crotched Mountain Ski Area, but you can’t see the ski trails (or the mountain, for that matter) from the restaurant.

The Toll Booth Tavern is situated in a big old house that may well have been a tavern along the dusty 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike a couple of centuries ago. Today, it’s home to the restaurant, function space and the golf pro shop.

Once we figured out which door to enter (the signs aren’t all that precise), we were met by the hostess stationed in the center hallway. A grand staircase leads upstairs, the bar/grill room is to the left, and the main dining room is in the back of the house.

The hostess warned us that because a party of more than 20 was in the house and ordering off the menu, there would be a wait of at least 30 minutes for any food. Considering that we’d just driven 45 minutes and had seen no other restaurants for miles, we agreed to stay and have a drink while we waited.

As we sat in the dining room, I noticed the wonderful fireplace in a hallway sitting area that we walked through to be seated. The walls around it have been left partially open, exposing the massive central chimney and giving a clear sense of how old the building must be. The dining room itself shows signs of the building’s age — an exposed timber here and there — but the vibe is more renovated and updated than restored.

When she greeted us, our waitress also told us about the kitchen delay. We said we had been warned, and were prepared to linger over our drinks while we studied the menu.

The menu at the Toll Booth Tavern is ample — not crazy long like JimEddie’s in Keene, which we visited last time out, but long enough to have something for just about every taste, and much longer than what you might expect at a small rural golf course.

The appetizer section features fairly standard pub fare, including nachos, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks and potato skins. Entrees cover most of the bases from steak to seafood, chicken to Italian and several vegetarian options. There’s also a full list of sandwiches, burgers and dinner salads. Prices are extremely reasonable, with only one dish on the regular menu more than $20.

It turned out that the 30-minute delay was a worst-case estimate. Not long after we got our drinks, the big birthday party’s entrees started coming out of the kitchen, and soon after that our waitress took our orders.

We started with one of our favorite appetizer snacks, fried pickles ($7.99). We’ve tried them at a number of places, and these were among the best we’ve had — hot, sour and with a slightly spicy coating.

We also ordered an appetizer from the brief nightly specials list: deep-fried macaroni & cheese balls ($6.99). A half-dozen golf-ball sized pieces were breaded and lightly fried, still fairly creamy on the inside. They were a little bland, though. Both appetizers were served with a ranch dressing that packed a bit of a red-pepper kick; the mac & cheese balls definitely needed the sauce’s help more than the pickles did.

For her entree, Mrs. Gourmet ordered Chicken Havarti ($15.99). A large, flattened panko-crusted chicken breast was pan-fried to a dark golden brown, topped with sauteed asparagus and mushrooms with melted Havarti cheese. This was an excellent dish. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and Mrs. G raved about the toppings, all tied together with a madiera wine reduction. She chose mushroom risotto for one of her two sides, and found that the rice was cooked just al dente, though the thick but still creamy sauce was a bit on the mild side.

I picked the Shrimp & Sausage Saute ($17.99) for my main course. A large bowl was filled with a generous combination of sausage chunks, a half-dozen or so shrimp, red pepper slices, halved grape tomatoes, spinach and pasta (I chose penne), all tossed in a wonderfully rich pesto cream sauce. This was a beautiful dish that tasted as good as it looked. It needed nothing — no salt, no pepper, no shaved Parmesan — to be a complete hit for me.

If I had to find one nit to pick, it’s that I find it annoying to have to pull the tails off shrimp that aren’t supposed to be eaten with your fingers, especially when they’re in a sauce. Mrs. G gets more fired up about it than I do. Maybe we’ll start a Take Off the Tails campaign.

We weren’t asked for a dessert order (there are three choices on the menu), but we were both pretty well satisfied after our delicious entrees, so we didn’t press the matter.

Shrimp tails aside, we loved the Toll Booth Tavern. The service was friendly and helpful (and we appreciated the heads up about the potential delay). The value factor is high, and the food was excellent. It’s far off the beaten path, but it’s a gem that we would definitely put on our list to visit again.

Maybe next time, we’ll bring our clubs.

Our GourmetFrancestown

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