Fun is always on the menu at Bonfire

April 17. 2018 7:56PM
Flanked by the distinctive bar stools at its sidewalk counter windows, Matt Butler of Boscawen was working on the front door of the Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar before it opened last summer. (UNION LEADER FILE/Allegra Boverman)

Let’s get one thing straight, cowboy: Even though “restaurant” is listed first in its logo, Bonfire is, above all, a bar — and a fun one at that.

From its downstairs game room to live bands and line-dancing lessons in the back room, the country-themed nightspot that opened last summer is all about good times with a Southern twang. That should have been obvious from the day they placed the unique bar stools, shaped like the wide rear ends of a variety of country and cowboy characters, at the windowsill counters along the Elm Street sidewalk.

Mrs. Gourmet and I finally got a chance to visit Bonfire on Sunday. Our son, once The Bottomless Pit now turned man about town, has been there several times. “You have to write about the Happy Hour,” he told us. We took his word for it, and arrived just in the nick of time.

Specifically, it’s “Bacon Happy Hour,” and it runs from 4 to 7 p.m. seven days a week. You’re served a complimentary cone-shaped basket of bacon when you’re seated, along with a choice of $1 whiskey shots and tacos, $2 beers and fries and $3 hamburgers and wine. (TBP said the $3 burgers were just OK, but you couldn’t beat the prices.)

True to the country theme, beers at Bonfire are served in red plastic cups, and mixed drinks come in Mason-jar mugs. We passed on the whiskey and bargain burgers, so our Happy Hour indulgence was limited to the free bacon and a $2 beer. (The refill, which we ordered after 7 p.m., was $5.)

The regular menu is quite short. (Remember, it’s a bar first and foremost.) There are 15 appetizers, two salads (green and steak), five burgers and four flatbread pizzas.

We wanted to start with an appetizer to share, so we chose the 7-Layer Dip ($7.95) to see how it compared to some of the fine ones our friends have served up at parties over the years. Bonfire’s was more of a personal-sized version, served in a one-cup size Mason jar that made dipping the homemade tortilla chips next to impossible. We ended up spooning the dip onto the chips, which also made it easier to get a good look at the makeup of the seven layers.

This version of the dip featured black beans, lettuce, tomato, salsa, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, black olives and green onions. It was more fresh-tasting than spicy, and the presence of black rather than refried beans made it less inclined to stay put in one lump on a chip. The chips, thick and salty, ranged from crispy to slightly chewy. I thought the chips were great, but Mrs. G. didn’t care for the chewier ones.

Moseying on to our main dishes, I was leaning toward burgers. There are five on the menu, starting with “Plain Jane” for $4.95. The four others, all of which include bacon to some degree, clock in at $9 or $9.95.

I ordered a “Redneck Woman” at $9, and she didn’t disappoint. It’s a two-patty burger with a choice of cheese, topped with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and bacon. The meat was perfectly grilled with a great char, and the rest of the parts worked together to make a terrific two-handed burger that some more delicate diners might have to use a knife and fork to dissect into bite-size pieces.

Mrs. G was drawn to the flatbreads. At $9.95, she figured they’d be nice, individual-size pizzas, but she was wrong. Her “Meat Sweats” flatbread was about a foot long and at least 8 inches wide, big enough for her dinner and my sampling, with half left over to bring home.

As for the pizza itself, it was a tasty combination of bacon, ham, sausage, pulled beef, pulled chicken and pepperoni, topped with cheese and slices of jalapenos that added a spark of heat every few bites. Built on a wonderful, chewy crust, it was an excellent meat-lover’s pizza.

Our server, Caitlin, was friendly and helpful as she filled us in on the menu, happy hour and the entertainment offerings. Though the menu is limited, the food is great, service was quick and the value factor is high. (Bonfire would be a perfect lunch spot — if it were open for lunch.)

Two cautions: First, the ambient noise level is pretty high — half the 20-plus TVs on the wall are tuned to the videos of the country songs that pump out over the sound system, and conversations tend to be loud to compete with the music. Second, be selective about where you sit — seating options range from tall cafe chairs to porch swings to western saddles to beer kegs with cushions, and some are more comfortable than others. (Our keg seats and our table had no place to rest our feet, so we ended up sort of half sitting, half leaning through our meal.)

Even on a cold Sunday evening, the place was packed, with people eating, drinking, playing games at their tables or heading downstairs to the game room or out back for some line dancing. Happy hour may officially last for only three hours a night, but it was obvious to us that Bonfire is a pretty happy place no matter what time you visit.

Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar
950 Elm St., Manchester; 877-653-7678;
Hours: Monday-Friday, 4 p.m.-1 a.m; Saturday-Sunday 2 p.m.-1 a.m.
Cuisine: Bar food.
Pricing: Appetizers $4.95-$13.95; burgers $4.95-$9.95, salads $5.95-$8.95; flatbread pizzas $9.95.

The scores for Bonfire
Atmosphere: 19/20
Menu: 15/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 89/100

Our GourmetManchester

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