THE YELLOW BUILDING still hugs the Exeter River at the bridge on Water Street, but it’s had some work done. What used to be the Loaf & Ladle, famed for its wholesome and healthy breads, soups and sandwiches, is now the latest outlet for the Maine-based Sea Dog Brewing Co.
And if our experience is an accurate representation, it’s busier than the Loaf ever was.
The Loaf’s dark, low-ceiling interior has been transformed into a bigger, brighter, airy (if compact) space. Bar/dining areas on three floors look out through big picture windows to views of the rushing river, the public library and the old Exeter mills beyond. It’s a very pleasant spot for a beer and a light meal.
Mrs. Gourmet and I arrived for an early dinner on a Saturday afternoon, thinking we would beat the rush. As we drove into town, we saw a few small groups of people standing outside the building. We thought they might just be pausing at the top of Water Street to gaze at the rushing river before walking back toward downtown. After we parked and walked over to the restaurant, a few more groups were gathered outside, and we realized we were in for a wait — estimated at about a half-hour.
We checked in and took the electronic pager gadget, and spent most of the wait time checking out a few of the downtown shops that were staying open until 6 p.m. We couldn’t spend too much time roaming, though, since the pager only had a 50-yard range and we didn’t want to miss our turn.
When our turn did come up, we were led upstairs to a high-top table in the bar area with that great view of the river, and eventually, the sunset beyond.
The menu at Sea Dog is casual and pub-like, with plenty of apps suitable for sharing, sandwiches, tacos and burgers, salads and entrees.
We decided to start by sharing an order of Bang Bang Shrimp ($10) We’ve enjoyed this sweet and spicy appetizer at several spots, and this one was as good as any. Plenty of lightly breaded and fried shrimp, which kept their slight crunch even under a generous coating of a zingy combination of mayonnaise, sweet red chili sauce and hot sauce. Very tasty. While I was happy to share it with Mrs. G, I would have been just as happy to keep it all to myself.
Mrs. G picked the Steak Tips Poutine ($18) for her entree. She got a heaping plate of beef chunks tossed with roasted Brussels sprouts and cheddar cheese curds, piled atop steak fries and doused with a brown ale gravy. The steak tips were cooked perfectly to the medium rare she requested and she loved the fries and the Brussels sprouts when they weren’t completely drenched in the gravy. She said the gravy was so rich, with such a large serving, it began to overpower the food.
My entree, Sacchetti and Mushroom Pasta ($19 with grilled chicken added), featured a pasta I hadn’t had before. Sacchetti, which means “little sack,” is sort of a hand-formed variation of ravioli or tortellini. The little pouches were filed with a porcini mushroom and ricotta blend, rich and tasty. Like Mrs. G, I thought the sauce — a fairly thick, tangy combination featuring mushroom and sour cream — was a bit overwhelming. I found myself trying to get unsauced bites of the pasta now and then to give my tastebuds a break. With a big piece of French bread garlic toast, it was a good dish overall, though I would have thinned the sauce a bit.
We wrapped up with one dessert — a mocha creme brulee ($5). It was topped with the traditional melted sugar crust, but it was more like a pudding than the usual creme brulee custard.
Befitting a brew pub, there were eight Sea Dog beers on tap, ranging from a blonde to a stout, with a Bluepaw Blueberry in the mix for good measure. I opted for an Invader Pale Ale ($7 for 20 ounces), which was a great pairing with my dinner.
Our service was informal and friendly. Being a bar, the noise level was fairly high but not to the point where we couldn’t hear each other talk.
Overall, our only complaint was that the kitchen seemed to be a little heavy-handed with the sauces.
Exeter is the second Sea Dog restaurant location in New Hampshire, and the ninth overall
It was great to see how Sea Dog was able to maintain the outside appearance of this well-known Exeter landmark, shoring it up and straightening it up a bit, and yet totally transforming it inside. While there’s no evidence of a brewing operation on site, Sea Dog is very much a brew pub, and considering the crowd we experienced, it clearly seems to be filling a niche in downtown Exeter.
We can understand why.