THERE REALLY ARE bars where everybody knows your name, and the Clipper Tavern in Portsmouth is one of them.
The Clipper is just off Market Square and has a large outdoor seating area, but we were there on a rainy day and happy to venture inside. There was a hum of conversation the whole length of the bar — clearly a hometown crowd.
Newspaper clippings and photos of the sports achievements of Clippers (graduates of Portsmouth High School) dotted the walls, as did several big-screen TVs featuring Saturday afternoon games.
We chose a spot in a dining area adjacent to the bar, because it was a bit quieter. A Jack and Coke and two locally brewed drafts (Clipper Ale, $4) made up our bar order.
Dining Companion 1 described the menu as classic neighborhood pub — plenty of appetizers, burgers and sandwiches with a few salads thrown in. Two of the appetizers caught our eye.
“The Buffalo Chicken Dip ($10) was a good mix of creamy and spicy and did not lack for chicken,” DC1 said. “It was a hearty starter that was perfect for a cooler-than-normal day on the Seacoast.”
The three of us were a bit surprised by the Fried Pickles ($8), which tended to the sweet instead of the tangy end of the pickle panoply.
DC1 would have preferred a sharper, sour flavor to offset the fried breading, but noted: “I found myself going back for more. You also can’t miss the garlic, which was a plus. A great addition to the dish is the Sambal (chili sauce) aioli for dipping.”
By now the dining room was filling up, and a group of six celebrating the job promotion of someone named Rob made for great people-watching.
As far as entree items go, a few items popped out from the menu for their originality, including the Portuguese Sloppy Joe and Falafel Wrap.
DC1 was looking for something more familiar and opted for the sliders (one for $6; two for $10; three for $14).
There were eight selections to choose from. DC1 picked the cheeseburger — Wagyu burger, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and Thousand Island dressing; the Fried Shrimp Po Boy — Sambal aioli, lettuce, pickle; and the Nashville Hot Chicken — spicy fried chicken, roasted garlic aioli, lettuce, pickle.
“The cheeseburger was perfectly cooked and tasty, though the dressing seemed to be largely absent — it was my favorite of the three,” DC1 said.
The Nashville Hot Chicken also suffered from a lack of sauce, in this case aioli, to cut the spice.
There were only two flavorless shrimp on the Po Boy sandwich and the sandwich was overwhelmed by the thick-cut slice of pickle.
“I’m wondering if the Po Boy just doesn’t lend itself to a slider presentation, but in any case the shrimp cried out for seasoning,” DC1 said.
Saturday is Prime Rib Night at The Clipper. But the OG didn’t feel up to consuming a slab of meat ($20 for 12 ounces, $25 for 16 ounces, with roasted potatoes and a veggie).
The compromise choice was the Prime Rib Dip ($15), a sandwich of sliced prime rib, caramelized onions, served with au jus and horseradish and a heap of housemade fries.
As with all compromises, something is lost, and the well-done prime rib — even enhanced with the savory onions and plentiful au jus — didn’t quite hit the spot. Next time OG will specifically ask for rare prime rib on the sammie or spend $5 more for the Queen portion of Black Angus beef.
Dining Companion 2 decided on a lobster roll. Once he saw the option of adding “spicy avocado,” he decided to go for two rolls — one with the avocado, one without. (The single lobster roll is $11.99, the double is $20. The avocado is $2 extra.)
The rolls themselves were pretty simple: New England-style hot dog roll, a little lettuce inside, and a nice helping of lobster meat with plenty of big chunks, mixed with mayo.
The spicy avocado, which came in small chunks under the lobster and larger slices on top, wasn’t very spicy and didn’t really add much to the roll.
DC2, an old Portsmouth kid, loved the hometown vibe inside the Clipper.
“It reminds me of the places where we used to hang out,” he said. “Not too many tourists in here.”