I've got a somewhat lengthy report. On a hiking trip recently to the White Mountains of NH, we ate at a number of places in the North Conway area, plus a couple in that chow wasteland called Littleton.
On our first night, we stayed in Littleton. Hotel prices are a bargain there, especially if you're visiting the Franconia Notch area but don't want to pay Lincoln's high rates. But decent chow is scarce in Littleton.
We remembered the lousy-to-mediocre food we'd eaten at Cantino di Gerardo, a little Italian place on the main drag on our last visit there. I consulted this board before we left and read that nearby Bethlehem had a good-sounding place called Tim-Bir Alley, and that the Littleton Diner has decent hamburgers and such, but for reasons too complicated to mention, we couldn't come to a consensus on either. And another good-sounding place, the Cold Mountain Cafe in Bethlehem, apparently isn't open on Sundays.
With those places ruled out, we tried the other Italian place in town, the Italian Oasis. Ugh! I think Cantino di Gerardo was actually better, though that's not saying much. Hell, the Olive Garden (yuck) is probably better. We got wildly overcooked pasta, even though we asked for it "al dente" and explained what "al dente" meant. They admitted they pre-cooked all their pasta and then just heated it up when ordered.
At least their eggplant parmesan was edible (it was probably about what you'd get at an average New Jersey diner). Oddly, the salads that came with the meal *looked* good but were utterly tasteless. I suspect they'd been heavily refrigerated for a very long time. Also, the names of all the dishes were idiotically cutesy in a lousy attempt at humor.
For breakfast the next morning, we went to the Littleton Diner, where we'd gone on a previous visit, to get some of their excellent pancakes. They easily rival the ones you get down the Interstate at Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, although at Polly's they're about twice the price.
The Littleton Diner only has whole wheat pancakes and buckwheat pancakes, which seems odd, and I normally don't like either, but the whole wheat ones were great. (Admittedly you can get a much greater variety of types of pancakes at Polly's, but you also have to endure the crowds and lines and much higher prices.) Plus, they give you little bottles of *real* maple syrup with the pancakes. You won't find *that* in most places (or not outside of New England anyway). There's no substitute for real maple syrup. And their home fries weren't bad either, especially for a place in the Northeast.
We then proceeded to North Conway. I think our best meal there was at the Thai Star (1561 White Mountain Hwy., a.k.a. Route 16, just north of the mall). But then, we love Thai food, and Asian food in general, and we especially enjoy spicy food. The nice thing was that, when we asked for our dishes "Thai spicy," they actually made them really spicy. And their whole fish dishes are fantastic. A couple of years ago, I had a great whole red snapper at Thai Star. This year, they seem to have replaced all their red snapper with various haddock dishes, and surprisingly, the whole haddock is fantastic, just as good as the snapper. Crunchy on the outside, tasty on the inside, mmmmmmmmm. I wish I could have some of that right now. I think it was even better than Sripraphai's whole fish in Queens, NY (not Sripraphai's best dish by a long shot) and that's saying something.
Our other dishes at Thai Star were good but didn't compare to the fish. One was the Star House Noodles, which came in a sauce that might have been way too sweet if I hadn't asked for the dish "Thai spicy," but the powerful, flavorful heat contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the sauce. Another nice thing about the Thai Star is that they're open later than most other places in the area. We went on a Friday and they were open until 11, and they served us even though we got there at about 10:40 -- we were delayed because of a classical concert in Fryeburg that some of us had attended. In fact, two or three smaller groups and one humongous group of about 25 people arrived *after* us and they still seated them.
We also ate a great meal at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery. Thanks to the posters here who recommended it. Yum. Despite its name, we did not go there for the barbecue. Why bother eating barbecue up north?
But they had some great fish dishes and brilliant spicy curly fries. I'm not a beer drinker, but another member of my group thought their home-brewed beers were outstanding. And when flipping through the local phone book, we found a Moat Mountain menu listing a Smoked Salmon dish described as "dark rum and cane sugar-brined apple wood smoked salmon, [with] mango pineapple salsa," which helped lure us there, though I think we ended up getting the cornmeal-crusted catfish with fries and slaw instead. We also got a special quesadilla dish with ostrich meat. I don't remember eating ostrich before, and it was similar to bison
and venison, and tasty, though maybe a smidgen dry. The tasty cheese surrounding it counteracted the dryness of the meat very nicely.
Their web site is here: http://www.moatmountain.com/
Then we tried Horsefeathers in North Conway, because their phone book menu listed a tasty-sounding dish called Pistachio Pesto Chicken, and because the restaurant had some recommendations on this board. But when we got there and had already ordered some wine, we discovered that Pistachio Pesto Chicken was no longer on the menu. Arrrgh. Hey, we understand that a lot of places like to change their menus a few times a year, but if you're going to print part of your menu IN THE BLOODY PHONE BOOK, which only comes out ONCE A FREAKING YEAR, then you shouldn't take away any of the dishes that appear there. Horsefeathers' food couldn't compare to Moat Mountain's, although it was probably still a few steps up from an Applebee's (which is one of the more tolerable chains, in our opinion), with the same basic pub type of cuisine.
Their fish & chips dish was good -- it was better than most other U.S. attempts to replicate UK-style fish & chips, although the chips ("horsefries") were nothing great. And the Seared Beef & Snow Pea Salad (with shiitake mushrooms & field greens) was pretty good too, although the amount of beef was pretty overwhelming and nothing special. The person in my group who ordered it isn't a huge fan of beef and really just wanted the salad itself, which was very good (we hate iceberg lettuce and there was none here, so that's good). However, the "dinner salad" appetizer *did* have iceberg lettuce and wasn't particularly good, and the Balsamic Chicken Sandwich was kind of dull. Also, it was way too cold and loud in the restaurant. Overall, I think Horsefeathers is OK, but my companions found it mediocre. It suffers hugely by comparison to Moat Mountain, which has equally good prices, less noise, far better food, and a much nicer atmosphere.
For the next few days we got a good deal for lodging combined with full breakfast and dinner at the Stonehurst Manor. We normally don't stay at such deluxe places, but they offered a midweek bargain so we took it, and stayed for three nights. Their breakfasts were outstanding (especially the fruit cup, which is a big glass full of tasty *fresh* fruit) and the dinners were very good too. They have excellent fresh-baked bread served to every table at the beginning of each dinner.
Among the appetizers and starters, we really loved the New England Style Clam Chowder (it was very rich though), the fantastic Crab Cakes, the impressive Smoked Trout, and one soup of the day, the Ginger Garlic Beef soup. The Grilled Vegetables and Asiago Polenta was not as successful but still good, especially because it featured some good hummus and some great spinach puree-type mixture. I think there were some others, but I'm using their online menu to try to jog my memory, but they've changed parts of their menu without updating their web page.
Okay, note to restaurateurs -- when you change your menu a few times each year: UPDATE your dang web sites PLEASE, and DON'T PRINT TEMPORARY DISHES IN THE PHONE BOOK. Thank you.
Among the entrees we tried at Stonehurst were the lamb, which they trumpet as "the best lamb you'll ever taste!" -- well maybe... it was very tender but too heavy and rich for me, though I think the companion of mine who ordered it liked it. Others included the meatloaf (very very good, but a bit heavy and rich, and moreso after several bites, so maybe I shouldn't have been so disappointed when the wait-person lost the doggy bag containing the rest of the meatloaf), the lobster salad with fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables (quite a nice relief from all the heaviness of the other dishes), and the ravioli (a little dry but with a nicely unusual taste).
Admittedly we got a little tired of Stonehurst Manor's dinners after three nights because we love spicy ethnic cuisine and had been thinking about the Thai Star restaurant. Eating plain American and continental cuisine for several nights in a row is unusual for us. The Stonehurst had excellent American and continental cuisine, not as heavy or staid as we imagined it might be, but not much of a bargain if you're not getting the lodging-and-dining package. Also, the service was a little erratic at times. I think the servers are overworked and have been assigned too many tables. We didn't really mind, but at an upscale place like this, you don't really expect the service to be wonky.
Oh, and we loved petting the resident cat at Stonehurst, Mrs. Bigelow, before or after meals -- maybe we missed our own cats. Apparently Stonehurst Manor was once owned by the Bigelows of the Bigelow tea empire. When we ordered tea at breakfast, though, we got a selection of Bigelow tea bags... and *Lipton* tea bags. Lipton?! Those awful heretics?! What is the staff at Stonehurst thinking?! Heh. (Seriously though, Lipton sucks.)
To sum up, North Conway's best restaurant as far as we're concerned is the Thai Star. But I probably say that just because of my personal inclination towards spicy foreign food. The Moat Mountain and Stonehurst are very very good too, and on a previous visit we also liked the Coyote Rose.
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