I just recently moved from NYC to Dover, NH, two months ago. I thought I was adequately prepared for the new environs. After all, I wasn't expecting this place to be anything like New York, of course, and I grew up in a Pennsylvania suburb, so I know what it's like to live in an "Olive Garden" town. Even so, even I was taken a little aback by the food scene here. The options are indeed limited, and there's a sore lack of decent restaurants. (If I had money, I'd start an upscale resto here, because it would go nearly unchallenged.)
Luckily, I live near Portsmouth, NH. While it's not an extremely exciting foodie destination either, it's worlds better than much of the fare outside my front door. I've also met a few fellow foodie friends, and we're talking about starting a private supper club so we can stretch our cooking muscles a bit and enjoy some interesting meals. But I do feel kind of bummed about this. Mostly because, if I'm living in a town, I'd like to support my local businesses here.
In any case, I've been thinking about the food I've had in Dover to date, and thought I'd write up a rundown of the experiences so far. This is, of course, not a comprehensive list. Just some thoughts from the point of view of an outsider just arriving in this strange land. I hope it's interesting for locals, and maybe even helpful for others similarly moving to the area. I may update this, as my husband and I try additional venues.
This is not a comprehensive list; just a list of places we've tried so far. In general, the best food we've encountered in Dover seems to be from the homespun places. Silver Moon Creperie and Harvey's Bakery are terrific. Blue Latitudes and Christopher's? Not so much:
SILVER MOON: As many have mentioned, this is really good. The atmosphere is small but kid-friendly, with an eccentric and eclectic color palette. There's a little bar in front, soda-fountain style, so you can belly up and order right from the mounted stools. Or you can order at the register and find a table. The husband-and-wife team are extremely friendly, and always have a recommendation for you, if you don't know what to have. (I hate going somewhere, and the servers have no opinions or suggestions on the food. That's always a bad sign.) It's not a swanky place, but the crepes are really good, the ingredients are fresh and the service is always pleasant. ++
HARVEY'S BAKERY: A bakery/diner that makes their own ever-changing menu of homemade soups everyday is always aces in my book. Some diners look old and run-down, but this is quaint and charming and has real old-fashioned appeal. It should; it's been around forever. Many of the patrons, even the older ones, have been coming here since they were young. The menu items are decent, but I'm always interested in the creative specials they have going on that day. So far, I haven't had anything there I don't like yet. You can tell the people that run the place care about the food. And I just love that the waitresses are always game to chat, so you just feel like you're at home here. My only gripe is that they're only open for breakfast and lunch. Oh, and they're not open on Sundays. Now what is that all about? I should bring that up next time I go. ++
BLUE LATITUDES: This was probably one of the worst meals I've ever had. I ordered a King Crab Legs special, and for the pleasure of paying close to $30, I had a dry, overcooked entree with very little seasoning at all. My cocktail tasted like it was vodka with some powdered or bottled mix thrown in there. Ick. My husband had a pasta dinner that he managed to choke down, but in all honesty, it wasn't any better than the stuff you get in jarred tomato sauces. He went back there to meet some friends another time, and apparently, the lousy dining experience didn't get any better the second time around. *Sigh* I hear this is the best that Dover has to offer. I just can't believe that this is true. I haven't tried Chop Shop yet, so I'm holding out some hope. On a positive note, the space inside Blue Latitudes is beautiful (it's in a converted brick mill building, with vaulted ceilings), and the decor seems okay, so maybe having beers there might be fine. But I doubt I'll ever eat there again. --
CHRISTOPHER'S THIRD STREET GRILLE: What can I say? The decor is pretty dull and boring, and they don't seem to understand the value of playing background music for dinner service, so the experience felt kind of -- well, kind of spare. But they did get some things right. The french onion soup was good, and their sausage and cheese soup was very tasty. The bad side of that was they messed up our orders, so there were 2 onions soups at first. But no big deal. We got that sorted, and we were enjoying our starters. Then my husband had the pork chop, and that was okay — not fantastic, but edible. I expected more from a restaurant with the word "Grille" in it, but it was perfectly serviceable. I wish I could tell you what I ate, but I simply can't remember. That's a bad sign. The scariest thing is that I really should remember, because it was a very memorable meal — not for the cuisine, but because there was a metal shard in my food. It looked like it came from one of those metal scouring pads. I nearly swallowed it. I might try the restaurant again someday, but I'll make sure I've gotten a health insurance policy by then. -
CARTELLI'S: I have some mixed emotions about this place. The only thing worse than Christopher's no-music approach was suffering bad music. I really enjoyed the food here, but the old-school Italian songs, circa-1965, made it feel really cheesy. I love the standards, don't get me wrong, but how many times can you hear "That's Amore" during the course of a meal? I get it, okay? It's an Italian restaurant. Do you need to hit me over the head with that? Oh, and forget coming here on a Friday or Saturday night. The loud bar scene overtakes the restaurant. I had to yell across the table to my husband, which didn't make for a great night out. On the plus side, I appreciate that they tried to do something creative by having a Sushi bar in there. But it felt weird and misplaced. I love sushi, but I was so NOT in the mood to order it, given the ambience. I think they could've tried to a better job of the whole East-meets-West thing — maybe in the decor or a more integrated fusion menu. As it was, it was a strange, random thing to have in the dining room. +-
ORIENTAL DELIGHT: The place is clean, and the decor features some decent craftsmanship by the architect, so I can see how they are trying to create an interesting and creative environment. Most of the food is good (I didn't care for the Peking dumplings, which are called "raviolis" and had a strange sauce over it), but everything else is enjoyable. The sushi is fresh, the sushi chefs are awesome and friendly, and the service was extremely accommodating. We bemoaned the almost non-existent sake menu, and the next time we came, they had ordered a new one for us. That says a lot, at least for me. I don't usually care for places that lump a bunch of Asian cuisines together, as if they were all one country called "The Orient." (They are separate countries with very, very different flavor profiles, for crying out loud!) But I forgive that, since the tendency seems to be rampant up here in NH. Sadly, however, after a handful of visits, I'm starting to find the menu kind of boring. I just wish they'd experiment with some specials once in a while. So overall, I like Oriental Delight, but I'm itching for more choices. +
FISH SHANTY: If you like fried stuff, this place is great. The breading doesn't feel heavy, the portions are large, the homemade tartar sauce is fantastic (and I don't even like tartar sauce, usually), and Annie can talk your ear off. She's the matriarch of the family-run business, which is right next to the Days Inn. The decor is — well, the charm of the place doesn't really have to do with the visual ambience. It's pretty barebones, with some booths and tables, and a handful of paintings on the walls. But the food is good, reasonably priced and the family that runs the joint are great salt-of-the-earth type of people. +
TASTE OF INDIA: Looks terrible on the outside, like a shabby shack with big Pepsi signage on the side. Inside however, it's cute with a definite try for authentic ethnic charm. The people are kind of shy, but nice and accommodating. (For some reason, my request for an iced chai was met with a raised eyebrow and a shrug, but they gave me what I asked for, no matter how strange it seemed to them.) The Shrimp Masala is nothing short of excellent! I could eat that every week. Spicy, but not too spicy. Sweet, but not clawingly so. I have no idea what the rest of the menu is like, because I am so enchanted with this dish, I keep ordering it. The restaurant doesn't seem to have a lot of patronage, though, and I'm not sure why. I wonder if the very thing I like about them is what is getting in their way: I get the sense that their food is authentic. I'm no expert on India, so I don't know that for sure, but to me, it seems like they're not dumbing down their menu to appeal to a generic tastes. I'm grateful for that. It may not necessarily be fine dining, but it's one of the few places in Dover that I actually crave from time to time. +
LA FESTA: Good pizzas. Really. I come from New York, and I'm telling you these are good pizzas. Now, that's not to say that they're perfect (the first time we ate there, the pie was soggy and kind of watery), but the flavor has always been good. I haven't found a decent mom-and-pop, NY-style slice yet, but as far as brick oven goes, I join the chorus of La Festa fans. And, I need to say, I kind of like the decor. It's a bit funky, at least in front room, and it almost makes me feel like I'm back home in NY. The only nitpicky thing is that, again, there's no music. In the separate dining room, which is a lot barer, I would love to hear some jazzy tunes to keep the energy up. Not that music is always required: For example, when a place offers plenty of interesting people-watching or a gorgeous interior theme, then it's forgivable. But when there's not a lot to look at, the wait for your food can feel kind of excruciating. +
THAI CUISINE RESTAURANT: I've had a couple of good meals here. The decor is cute (maybe even a little overdone, by Dover's standards, but I like it) and the service is always friendly. Things can take a little while when they're busy, but they never get snippy. My gripe with this venue has to do with their Pad Thai. It's the standard by which I judge Thai restaurants. This one has a sort of soupy liquid that goes with it. I find that strange. Is it a regional thing? Does a certain province in Thailand do it that way? I have no clue. But I found it odd, so much so that I could barely eat it. But their spring rolls are good, and I love their artery-clogging Crab Rangoons (which are only usually found in Chinese restaurants in NY). So I don't love this place, but I like it well enough to keep trying its different dishes.
KELLEY'S ROW: This venue is the bane of my existence. I live nearby, and the noise that comes out of there is ridiculous. I don't live far from this bar, and I'm often kept awake by the screaming, drunken patrons. I'm trying to overlook this fact and keep my annoyance at bay long enough to eat here. I haven't managed that yet, but I'll report back if I do.
THE BARLEY PUB: This is not a restaurant. Really, it's a funky beer pub with a couple of sandwiches and cheese plates. But I had a meatloaf sandwich there that was amazing. Just really, truly, spectacular. I can't say enough about it. I've never had a meatloaf in a restaurant that I like, and this was melt-in-your-mouth, bacon-wrapped exercise in deliciousness. It was on special, which means I can't have this all the time. That's both good (for my waistline) and bad (for my palate), but it was one of the finest things I've put in my mouth since I arrived in this town. It might not be fair to judge a venue by one sandwich that was put on temporary special for that one night, but I don't care. It was that good. I'll definitely be trying their other stuff. +++
That's it so far. As you can tell, we've eaten out a lot in the short time we've been here (and I haven't even covered the places we've been to outside the town limits). We're hoping there's some hidden gem we haven't heard of yet, so we can check that out too, but so far — the "low-brow" dining scene far exceeds the "high-brow" dining scene. (I keep harboring some fantasy that I can call Gordon Ramsay in to pull a Kitchen Nightmares-style makeover of one of these "fine dining establishments.") Sad to say, I still haven't found a stilettos-and-makeup worthy spot yet. The few places that are attempting to be a swanky resto, with equally exciting cuisine, leave a lot to be desired.
So there remains plenty of space for a foodie place here. None of these "upscale" spots has gotten it right. I might change my mind once we hit the Chop Shop, but I'm trying not to get my hopes up high. I've heard mixed reviews on this one too, but I'm trying to keep an open mind.
Thanks for reading.
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