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Winter Day Trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire

On a blue sky Sunday we drove south to one of the most walkable, inviting small cities in America: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was Presidents’ Day weekend, sunny, soft breeze, mid 40s, and it seemed most of Portsmouth’s 21,000 souls wanted to join us outside.

Bustling Congress Street on a sunny Sunday in Portsmouth.

We had no agenda: just poke about, soak up sunshine, inhale the sea, and stroll streets packed with attractive shops, restaurants, and historic homes.  At times I didn’t know if we were following the clouds drifting across the blue sky, or if the clouds were following us.

We numbered four, including my son Josh who was soon returning to teaching at Nature’s Classroom in Ivoryton, Connecticut.  Last winter he wrote a blog for Yankee about his months as a ski patrolman at Okemo Mountain, and readers of the blog learned about his zest for food: it was not an accident that his nickname amongst his patrollers was “Muffin.” So, fittingly, as a going away present — and because a day of rambling always goes better with a great meal — we were taking him to one of the most famous breakfast eateries in the land: The Friendly Toast right smack on Congress Street.  Good Morning America dubbed it one of the four best breakfast stops in America.  And Yankee’s newest food feature (March/April on newsstands next week) also highlights breakfast at The Friendly Toast.

For Josh Allen, and our good buddy Donna George, a Portsmouth day begins at The Friendly Toast.

The décor features Dentyne colored walls, adorned with a kitschy collection of 2oth century memorabilia, or what would result if a  restaurant mated with a flea market. Our waiter, Tony, like nearly all the wait staff, was efficient, friendly, wool capped, and adorned with tattoos. It’s all part of the experience, and why people say there’s no place like it.

The Friendly Toast is a Portsmouth treasure – as colorful as it is popular.

We downed slabs of exotic flavored toast  as thick as a hand, and hearty delicious dishes. Annie and Donna feasted on Omar’s Homefries: red potatoes, broccoli, corn, onions, parmesan, artichoke hearts, a dash of soy sauce. Need I say more?  Josh, who has never met a platter he couldn’t finish, vanquished a heaping amount of eggs, cheddar, avocado, black beans and salsa. And eyed Annie’s and Donna’s plates as their pace slowed.

I stayed true to Yankee’s featured selection: New Hampshire’s Finest Scramble. Here is the recipe, (from our upcoming March/April 2012 issue)  if you can’t make it to The Friendly Toast soon.

New Hampshire’s Finest Scramble at The Friendly Toast.

The Friendly Toast’s “New Hampshire’s Finest Scramble”

Ingredients
2  tablespoons salted butter
6  large eggs
4  asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
2  tablespoons finely sliced scallions
4  cooked bacon strips, chopped
1  teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1  cup chèvre (the restaurant uses Heart Song Farm cheese from Gilmanton, New Hampshire)
Toasted anadama bread, cornbread, or toast of your choice

Directions

  • In a small (8- to 10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter.  Add eggs, asparagus, scallions, bacon, salt, and pepper.
  • Scramble eggs with a wooden spoon, pulling the cooked curds toward the opposite side of the pan and tilting to recoat with uncooked eggs.
  • When eggs are mostly firm but still a little wet, crumble fresh goat cheese in small chunks and stir gently. (You don’t want the cheese to melt completely into the eggs.)
  • Remove from heat and let sit an additional minute until eggs are fully cooked. Serve with anadama bread, cornbread, or toast.

Yield: 2 servings

For dessert we had the beguiling city beneath our feet. I know of few places where moving about is more rewarding. We were carried along by a steady stream of walkers and window shoppers, (and one fine horse and buggy) as we ambled up and down the myriad of side streets that were too inviting not to explore.  It is as though the city has passed an ordinance that no street, no house could be boring or undistinguished.

Downtown transportation options are plentiful – walk, bike, or hail a horse and carriage!

For a few minutes we stroked our inner child at G.Willikers! right off Market Square. Just as all bookstores sell books, but only special ones stir the desire to plunk right down with a book, so too GWillikers! makes you want to be seven again. And if so, if the urge rises to play, you can. They want to see kids (and parents) play. I spoke briefly with Bob Breneman, whose parents started the store some 34 years ago, when he was only 14. Bob was at the counter and he called over his daughter, Emily, 19 years-old, and the third generation to surround itself with toys and all things kids.

Bob Breneman and daughter Emily surrounded by all things kid at G.Willikers!

Then we headed to Strawbery Banke and the waterfront. Seagulls circled over the stillness of the famously restored historical site.

The Strawbery Banke Museum’s more than 40 restored buildings also includes one very unique birdhouse.

This, of course, was off-season, so nothing was open, except our imaginations, as we walked past buildings and gardens filled with the echoes of centuries past. And to think that only 50 years ago, the impulse to raze so much of historic New England, to make way for “urban development”, shopping centers, apartment buildings and the like, nearly claimed the structures that today are the heart of Portsmouth’s seafaring legacy.

Across a few lanes, Prescott Park, which in summer is alive with events nearly every day, stood witness to strollers, sitters and either people walking dogs, or dogs walking people. It was never clear.  If Portsmouth is not the most dog friendly small city in New England  I’d like to know what is. Seeing so many dogs outside put a bounce in our steps. And people all around us were smiling.

Portsmouth sidewalks are a welcome spot for dogs of all shapes and sizes.

The day itself seemed to breathe slowly, just taking its ease.  Inexorably our feet were tugged down Ceres Street, where they were forced to stop at the entrance to Annabelle’s Ice Cream, a fixture since 1982.

New Englanders enjoy more ice cream per capita than any other region. Apparently our dogs do as well.

For the Portsmouth pup, a dish of Annabelle’s ice cream is worth the wait.

The day ended perfectly six miles south at Wallis Sands State Park. Low tide, easy walking, the Isle of Shoals visible to the east as the sun slid behind the homes that lined the breakwater.  Posted signs warned no dogs on the beach. But this was a soft winter’s Sunday.. And to the dogs that scampered about as buoyant as kites, it was a birthday and Christmas, and the last day of school all rolled into one.

Wallis Sands State Park – a dog’s winter playground.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Mel Allen

Author:

Mel Allen

Biography:

Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.
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9 Responses to Winter Day Trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire

  1. Deb Despres February 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    And now I want to get a dog and take a trip to Portsmouth this weekend. Nice photos, Annie!

  2. Dean February 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    Nice snapshot of home. There’s nothing quite like Portsmouth and the Seacoast of NH. It’s rarely far from my thoughts, even after more than a decade in LA.

    • Mel Allen February 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Thanks Dean. Nothing makes us more pleased than when a native who has moved away is able to return, even if only for a few minutes by following us as we trek around the region.

  3. Constance M. Lathrop Luedtke February 25, 2012 at 12:27 am #

    Thanks for sharing, I do not get to visit my wonderful old town very often, so seeing it via internet is great. I wonder how many people really realize what an important place it was in the early colonial days. Again, thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Amy gustavson February 25, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Portsmouth is a beautiful unique New England Coastal Town. We have ventured there with our family member, Hoover. Yet we found dining options to be limited. Often times, if a place has an outside deck, we can sit near the edge and Hoov can join us. not true in Portsmouth. we encountered many No Dogs Allowed places. Made for a difficult journey.
    Several Hotels are pet friendly, the Downtown Sheraton being one of them. Nice location and views.
    Perhaps things have changed since a few years ago…guess it’s time for a road trip to find out!

  5. Friendly Toast Fan February 25, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    I love The Friendly Toast so much! I can’t wait to return and feast on their delicious food sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!

  6. karen bobotas January 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Great article….Portsmouth is such a great place no matter what the season.

  7. dweisberg@firsttracksmarketing.com April 9, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Brings back “cold” memories of visiting Portsmouth back in my college days. Hmmm. I’m thinking of retiring there now! Thanks Yankee!

  8. Sue Bonilla April 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Portsmouth is one of my favorite places. It has something for everyone to enjoy. They have great restaurants, shops and the people are amazing. Because my son and his family live there I enjoy it often.

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