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.
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.
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.
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.
The Friendly Toast’s “New Hampshire’s Finest Scramble”
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
- 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.
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.
Then we headed to Strawbery Banke and the waterfront. Seagulls circled over the stillness of the famously restored historical site.
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.
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.
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.