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Help me understand Italian food in New Hampshire (and northern New England)...please?

I am hoping in starting this topic that I do not actually insult anybody, especially those of you fond of the Italian restaurants in the New Hampshire area. That being said, in the 8 years I have lived in southern NH, I am baffled by the Italian food here. I grew up in New Haven, went to college in Providence and lived in Italy for a few years. So, I have very specific tastes when it comes to Italian food. My family is Italian, so making Italian food at home is not a problem at all. The problem is when it comes to choosing a restaurant here, my husband and I have to take Italian off the list right off the bat. We have yet to try an Italian restaurant here that is worth our money or time...we're better off staying home and cooking it ourselves. And forget the pizza...but I have learned that is to be expected for someone who grew up on New Haven apizza. But, I am thankful for that, because we have become quite adept at making pizza at home now!!

Ok, so anyway, if anyone knows what I mean, or the kind of Italian food I'm looking for...can you help me understand the difference between Northern NE Italian food vs. Southern NE Italian food, and where can we find some Italian food that we could appreciate.

PS...we enjoyed Piccola Italia the first time we tried it, but since then we've realized that it's not quite what we are after. Lucia's Tavola was a little closer, but I only had take-out, so hard to really critique based on that.

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  1. I'm not quite sure what you're asking, but I very much enjoy Three Tomatoes Trattoria
    http://www.threetomatoestrattoria.com...
    Also, I've had some good meals at Sarducci's in Montpelier. Primo in Rockland can be very good, too.

    8 Replies
    1. re: sophie fox

      lol...I'm not sure I even know what I'm asking...it's just that the Italian food up here is so different than what I've had anywhere else, and IMO not very good. But, people that have been here forever are always recommending places to us that they think are great, and they all just fall short of that for us.

      Lebanon is far, but I like the Three Tomatoes menu...I'll have to remember it for when we end up that way! Thanks!

      1. re: solargarlic

        Can you even describe in what ways it is different than your preferred Italian foods?

        1. re: Morganna

          Morganna, I am sorry, I didn't see this before! The pizza is the easiest to describe...

          New Haven = burnt, thin but puffy crust, spicy sauce
          New England = sweet sauce, chewy thick crust

          The other stuff is harder to describe, but I find the food up here to be softer pasta, a lot of dishes where the chef adds a bunch of stuff trying to make it authentic. Not that you don't find those places everywhere, but like the carbonara - drives me crazy when the description includes "cream sauce". And I guess too I find the menus to be too big and the same every place I go.

          We've found great Indian, Thai, and Mexican restaurants so far...not so much luck with Italian food. That's what makes me so curious about this :)!

          1. re: solargarlic

            Well, the sauces here to tend to be sweet, that's something my Italian husband (raised on Long Island) has found. Sarducci's in Montpelier, VT is a place where they don't add a lot of stuff. Their dishes tend to be made from simple, fresh ingredients. I think they make their own pasta, as well, but I'm not as sure about that.

            Pizzas are way harder to come by. There are some wood oven places (Sarducci's has a wood oven) that make some nice thin crust pizzas, but they do still tend towards a sweeter sauce. I'm not sure what's up with that. :) I like a spicier sauce, as does my husband. :)

            There's a place in Barre, VT called Basil's that makes a decent thin crust NY style pizza with hot italian sausage that's the closest we've been able to find in the area to a real NY pizza. That's not saying much, but it's something, at least. Their pizza is better than any of the alternatives in the area and that's where we buy it when we get pizza takeout. I can't say the rest of their menu is very authentic, but it's tasty. :) Still, mostly with the sweet sauce, but simpler dishes with basic ingredients. And reasonable prices. :)

            I suspect the soft pasta stuff comes from the cooking history of the people who mostly settled here. It was long the standard in the British Isles to boil things until mushy. :) I think the overcooking of pasta might be blamed somewhat on that. :)

            I've never been to Italy, but we're hoping to go there for a vacation in 2011, so I can't comment on how anything compares to what's over there. :)

            1. re: solargarlic

              Your description of the differences in pizza is spot on! I am from NY, but now live in southern NH. I just can't find great pizza around here. The Gaslight in Portsmouth is about the best I have had in the area. I have resorted to making my pies again.

              I have a friend( he's Italian) from Boston, and thinks that Ristorante Massimo in Portsmouth is the best Italian food in NH. I haven't been there yet, but we are supposed to go soon.

                1. re: purchaser1

                  Honestly, I have always wanted to try this spot, but when I looked it up on here, it did not seem to get the most favorable reviews. I figured it wasn't worth traveling to or spending money on. It sure sounded like it could be the kind of pizza I would want.

          2. re: solargarlic

            I grew up in Hartford County eating a lot of Sicilian food and went to college in Hanover. I don't know much about southern NH in particular, but if you make it up to the Upper Valley, I agree Three Tomatoes is pretty good. I also recommend Ramunto's in Hanover for pizza.

        2. I think you are pretty much out of luck.
          Portland, ME has some good high end italian food, but basic red sauce italian and pizza is going to be hard to come by. CT and RI both have an italian american population of around 18%, New Hampshire is about 8% and Vermont and Maine even less. Which means that not only are you going to have less know how, but probably more importantly less access to the right ingredients.
          Come back and visit New Haven, we'll make you a large mootz apeetz, or some scarole and bean :)

          9 Replies
          1. re: EastRocker

            ha, I was afraid of that! We were just in Portland a few weeks ago, but only managed to eat some fried seafood. I did notice right away when I first moved here that not only were the restaurants lacking, but like you said, the ingredients too. That is now getting much better. Still, the only prosciutto to be found is in the deli case :P.

            Lucky me, my family is still in the New Haven area! Believe me, there aren't too many times when I am there that I do not indulge in a clam pie (which is sadly unheard of around here)!

            1. re: solargarlic

              Sorry to didn't find the more authentic possibilities in Portland, chief of which is Paciarino, opened last year by a couple direct from Milan, and serving gorgeous simple pastas (all made on the spot) and sauces, along with diverse and usually-not-seen wines, like some Sardinian and Sicilian. When you come back, you might also check out Ribollita and The Corner Room. When you do, I'll be interested in your report on authenticity, but also on taste.

              1. re: mainemal

                I would love to try any of those restaurants...looking at the menus I can almost tell that those are the kind of places I am looking for. Simple food, not chicken or pasta dishes with 10 ingredients added to it. Unfortunately we got to Portland late, for lunch, with our 2 kids. Lucky for us, we also stopped by The Standard Baking Co. Wow. Just. Wow.

              2. re: solargarlic

                angela's in manchester has sliced to order prosciutto, and several other cured italian meats.

                1. re: qianning

                  Angela's is a poor excuse compared to Providence's Venda Ravioli. Doesn't even compare. The staff is elusive and unhelpful when answering questions. Everyday products are expensive!

                  1. re: snl1129

                    I love the staff at Angela's--always friendly, though maybe not the most informed. They are always willing to hunt down Angela for an answer. I would have to agree that it's not the best-stocked or cheapest place to shop--though it's convenient if you live in the neighborhood and need veal stock or some esoteric pasta variety.

                    1. re: snl1129

                      I'm with whs, I've enjoyed my few visits at Angela's where the staff was wonderful and this is a wonderful option if going into Boston doesn't work.

                      1. re: snl1129

                        compared to the cost of gas and time and wear and tear of driving from amherst nh to boston or providence Angela's even at her higher prices is a good deal, especially if you only need a few items.

                        manchester does not have the demographics to support a venda ravioli, or my preference, boston's salumeria italiana.

                        1. re: qianning

                          Salumeria Italiana is a favorite of ours as well. My husband used to drive to Boston for me the day before Good Friday to stock up on my Easter pie ingredients...that was back when I was working and they carried Liuzzi's cheese. We couldn't find basket cheese anywhere in NH...then I discovered that Amato's in Amherst made it fresh, but now they are closed (or moved). I will have to check at Angela's to see if they have basket cheese (actually another little regional difference...it's so easy to find at Easter time in CT, virtually unknown around here.).

                2. I'm afraid EastRocker is correct in that there's not enough of an ethnic Italian population in NH, Maine or Vermont as in southern CT, NY and RI.

                  I feel your pain as I grew up near New Haven as well. I don't want to go on with this as I'll begin to rant, but there are a few standouts in these states, but few and far between. Paciarino, (as mainemal suggested) is one example of "authentic" Italian.

                  And, I'm afraid here comes the rant, if you were to serve a New Haven style pizza in New Hampshire a lot of people would hate it because "it didn't have enough cheese" or "tasted burnt." In upper New England they actually put cheddar cheese in the mix (it's a Greek pizzeria thing). IN VT it's all expensive, trendy, organic "flatbreads." Don't get me wrong as I really like Flatbread Pizza Co, but it's not Italian and neither is that disgusting Penne Ala Vodka everyone raves about in my neck of the backwoods.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bewley

                    I can't really comment on NH/ME, but in Vermont, there are a few places that have serviceable "red sauce" Italian (you know the parm dishes, lasagna, etc.) As far as itmes like brasciole, I have yet to see it. Bove's is worshipped in the Burlington area but I find it to be dreadful (cottage cheese in lasagna, are you kidding me ??). There are a couple decent pizza options (in addition to the "gourmet" flatbreads that are $20 + for a pizza that barely serves 2). Virtually no one has an oven that is hot enough to blister the cheese and crust. Most places serving Sicilian style pizza precook the crust (probably because the oven isn't hot enough) and virtually no one tops the pizza with raw, loose sausage (most use cooked /sliced link sausage which is awful). American Flatbread does have a hot oven and I beleive the sausage is raw when placed on the pie. The product is very good but VERY expensive. Junior's in Colchester does a decent jobs but hs become pricey. They are one of the few places to get a god order of fried calamari. There is also Trattoria Delia (great Northern Italian cuisine). Three Tomatoes is decent but there pizza crust is so thin it reminds me of The Holy Wafer. I am always amazed how many more Thai/Vietnamese/Hunan/Asian places there are in this area as compared to Italian.

                    1. re: TonyO

                      Trattoria Delia is WONDERful. :)

                  2. Cucina Toscana in Nashua is probably the most authentic, owned by a Florentine named Davide. Go on a weeknight when it's not so busy and chat with him--he's a charmer. 900 Degrees in Manchester does thin crust brick oven pizza--my opinion is they don't get the oven hot enough so there isn't enough char on the crust, but you may like it. Seems like most of the Italian/pizza places are owned by Greeks. Kind of like all the sushi places being owned by Chinese--go figure, it's New Hampshire.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: whs

                      If you are in Nashua, how about Michael Timothy's? Pretty great all around, and nice, thin crusted pizzas too.

                      1. re: whs

                        I was going to say the same thing about Italian restaurants and pizza joints in NH. 20 years ago when I was up there, they were all owned by Greeks. Nutmeg in everything.

                      2. I feel your pain............................

                        I grew up in New Haven (Not Italo-American) but lived on all ethnic food. Apizza only comes fro Wooster Street. Decent Red can be found in hundreds of small restaurants throughout the city and suburbs.

                        I still live in Southern CT, but not New Haven.

                        I now am in the Merrimack Valley three days a week. From Lowell through the 495 corridor up (# to Salem and Pelham........

                        There is no decent Italian-American food. I try and try and am totally disappointed. Pizza is a joke. and it;s not just Italian-American food, Chinese is tasteless and generally inedible. Mexican is vile.

                        This is not a thousand miles from nowhere. Boston is only 45 minutes down I-93. If one could get decent ethnic food there, then the supplies are available.

                        But Johhny Whitebread who lives in the valley is content with 'plastic, tasteless' ethic food.

                        The few ethnic residents are too far removed from the food and culture of there heritage to demand quality Italian-American food.

                        I have a colleage who is 1st generation born in America Italo-American who lives in Salem. He begs me to bring takeout from New Haven everyu week or so to stock his freezer.

                        He and his family spent his last cavation at my home in Connecticut just so they could have a week of eating good Italo-American food at a different restaurannt every night.

                        It's time to make Sal's and Papa Gino's take the word pizza off there signs and menus.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Sorry, but you are way off to bash the Chinese and other Asian options in the route 3 corridor. Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica on 3A is, imho, the BEST chinese food around, including all of the Boston area, ditto Pho 88 for Viet Namese at Drum Hill in Lowell. Also excellent is Udupphi Bhavan for S. Indian in Lowell. There are also numerous excellent Cambodian restaurants in the Lowell area. And several other good Chinese places between Burlington and Lowell, Sichuan Palace in Chelmsford and Sichuan Garden in Burlington to name 2.

                          As for other food from non-asian cultures, you might start thinking in terms of the immigrant patterns in the area. For example there are also some wonderful Lebanese restaurants in the area and some excellent Brazilian places.

                          But if you have to have Italian and ONLY italian, well, is that so different from the mentality you ascribe to "Johnny Whitebread" , after all not all "ethnic" residents or restaurants are "italian".

                          1. re: qianning

                            ditto ditto ditto, you just named my favorite restaurants - we must dine together. Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, is my latest addiction - once a week, I need my dan dan noodle fix - we are still working our way through the menu. :-)

                            have you done the new brazillian - Tabocas?? Portugese is awesome too in the area.

                            1. re: lexpatti

                              Lexi-I ate at The new Brazilian last week and it was quite good. For Portugese, I usually take a ride to New Bedford or Fall River

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Have you done the portugese at Friends on Market St. or VI Seasons? We love Friends, more than Cavalieros but someone recently said VI Seasons was excellent and thats on my list now.

                              2. re: lexpatti

                                Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, OMG! Ate there tonight for the first time. Had the Dan Dan Noodles, the dried lamb with cumin and chili, and the fried sweet potato cakes for dessert. It was fantastic! Hands down the best Chinese food I've ever had. I plan to eat here at least one more time this week (and maybe every day) before heading back to the Green Mountains.

                                1. re: rcianci

                                  soo glad you loved it, I have a continuous thread on this place as I go several times a month (always trying new things) - if you need more great choices, check it out:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584034

                                  latest addiction is now the wontons in chili oil - OMG!!!!

                              3. re: qianning

                                I am well aware of what ethnic food is. I have had very good Brazilian and Greek Food in the Lowell area.

                                I only bashed Chinese food, NOT Viet Namese, Cambodian or South Indian, so don't take me to task about what I didn't disparage. I have eaten at Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica. It may be as good as those in Boston, but that's not much of a recommendation. It was good, fresh, heavy on the chiles and not very imaginative.

                                Lao Sze Chuan here in Milford, CT is far superior. Back in the early 1980s I used to be in Boston on Essex street evry Tuesday for business, and NYC on the lower East Side on Wednesdays/ There was no comparison that the NY Chinatown and Chinese food blew away the BOston Chinatown Chinese food.

                                My opinion really hasn't chnaged over the years. I am a born and bred New Englander, But when it comes to most Italian and Chinese food, the 495/93 corridor is the provinces.

                                BTW>>>my daughter is Chinese and she agrees with me about Chinese food in MASS, you can't hide fair food just by adding hot spices.

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  Thank you for the reference to the restaurant in Milford, CT...I'll remember that next time we're in the mood for Chinese. Lately we head to York St. Noodle House when we are in the mood for asian food...it's so cheap there, and good!

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    bagelman, I would have to disagree with you about Sichuan Gourmet. I have eaten chinese in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Yokohama, Paris and New York, as well as Nashua and Boston, and maintain that SG has some imaginative dishes on the menu. The double cooked bacon is amazing, and their hot and sour soup is exceptional. Also recommend the beef noodle soup, sounds dull but complex flavor, and the dry chili chicken dish.

                                    1. re: whs

                                      tho what this has to do with Italian food escapes me... lol

                                  2. re: qianning

                                    "But if you have to have Italian and ONLY italian, well, is that so different from the mentality you ascribe to "Johnny Whitebread" , after all not all "ethnic" residents or restaurants are "italian"."

                                    I'm sorry, I'm totally confused as to what this means exactly...

                                    1. re: qianning

                                      No, NOT ALL ethnic residents or restaurants are Italian, but that is the typr of food this thread is about. I suggest you reread the original Posting.

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        umm...solargarlic wrote the original posting...

                                        1. re: whs

                                          Yes, and my reply says RE: gianning, so what's your point????????????

                                          I absolutely agreed with solargenic about the dearth of good Italian food in northern MA and NH, and like solargenic I'm born and raised in New Haven