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Visiting Portsmouth, NH

Big thanks for all the posts and recs, I think I've compiled a nice list of potential places to hit for a 3 day visit. But I am curious as to whether most places will require reservations at this time of year? I'm arriving tomorrow for 2 nights but haven't reserved anywhere.

My list of potentials:
Jumpin Jay's
Black Trumpet
Portsmouth Brewery
Friendly Toast
Green Monkey

For seafood specifically...
Bob's Clam Shack
Chauncey Creek
Old Ferry Landing

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The Friendly Toast
121 Congress St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Portsmouth Brewery
56 Market St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Green Monkey
86 Pleasant St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Old Ferry Landing
10 Ceres St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

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  1. Which were the places you ended up going in Portsmouth and how were they? I'm going to up there tomorrow for the first time in years and I'd like to check out some good restaurants.

    Portsmouth Brewery is already on my definite visit list but I think I'm just going to be hitting it up for drinks, copious amounts of drinks.

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    Portsmouth Brewery
    56 Market St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

    5 Replies
    1. re: mucksp

      We hit the brewery for dinner last night, the paddle of beer was great, to try all the different ones. Curry mussels was delish as was the pulled pork. the bratwurst burger was only ok as the bun was really big and I think overpowered it.

      Breakfast was the friendly toast and it was good. French toast is nice and thick cut and the granola was a nice "healthy" choice. Pumpkin pancakes were really good as well with the vanilla whipped cream topping. Coffee is diner coffee, nothing exceptional. Surprised that the green tea was loose leaf tea and was good. Service was prompt and efficient for us, we were worried about some of the negative reviews but not a problem.

      Lunch was at Bob's and it was decent enough. Nothing exceptional aside from the massive portion sizes. Was sad that the roll in the lobster roll wasn't buttered and grilled. Nice amount of meat but I've had better versions. Ordered the seafood special as well, fried clam strips, fried shrimp and fried haddock. Haddock was nicely fried, still moist inside, not too overly battered but rather bland. Is haddock normally so tasteless? The clam strips reminded me of canned smoked oysters, not sure why? But i love that taste so take it for what it's worth. Fried shrimp were kind of mild and tasteless. Fries were good, nice and crisp.

      Dinner tonight is Brazo. Will try and post later. Hope this helps.

      1. re: bdachow

        Wow, that more than helps! Thanks for all the detail, I could kind of feel like I was eating at those places. An especially huge thanks for the description of the bun on the burger at the brewery - that's one of my pet peeves and something that always ruins a burger/sandwich for me so I'm glad to know to avoid that.

        Glad to hear you enjoyed the brewery. I haven't been there for years, but last time I did I really enjoyed their Thaizenheimer beer, so I was pretty excited to see that it's on tap again. Looks like I'll be leaving with growlers...

        Looking at your list of places, Black Trumpet looks pretty interesting, I think we might check out that.

        1. re: bdachow

          Bob's is a tourist trap...
          No excuse for a plain roll. Fried Haddock should be very tasty, and not bland. Clam strips remind me of what Howard Johnson Restaurants served....
          Fried shrimp is usually very good, so it must be poor frying oil, or the chef does not know how to season the batter.... Or, its a hack chef....

          1. re: bdachow

            The only thing I get at Bob's is Lillian's fried clams. Clam strips, yuck?!?

            Better than Bob's is Petey's Summertime Seafood on the beach in Rye. Their fried stuff is as good as Bob's - but they make the best seafood chowder of any restaurant I've ever been to (my opinion). You can get cocktails at Petey's too. Sit at the bar, the bartenders name is Todd, he's a hoot.

            Again my opinion, but the best breakfast is at the Big Bean in Newmarket.

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            Petey's Summertime Seafood
            1323 Ocean Blvd, Rye, NH 03870

            1. re: humin

              Oh rats, sounds like i made poor choices at bob's. Oh well, live and learn!

              Brazo was really nice. It ended up being our more expensive meal on this trip so far. The ambience was nice, more of a romantic feel with darker colours and dim lighting. Started with the guacamole and fish tacos. Both were huge portions, could've been a main as we couldn't finish it if i wanted to eat our mains. There was a massive pile of nicely fried fish, crisp exterior and tender moist fish underneath. The only drawback was the taco shell was buried under everything so got soggy by the time I dug down far enough in the pile. Lol. Guacamole was good, not very limey, had a nice refreshing taste, slightly chunky and I think a touch of smokiness and maybe orange juice?

              The pulled pork was really good. Nice charred ends and pull apart pork glazed with a sweeter style sauce, the watercress salad really balanced out the sweetness. My paella was less successful, no crust on the rice and the chicken thigh was dried out. No memories of Spain there. Our waitress was super good and took it off our bill which was not necessary but the gesture was much appreciated.

              Desserts were the flan, delicious, and the cherry, fig crumble. The oatmeal topping was a bit gummy but we asked to hold the ice cream so that probably didn't help.

              With 4 drinks, the bill came to 100. Overall, I'd recommend this place, good food, good ambience and the service was great.

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              Brazo
              75 Pleasant Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801

        2. Two places you missed are top of the line, Four, and Surf. Both are better than any of the places mentioned on your list. For fish I'd skip Jumpin Jays and head a few miles south on the coatline to Petey's. I'd also stop at Shio for sushi from owners who moved here from Queens, and who also hire their chefs from NY. There's a new ice cream place on State St. worth trying, FYI, I don't see dessert on your list, and Annabelle's environment is not so hot IMO. Have fun!

          8 Replies
          1. re: foodsmith

            Shio is excellent. I like Annabelle's Ice Cream. The ambiance is lacking but they make their own ice cream. The new place on State Street serves "Shane's of Maine" like 100 other local places, so it's nothing special. I've heard great things about Four, but never been. There's a new place in Portsmouth "District" which looks like it may be worth checking out.

            1. re: bewley

              Went to Shio today, based on the reviews above, as well as a few other sites. Sorry folks, but I respectfully disagree with the "excellent" categorization. For those who like Chinese-style Japanese-American food, Shio is perhaps a good option.

              1. re: qianning

                I've really should have been more specific with saying "excellent" with regards to Shio as at that time I had only tried their sushi/sashmi. I agree some of the dishes out of the kitchen are not up to par, but overall I still think it's the best option in the area.

                What did you have and what are you comparing it to?

                1. re: bewley

                  It may well be the best sushi/sashimi in the area (we're from Nashua area, and only get to Portsmouth occasionally); we were hoping it was something like Yosaku or Miyake in Portland; or even the old Sakurabana in downtown Portsmouth, and that just isn't Shio.

                  I don't want to knock Shio too hard based on one quick visit (garlic in the red maple radish was enough to make us leave after ordering one appetizer), but it is definitely not someplace to recommend to someone really wanting Japanese food. Again, not to be harsh, but we went out of our way to go there yesterday, and I'd say for out-of-towners who are looking for something special, this might not be a good choice, at least it definitely didn't suit us.

            2. re: foodsmith

              Petey's and Jumpin Jay's are in two completely different leagues. If you want fried seafood or over priced steamed lobster in a beach side shack - go to Petey's. If you want finer quality dining with a more inspired menu then go Jumpin Jay's - assuming you want seafood cause that is all they have a Jumpin Jay's. It's not fair to compare the two.

              For ice cream, the two places I like best are Lago's Lone Oak on Rt1 in Rye and Browns out by the Nubble in York Maine. Lago's makes all their own ice cream, unlike say the Beach Plum which sells Richardson's Ice Cream made in Massachusetts.

              Another place for dessert is Geno's Chowder and Sandwich shop down by Strawberry Banke. Geno's sells the best slice of blueberry pie your likely to find anywhere. The ambiance doesn't suck either. http://www.genoschowder.com/ IMHO - Petey's makes a better chowder than Geno's and their lobster roll is nothing special, but the pie is really really good.

              1. re: humin

                Broiled haddock at Petey's aint fried, and it's a heck of a lot fresher than what Jumpin Jay's has, IMO.

                1. re: humin

                  Btw, if you want truly fine dining seafood, I wouldn't bother with JJ's, but Surf in Portsmouth pretty much owns that category now. Between them and Petey's, I'm not sure there's room for anyone else.

                  1. re: foodsmith

                    You missed the point and you call yourself foodsmith?

                    I'm not advocating JJ, where did you get that?

                    My point is that JJ and Petey's are completely different seafood restaurants. It's unfair to both to suggest one is better than the other.

                    I too prefer Petey's, but I would qualify a statement like skip JJ's and go to Petey's. If I was expecting the type of dining experience one gets at JJ or Brazo or Green Monkey or any of restaurants of that ilk in Portsmouth I would be wholly disappointed by the paper plates, plastic cups and that tin foil pan that your precious haddock was served in.

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                    Green Monkey
                    86 Pleasant St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

              2. Don't know if it's too late for you but look for a spot called The District in the main downtown area. Wish I had more specific info for you but we happened by it entirely by accident when we were looking for a restroom off 95.

                We had an exceptional lunch with friendly efficient service. On leaving I asked the server to pass on our compliments for a great meal. She said the chef would be happy to have them as they'd only been open for 6 days!

                I gotta tell you if they were doing food like that in their shakedown, they have a most promising future!

                I'm trying to remember exactly what we had but it's swimming in a haze of foods and experiences from 2 action packed and yummy, yummy, yummy weeks. However, I think if you locate the restaurant you won't be disappointed. We were charmed by Portsmouth and The District.

                1. Thanks everyone for their input. We ended up walking to the farmer's market on Saturday morning, it was such a beautiful day. The falafel wrap I had was ok, heavy on the curry and turmeric and as it was pre-made, it suffered from not having a nice crispness to the falafel itself. The slaw made up some of the crunch but it just wasn't the same. A pulled pork sandwich from a different vendor was nice, super juicy and tender pork and not too heavily glazed. A couple of apple cider donuts and a peach to finish off the meal. Was a great breakfast/lunch.

                  Dinner, we ended up heading back to Portsmouth Brewery. It was really busy this evening, lots of families and it was a nice lively atmosphere. Pretty much fooded out by this time, so ordered the Alehouse mussels (we liked it better than the curry as the flavour of the mussels was able to come through better and it was lighter, not to say that the curry wasn't delicious as well), a cup of the haddock chowder and a cup of chili. The chowder was really light and fresh tasting and I loved it, I'm so used to tin can chowders that anything is much better I suppose. :)
                  The chili was really good as well, being much lighter in texture than the usual gut busters.

                  Somewhere along the way, we did stop for Maine Tracks ice cream at a small shop selling Shane's (it was next to a sandwich shop/grocery store). Nice ice cream if you like a thicker creamier style of ice cream.

                  Overall, it was a great trip, had a fabulous time in Portsmouth, the people were super friendly and everything was walkable and the weather was so nice and comfortable. Can't wait to come back another time!

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                  Portsmouth Brewery
                  56 Market St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

                  1. Just got back from my second trip to Portsmouth in the past few years. It is not a good town for fine dining. The upscale dining experience in Portsmouth would be considered average (at best) in Boston or Montreal. Based on past experience Black Trumpet is very over-rated for fine dining--a menu that tries to be trendy but is not executed well.

                    Tried Jumpin Jay's this time and also found it average--no remotely local fish on offer. The fish and scallops were well prepared but everything that wasn't a protein was very amateurish. Also dingy and a very unappealing bug fell from the dusty lights above onto our table. It was OK, but I wouldn't go back.

                    I also tried Surf and it was the best "upscale" restaurant I have been to in Portsmouth to date, but probably because we stuck to simple fare (raw bar and lobster). Again though, the sides (especially the mashed potatoes) were terrible and most of the items from the raw bar were not very impressive (underseasoned scallop ceviche and could have been fresher tuna). Lobster was very good. Service was slow but friendly.

                    I think the way to go in Portsmouth is downscale--burgers, lobster pound etc..because upscale is invariably disappointing. Pretty little town, though...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: thelonious777

                      "I think the way to go in Portsmouth is downscale--burgers, lobster pound etc..because upscale is invariably disappointing."
                      I agree...

                      1. re: jaylhorner

                        It's the number one reason that I love The Brewery, very downscale while still excellent food.

                      2. re: thelonious777

                        I think downscale is probably a good idea. I found the Black Trumpet way overpriced, full of attitude and with poor execution of less than great ideas, and a disappointing wine list.

                        1. re: lifeasbinge

                          This is a sad commentary on the Portsmouth fine dining scene. As someone that goes out to eat often (3-5 times a week) we have really run out of consistent choices in Portsmouth for fine dining. Cava is top of the heap in my opinion, but is very pricey with small portions. Also, their wine is expensive and the selection is limited (the $55 pinot or the $150 pinot etc.). Mombo is hit or miss depending on the specific dishes ordered. I agree with theolonious777 concerning Jumping Jays--good seafood, half-ass sides and apps. Surf is new and fun if a little loud at times. Simple seafood is the way to go at Surf. The Green Monkey suffers from consistently over-salted food, which the servers will freely admit, but evidently seems to go down well with their regular clientele. Brazo is a solid choice and provides a different pallet of flavors but I wouldn't really call it fine dining. Cafe Mediterraneo has unhappy servers and mediocre food. Tried the District once and it's promising. Ristorante Massimo is expensive and slow and the food is ordinary--good wine list if you enjoy Italian wines. Lastly, the Black Trumpet was accurately portrayed in lifeasbinge"s post above. The dishes taste like less then the sum of their ingredients, and the servers have a definite attitude. The chef owners are nice people, but I think they suffer from too many local accolades. The food is good at Sake but you can smell the restrooms from the dining room and the hostess can be less than friendly

                          Yes, I'm cranky, but maybe seeing this in print will serve as a wake up call to the restauranteurs in Portsmouth. I'm your customer after the tourists go home.

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                          Ristorante Massimo
                          59 Penhallow Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801

                          Green Monkey
                          86 Pleasant St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

                          Cafe Mediterraneo
                          119 Congress St, Portsmouth, NH 03801