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Looking for Best Destination Restaurants in VT, NH, ME

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I'm a journalist working for a new media website and digital magazine launching in March of this year. I'm looking for "destination restaurants" in the northeast U.S.--but trying to limit the pool to rural or small town (or small city) restaurants that aren't especially widely known. They should be the kind of restaurants that stand heads and shoulders above the competition in these more remote areas, and while that kind of quality is always debatable--well, that was the debate I was hoping to see here. I've read many of the posts on "destination restaurants" and I have developed some ideas about what will come out of this question, but I wanted to ask more formally to see if it would cause even more winnowing down...Examples off the top of my head would be Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY (I know, not good for *this* board, but just an example), or a place like Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, VT. They're restaurants that might actually motivate you to get in your car and travel an hour or two--or make a long detour to get in a meal. Perhaps if folks offered a list of their top 5 or so, it might force some hard choices?

I'd love to hear from people who have traveled broadly in VT, NH, and ME and have sampled from a good number of restaurants. If we quote you--or use information generated by Chowhound users--we will give credit in accordance with standard journalistic practices. Thanks much in advance for any help you can give.

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  1. Ssome western New Hampshire destination spots:

    L.A. Burdick's Restaurant in Walpole, NH http://www.burdickchocolate.com/resta...

    Pearl Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Peterborough, NH http://www.pearl-peterborough.com

    Chesterfield Inn, Chesterfield, NH http://www.chesterfieldinn.com/breakf...

    Pickety Place, Mason, NH http://www.pickityplace.com/

    7 Replies
    1. re: Tedmom

      Thanks for getting it started, Tedmom. Hoping that the subject/title is not simply too broad, but I'm really looking for a fresh debate about the best places in Northern NE. I'll cross-post to Southern NE if this one works, or I'll amend and try again :)... Regardless, thanks much. After some research, I may be back with some questions about why you chose them, what dishes are best, etc...

      1. re: CBeth

        New Hampshire is in Northern New England. Did you mean Northern New Hampshire?

        1. re: Tedmom

          No no, I think I must have confused you. I was just thanking you! Your response was spot-on. I am looking throughout Northern New England... And NH is clearly that :). I'm from Vermont originally, so we're former neighbors. Thanks much... I was noting that I will NEXT look in Southern New England, so I can get a picture of the best New England small-town restaurants. Again, many thanks.

          1. re: CBeth

            L. A. Burdick in Walpole, NH.

            It's quite possibly my favorite restaurant in the world.

            1. re: RudigerVT

              Thanks--saw this pop up twice and already started doing research on it.

        2. re: CBeth

          There is a restaurant located in Barrington NH (home of the famous Calef's Country Store)called the Frank Jones Restaurant and Pub. Amazing food that is fresh, not frozen and not over priced. Not part of a chain but started by a couple who live in the town and has many years experience in the business. They have items such as garlic chicken nachos, fresh, not frozen, haddock Fish & Chips which people say is the best around. Onion Rings like you can't believe, Pan Seared Sea Scallops. I could go on ...Check out their website for more info. They have just been nominated in Best of New Hampshires magazine for Best buffalo wings category, and Best onion ring category. They also carry the original Frank Jones Ale that used to be brewed in Portsmouth Nh by Frank Jones back in the late 1800s. Neat Restaurant with a lot of neat history and food that is incredible.

        3. re: Tedmom

          I've been to Pearl many times, and while it is certainly good , I don't know that I would consider it destination worthy. Part of what sets it apart is that there is nothing else nearly as good in the immediate area.

        4. Trattoria Delia - Burlington, VT. The best Italian food I've had in Vermont. It's fresh, not over powering but flavorful. The service is absolutely the most outstanding I've experienced in the state. They are respectful, polite, welcoming, but non-intrusive. We had our anniversary dinner there (just the two of us). I'd told them when I made the reservation, and they tucked us into a quiet corner. The hostess knew our names without having to check the reservation list and seated us immediately. We were brought two glasses of complimentary prosecco to help us celebrate our anniversary. From start to finish this was truly a perfect meal with outstanding service. Just a caveat, it's not easy to navigate if you're visually or physically challenged. The space is small, and I think that the handicap access is through an unusual route through the building in which the restaurant is housed (but I'm not sure, it may not be accessible at all).

          You appear to already know about Hen of the Wood.

          These are the two restaurants that I have personal experience of that I'd consider worth driving out of your way to go to. Not saying there aren't more, just that these are the ones I know best.

          4 Replies
            1. re: CBeth

              Oh, thought of another one.

              Salt in Montpelier. This is a tiny place, but it has an brilliant, eclectic menu that changes every six weeks or so. They were doing a Medieval menu recently. I really like this place a lot.

              1. re: Morganna

                Yes, yes, yes. Salt is a treasure and well worth a one-hour drive. AND, it's a BYO, too.

            2. re: Morganna

              When I am traveling in the Burlington, VT area I often go out of my way to eat at Starry Night Cafe in Ferrisburg--about a half hour south of Burlington right on route 7. I have never been disappointed with the food or service. Love being able to make a meal out of several "small plates" . And in nice weather the tables outside are delightful.

            3. I really like

              Chelsea Royal Diner or Putney Diner for Breakfast
              J Morgan's for a steak in Montpelier, VT
              Matterhorn for Apres Ski eats/drinks in Stowe
              Windjammer in South Burlington is A++++

              5 Replies
              1. re: meeps2002

                I should add - the Putney diner makes homemade pies of all sorts and is just a cute, old school option for a meal. It's that perfect stop off 89 and great to spark conversation with locals.

                Windjammer simply has the best salad bar (if you could even imagine having a best in that category).

                1. re: meeps2002

                  J Morgans shouldn't even be on a list of places to eat in Montpelier, let alone places that are worth going out of your way to visit. It is mediocre and overpriced. If I had to choose between Shaw's hot case and J. Morgans, I'd go to Shaw's. Fortunately, if I'm in Montpelier, I have plenty of other choices. The only one of which worth going out of your way or driving a couple hours for is Salt. But there's still Skinny Pancake and soon there will be Mad Taco, as well as That's Life Soup, and Royal Orchid Thai.

                  I'm being really harsh here, but every single time people come visit my husband's office on business, I warn them away from there. Every single time, someone decides they want to eat there. And every single time, they report back that they should have listened to me and not eaten there because it was awful in one way or another. The most recent one of these was this last summer.

                  I am unconvinced about their claims of aging and cutting their own steaks, but I doubt they would have the b*lls to claim it if they weren't actually doing it. Even so, not one person I've spoken to in recent years who has had a steak there has said it was anything resembling good. Gristly, tough, over cooked are the usual comments I hear.

                  Meeps, I'd be really interested to hear about the last time you ate there, what you had, and why you think it's worth even leaving the interstate for, let alone driving an hour or two to eat there.

                  1. re: meeps2002

                    I'd have to disagree with these as "destination restaurants." Good value? Reliable? Tasty? Yes, no doubt. But not in the same class as Hen of the Woods (the example given of hte type she's looking for.)

                    1. re: meeps2002

                      J Morgans as a DESTINATION? A perfectly adequate steak, sure, but does that make a destination? By no means!

                      1. re: lifeasbinge

                        I wouldn't agree that they can even do an adequate steak. Their food is overpriced and mediocre.

                    2. If there is anything like Hen of the Wood, I haven't found it yet. Primo in Maine comes close...and we drove 2 1/2 hours each way to eat there. I also like the restaurant at Simon Pearce in Quechee, VT especially for lunch in the summer. Great care goes into the menu, the tablesettings are beautiful, with their glassware etc and the view of the falls is lovely.
                      I had great hopes for Downtown Grocery in Ludlow, VT but it isn't quite there yet.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: nancyl126

                        I was going to offer up Primo (obviously!) in Rockland, Maine. It fits many of your criteria (yes, I'd drive hours just for a meal...and many people do, yes it's in a small city, etc). It's one of the quintessential "destination" restaurants. The only thing perhaps not meeting your criteria is that I wouldn't really call it "not well known". Though I suppose it depends on how you define "well known". Do foodies in NYC and Boston know about it...probably. Do foodies in Spain? Probably not.

                        1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                          I didn't know about it, and I'm originally from VT! So many thanks!

                          1. re: CBeth

                            I've driven an hour and a half from Portland just to eat dinner at Primo so I guess that should count. I've also made the trip to Red's (Wiscassett, Me) for a lobster roll although I probably would not make the trip if the drive itself wasn't so nice.

                            I know of people who regularly come to Portland from Boston just for a meal at Fore Street, Hugo's or Bresca. They will sometimes justify the trip by having lunch at Duckfat which appears often on Boston threads whenever anyone is talking fries. There are many other restaurants in Portland worthy but these are the ones that people probably will drive two hours for a single meal most often.

                            I think The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk also qualifies especially if you want to spend the night.

                            1. re: bobbert

                              Thanks, bobbert. I've been to Duckfat and loved it (yes, fries!). Don't know as much about Fore Street, etc. Much appreciated...

                              1. re: bobbert

                                I grew up in Wiscasset....please...no Red's Eats. Entirely overrated.

                                1. re: GyroBall

                                  It's a really good lobster roll although we use it more as an excuse to take a drive up the coast than as a destination worthy of the trip alone.

                                  1. re: bobbert

                                    Got it bobbert-- lovely drive with a good lobster roll, but the roll itself probably isn't worth the trek.

                                  2. re: GyroBall

                                    I agree about Reds. It is totally mediocre. Can't figure out why people line up for it.

                                  3. re: bobbert

                                    I'll have to 3rd the rec for Budick's in Walpole, NH - great food & staff, & they use as much local product as they can. In Kennebunk, I'd pick On The Marsh over The White Barn Inn - cooler atmosphere / less stuffy (you can even purchase the art on the walls - & pretty much anything else - if you like it).

                                2. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                  I've seen Primo a few times on this list now-- and my early research indicates it'll likely make the list. Thanks!

                                  1. re: CBeth

                                    Primo is an excellent choice and a definite destination spot. I'm going to try Hugo's in Portland for my first time and am very much looking forward to it. I've been to Fore Street a few times and love it. Don't forget Arrow's in Ogunquit and The White Barn in Kennebunkport. I live in Portsmouth, NH, and I really can't say that any of our restaurants stack up quite as well... Maybe Ristorante Massimo, and the Black Trumpet gets raves for using locally sourced ingredients.

                                    1. re: CBeth

                                      Primo is an excellent choice. There's also "the bar" there if you can't get a reservation. Be there at opening time. Either way, you can't lose with Primo.

                                3. The Inn at Weathersfield in Weathersfield, VT is definitely worth a drive. The Tip Top in White River Junction, VT is amazingly consistently great...and I have taken many "big city" and picky folks there and they are always pleased as well.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: VTer

                                    I completely agree. I posted a review of this fantastic place here in February of 2009, and I would make the trek from Maine again in a heartbeat.

                                    1. re: mainemal

                                      Thanks VTer and mainemal--when I start seeing agreements, it makes it easier... Appreciated!

                                      1. re: mainemal

                                        Hello, mainemal. Could you clarify-- which of the restaurants are you co-endorsing here. I can't be sure of it... If you have a chance, do let me know.

                                        1. re: CBeth

                                          Sorry not to have responded sooner, CBeth: I was referring VERY specifically to Weathersfield Inn.

                                          1. re: mainemal

                                            Got it, mainemal. No problem about the delay at all--we all get busy! Thanks much.