Mennonno Sapiens

One Giant Leap For Mankind

Leaf Peepin’ and Good Eatin’

I did a little leaf peeping up in New Hampshire on Wednesday, although I can’t say as I got any good pictures to post. It was a gloomy day, and the colors aren’t anywhere near peak yet. I was up there on some sort of business anyway, peeping was secondary. I know it’s confusing. It’s usually pleasure before business with me.

I had dinner in Portsmouth. Every time I visit I like it a little more. It’s a quaint, pleasant little place. Picturesque. The people are friendly. What a strange phenomenon.

Market Square, Portsmouth
I spent a good deal of time in New Hampshire, working in a little orchard there, whenever I was in the States throughout the nineties, several months out of the year from ’93 to 2000. There’s something about New England North of Boston. It’s more old New England. You can still get a sense in many places of Frost’sNorth of Boston, in fact.
Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that it’s some kind of rustic idyll, that there’s not a Wal-Mart at the other end of town that somebody hasn’t gotten married in. It’s not all After Apple-Picking, The Wood-pileand Mending Wall. I know that.
I went to The Portsmouth Brewery with a friend…

It was still early. We ordered their beer sampler…

Actually he ordered it. I’m a very simple guy, beerwise. I’m not really the sampling type. I’m happy with a pale ale. If there’s Bass on tap that’s what I get. Unless it’s really hot out, and then I’ll order a pale lager, a pilsener. Pretty simple, like I said. Change is good, variety is the spice of life, and all that, but I know what I like.
I just wish there was a good spot for schnitzel around here.  Nothing beats schnitzel with beer.  As it was, I tried the jambalaya at the brewery, and it was pretty good, but New Hamster is not exactly Jambalaya Land.  Surprisingly, it beat the New York Strip my friend ordered, which was lukewarm when it came.
He said maybe it took them longer to do the jambalaya than the steak.  But that’s not likely, since the beauty of jambalaya is it just sits there in a big ol’ pot, and all you do is add rice.  I tried a little of his steak with a wild mushroom demi glace, and I thought it was tasty, too, myself.
When my friend decided we should do the beer sampler, I had already had a pint of the Smutty Shoals Pale, which I liked. I didn’t object, since he was buying the round. It’s only two pints, anyway, and it was pretty. I mean, the different colors and all. There were ten beers (from left to right in the picture)…
Hop Harvest Ale
Pumpkin Ale
Black Cat Stout
Cream Ale
Bottle Rocket IPA
Old Brown Dog
Smutty Portsmouth Lager
Smutty Shoals Pale
and Barley Wine
We both liked the pumpkin ale, for its seasonableness, I guess you’d say (though after a few beers “seasonableness” is actually very hard to say), and I liked the stout, which was a stout, and the barley wine is something I’d be interested in exploring more in the future in a certain setting.
I’m not going to wax all poetic and talk about how “complex and delicate” a beer is, or get all political and start banging on about how breweries are “dumbing down” their beers. I respect beer, I just believe sometimes silence and schnitzel is the most respectful way to respect it.
Wine’s another thing people start talking crazy about (Fran Lebowitz once said, “great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine”). I went to a tasting with a friend last summer at Downtown Wine & Spirits, and realized pretty quick I was in way over my head.
I mean, they’d come around with the bottle and pour you some, and you’d sniff it and swish it around and all that, and then they’d be like, “so, what did you think?”
And my friend would say something like, “Hmm, a bit flabby, far too chatty, and rather jejune, if I may say.”
“Mmm, yes, I found it long-winded and digressive…”

“… downright turgid at times.”

“With a hint of wet dog,” my friend would conclude (he tacked that on to the end of every wine).

And I’d just nod, swishing the sample around in my mouth, hoping that they wouldn’t interrupt my tasting to ask me my opinion. But sometimes they called my bluff.
“And what did you think?”

“Mmm,” I’d swallow. “Me? I like the hair, but too much makeup.  And, um… stripes and plaids don’t go together…”

Quizzical looks.

I’d clarify: “Um… I’m definitely getting a wet dog in the distance, howling…”

Was that a nod from my friend?

Emboldened, I’d continue: “It’s a full moon… It’s cold out–October–and the woods are dark… and, and… the wolves are on the prowl!”

Back to quizzical looks.

“And,” I’d conclude, holding the glass to my forehead like a fortune-teller, “the number 23, for some reason.  Does that mean anything to anyone?”

I had no idea.

So to be honest, I don’t even try anymore.  Wine is fine, but liquor’s quicker.  You know what I’m saying?

Back in Portsmouth, after we finished our beer sampler, the place suddenly filled up with dads and their toddlers. It was something you wouldn’t see in Boston.  It must be some kind of club.  They were everywhere.  Some cute ones, too.  Dads, I mean.  And toddlers, as well, but in a different way.

So we split.  Went for a stroll through the streets of Historic Portsmouth, dropped into Breaking New Grounds in Market Square for a cup of coffee before getting on the road back to Boston. BNG is a lively little place with a warm atmosphere, and coconut macaroons, which my friend is especially fond of, for some reason.

I also want to plug what has long been my hands-down favorite restaurant in Boston, Neptune, in the North End.  I dropped in for dinner earlier this week.   It’s a great little spot, the atmosphere is always inviting, and odds are you’ll find Jeff Nace, the proprietor, hanging out trying a new wine, his wife and daughter in tow.

Neptune is really what restaurants were meant to be.  A great menu, good wine, and a genuine neighborhood feel.  It really is all that, and totally unpretentious about it.  But you will end up spending no less than thirty-five bucks apiece for lunch, and at least fifty each for dinner.  All I can say is, it’s good to have friends with money.

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