Walk into Hagan’s Grill and the first thing you’ll notice is a surfboard mounted horizontally across the barrier wall. There is no doubt you’ve arrived for dinner in a beach town. And that town is Hampton, New Hampshire, home to the well-known tourist attraction known as Hampton Beach.
Beyond the stretch of Kittery shopping outlets, and around the corner from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Anneke Jans, a quaint, dimly lit bistro, packs a full house. In fact, on a Saturday evening it is advisable not to be a minute late for your reservation, as you will surely lose your table, obliged to dine at the bar. Dining at the bar isn’t so bad, though, as the mood from patrons in the full dining area can be downright boisterous. But that’s what bistros are all about: culinary camaraderie.
We settled into the curvy, high-backed banquette overlooking the Piscataqua River, the Sarah Long Bridge, and busy Portsmouth Harbor. Rays of the setting sun bounced off tiny whitecaps and lit the bows of fishing boats heading home. As if on cue, one of Portsmouth’s iconic red and black Moran tugboats slowly chugged its way into port. Inside, the restaurant was hopping; guests clustered around the bar, tables were full, and conversation and drinks were flowing.
When Pigs Fly Wood-Fired Pizzeria in Kittery, Maine, is an astonishing place in both edifice and fare. The exterior has a subtle arts-and-crafts-inspired style, while the post-industrial interior features a cathedral ceiling supported by huge I-beams. The décor is composed largely of repurposed metal from previous mills and factories, with a bar made of concrete with gear and cog inlays. Ultra-sleek Douglas fir chairs line each table and the bar of the 170-seat restaurant.
Peter Koge, chef and owner of Sake Japanese Restaurant in Portsmouth, takes his sushi seriously, pampering his fish with salt cures and sake soaks before serving it to the devoted clientele at his 16-year-old establishment. “I’m like a doctor,” says the 62-year-old Portsmouth resident. “I can’t give fish that I don’t know.”
Sweeping ocean views greet diners entering this spacious, upscale eatery on Salisbury Beach. The restaurant may be located in a warehouse-style pavilion, with an unadorned entrance, but once you’re inside, the views are spectacular. Sit at one of the tables perched over the water by the floor-to-ceiling windows and you’ll feel like you’re on the bow of a cruise ship.
It’s hard to imagine a prettier spot on the Seacoast than this postcard-perfect foodie find. Nestled on Harris Island, Dockside Restaurant overlooks a protected harbor and small marina dotted with bobbing sailboats and dinghies, small yachts, and working lobster boats. Look to the east and you’ll see the open ocean, the waves crashing against Boone Island, and a slice of Maine’s rocky, spruce-studded coastline. You could come solely for the setting, but what happens in the kitchen is equally dazzling.
John Welch, executive chef of the Wentworth by the Sea resort, says, "Our entire menu is inspired by the ocean that surrounds us." With a sweep of his hand, he adds, "I want people to know that everything they're eating is right out there."