Established in 2006 by co-owners John Tinios, of The Galley Hatch Restaurant and Grill 28, and Master Baker Steve James, Popovers on the Square has carved out a niche for itself in downtown Portsmouth as a casual, full-service neighborhood cafe.
Management is busier than usual these days: the eatery was awarded a coveted outdoor liquor license in 2011, and construction is underway on a second Popovers off Route 101 in Epping, slated to open later this year. Somehow they are still able to juggle breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as catering platters, wedding cakes, and special occasion desserts.
Lunch at Popovers involves a varied menu that will appeal to just about everyone. Regular customers fill cozy indoor seats, holding impromptu chats, meetings, and interviews, creating a positive buzz in the bright and spacious dining room.
In the summer, tourists spill out onto the sidewalk, content to wait in line for a prime, shaded outdoor spot, perfect for sipping a glass of wine and watching people meander through Market Square. To the right of the entrance, employees stand at the ready behind shiny glass cases displaying rows upon rows of gorgeous, delectable desserts. Here’s where you place your order.
And choosing what to order can be a challenge. With a variety of soups, sandwiches, small plates, kid-friendly, and gluten-free options, Popovers offers much more than just what the name implies. The best-selling New England Clam Chowder, filled with chunks of potatoes and diced clams, is surprisingly thick and hearty for being gluten free. Same goes for the deep red Tomato Bisque. Dip the accompanying Popover through the remnants in your bowl, or spread it with a side order of creamy whipped Maple Butter for a satisfying sweet treat.
Gluten-free bread can be substituted for any sandwich order, including the flavorful Turkey Panini, a pressed sandwich with house-roasted turkey breast, melted provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on honey-wheat bread. Or choose the popular Oven-Toasted Egg Sandwich or a Monte Cristo Panini from Popover’s all-day brunch menu.
If you don’t have time to sit at one of the cafe’s sleek gray marble-topped tables, speedy service ensures a smooth carryout experience. “The average turn time on a lunch ticket is 10 minutes, even though we make everything to order,” says manager Matthew Clark. Popular togo items include crisp salads like Tinios Greek Salad, romaine lettuce served in or with a popover and topped with feta, tomatoes, olive tapenade, salami, and the restaurant’s homemade pesto and lemon parsley vinaigrette.
Wash your meal down with a freshly brewed Unsweetened Iced Tea or a glass of homemade Lemonade, or combine the two for a thirst-quenching Arnold Palmer. If you crave something stronger, try Clark’s refreshing signature Sangria, or Hot Chocolate Cocktails in the colder months.
If you do have time to linger, perhaps with a glass of white wine in hand, order the Pan-Seared Crab Cakes, two generous cakes bursting with crab, flecked with bell pepper and celery and dolloped with Maryland aioli. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Rotini and Cheese, a large single portion casserole filled with pasta and smoked Gouda cheese sauce, or the Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas.
Whatever you do, save room for freshly brewed Rao’s Coffee and the decadent desserts. The Éclair is a delicate oval of choux pastry, filled with smooth vanilla pastry cream and drizzled with dark chocolate ganache. Also notable are the Peanut Butter Brownie, seasonal Fruit Tarts, assorted Cookies, and slices of Popovers’s signature Cakes and seasonal Pies, including Chocolate Cream Pie.
Don’t despair if you have trouble deciding. Except for a rotating list of daily specials, the menu remains constant throughout the year, so there’s always next time.