Traveling north on Route 1 in Kittery, just past rows of outlet malls dotted with fried seafood shacks, sits Misto!, a bright and lively Italian-inspired cafe and bistro. Open since July 2014, Misto! has quickly gained traction, garnering recognition as a 2015 Best of Taste top 30 restaurant. In Italian, misto means mixed, and Chef-Owner Suzanne Schepis-Gray’s menu mixes Sicilian, Californian, and New England cuisines, using indigenous ingredients, many grown in the bistro’s backyard organic heirloom seed gardens.
It’s not quite 4 p.m. on a Friday, and already the large, curving bar at Ron Jillian’s Italian Bar and Grill in Hampton is alive with regulars, who chat animatedly with each other and the staff as they relax with drinks after work. “This is actually pretty quiet,” says owner Ed Blouin, motioning over his shoulder at the lively afternoon crowd behind him.
Set the night ablaze at Kume Japanese Restaurant. Opened in July of 2014, Kume is a standout in busy Brickyard Square in Epping, New Hampshire. Modern floor-to-ceiling natural stone walls, etched glass dividers, and ample lighting in the main dining room contrast with the lightly colored and impressive well-stocked bar. Along the back side of the restaurant chefs are abuzz at the sushi bar, showcasing a rainbow of fresh sashimi atop boats and decorative plates. Mahogany walls and gray stone are backlit to complement the inviting espresso-toned leather chairs that frame the rectangular stainless steel grills in the habachi dining room. Smartly dressed chefs, at home behind the grills, set the expectation that this is not your everyday dining experience.
At The Black Birch in downtown Kittery, proprietors Gavin Beaudry, Benjamin Lord, and Jake Smith ensure the vibe of the restaurant supports their comfort food menu. “We want everyone’s experience to be the experience we want to have when we dine out,” Lord says, which turns out to be a community block party in restaurant form.