About Kittery, killed it

IMG_1916 The following post was to be published elsewhere, but did not make the cut. Here’s the piece, aimed at an out-of-town audience.

Getting Out in Kittery

I had been suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, so I suggested to my husband we get a babysitter and do a date night. Not wanting to spend half the evening looking for parking in downtown Portsmouth, we took a quick drive over the Sarah Long Bridge and enjoyed an evening of beer drinking and eating delicious food in Kittery, Maine.

Up until recently, Kittery had been a sleepy town with a tiny downtown – known as the Foreside – that included few things to do at night. But in the past few years, an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy lured Kittery residents back to the Maine side of the bridge for their drinks, dining and entertainment.

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

My husband and I started at the Black Birch, a low-key and tiny space known for its small plates and a killer beer list. We started out with the deviled eggs, three halves each with their own twist on the summer picnic classic. The wasabi-spiced was the clear winner. For dinner, I had the duck with a sweet citrus glaze, which left me scoping the sticky yumminess up with my fork long after the duck was gone. My husband had the brick chicken – a dish that left me wondering how they could make plain-old-chicken taste so good. My husband sampled the darker beers on the list – of which there are plenty – while I started with the 2 Govt., a bourbon-based cocktail named in honor of the Black Birch’s address.

If whiskey is your thing, you’re sure to find something to make you happy here. Not only do they offer a solid selection of bourbon and rye, the Black Birch also has a constant rotation of seasonal whiskey-based cocktails on their menu that go above and beyond the seen-all-too-often twist on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Next to the Black Birch is Buoy Gallery, founded by young artists looking for a space to showcase emerging art both local and from away. If the gallery looks like it’s having an opening or an event, stop in. Buoy focuses on innovative and captivating shows. If it’s not open, don’t worry. The Black Birch and Buoy are connected by a back hallway and you can usually take a peek in the gallery near the restaurant bathrooms.

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Down the street is Anneke Jans, a fine dining restaurant with a casual yet classy bar attached to the main dining room. For nearly 10 years it’s been a trendy after work spot for Kittery’s professional class, and more recently inherited a top-notch chef to revamp the menu. If you’re going for cocktails, I suggest anything served in a martini glass. If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s plenty to keep you happy on their list, too. Make sure to order the mussels, with bleu cheese. This once-weird combo is one of Anneke Jans’ signature dishes for its mix of briny and creamy tanginess.

The Foreside is not the only place of interest in Kittery. There are the shopping outlets on Route 1 which are easily accessible from Interstate 95. Here you’ll find Levis, Nike, Coach, and an entire building dedicated to the Gap-Banana Republic brand. There are your typical fried food restaurants along the strip, as well as the slightly upscale fish eatery, Robert’s Maine Grill, which is a must-stop for oyster lovers. For good food, good drinks and (slighty) less cost, drive north on Route 1 just past the outlets to the When Pigs Fly company store and restaurant. Here they elevate the classic pizza joint with craft beers, freshly made pizza, and oh-so-good sandwiches made on their own bread.

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge


Kittery has long been the little sister to Portsmouth’s many great restaurants and was considered lacking when compared with the city’s art and music scene. But as rents climb and Portsmouth grows, young chefs, bartenders, artists and others from Seacoast New Hampshire are taking their ideas into Maine. This exodus has largely been Kittery’s gain and now those who come to visit Portsmouth have a whole new downtown to go to.

Wine in Walpole

Inside the Walpole Mountain View Winery tasting room

Inside the Walpole Mountain View Winery tasting room

Walpole should be just like every other small town in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region — rolling hills dotted with historic homes, an agrarian landscape, a few shops to support the residents in a central village and a fair amount of poverty. But Walpole is not that. Not at all.

As you drive the winding country roads through the hills of Walpole, you see beautifully restored homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most are old colonial farmhouses, though some are clearly grand summer retreats built for the wealthy at the turn of the last century. The landscaping is impeccable, the lawns immaculate. As someone not from the area, I wondered who these residents are. Where did they earn the money for such grand homes? Are they all retired? And where did they find the time to do all that yard work?

Walpole is a town located about 20 minutes north of Keene, NH, in what has always been a rural part of the state. Among its roughly 4,000 residents is documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, lending the town an elite air. In the downtown you’ll find L.A. Burdick Chocolates flagship store and restaurant, which looks like a tourist-trap general store outside, but like a Parisian bistro inside. The chocolates are well-known for their ridiculously great quality, yet became even more famous when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg served Burdick’s chocolate mice at his wedding.


Take a short drive, maybe 10 minutes, out of town and you will find the Walpole Mountain View Winery. It boasts 32 grape varieties on site, but I didn’t find any of the wines particularly outstanding. My husband and I did a tasting and found the semi-sweet wines to be the best. We purchased a 2011 bottle of their Assemblage Red and headed back to the car.


I have to add here, though, that while the wine selection may not draw you to Walpole Mountain View Winery, the “mountain view” part is pretty spectacular.


I wrote about the winery, the chocolate and ice cream in a recent blog post for Stay Work Play, but I wanted to talk a little more about Walpole here partly because there are so many beautiful spots and so many great views, like this one:


And a nice amount of good food for somewhere that should just be a rural outpost between Keene and Dartmouth.

But what I found most striking about Walpole, and what I most wanted to write about, is that Walpole seems to be almost entirely devoid of poverty. Visit any town in this area and you’ll find beautifully restored homes neighboring a rundown trailer with four different kinds of vehicles in varying stages of repair on the lawn. You’ll find homes that appear to be at the precipice of collapse and others so minutely modest you wonder how anyone could even fit a bed inside. Walpole has none of this. It has none of this because it apparently has long been a place for the rich, the Ivy League professor, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock surgeon or the retired investment banker. Louisa May Alcott summered here, as did many politicians from years ago. I suppose any town that has a pedigree chart available on its town Historical Society website has long been tony.

Perhaps this environment is why Ken Burns landed in Walpole and why L.A. Burdick didn’t opt for Harrisville or some other tiny New Hampshire outpost and why Walpole is home to a winery and gourmet ice cream maker as well. These exceptional businesses all found a home and clientele in this rural upscale retreat, but I wonder if the wealthy of today would have even come here if these things did not exists? What drew them to Walpole really, and what drew those wealthy residents before them and before the chocolate and ice cream and Ken Burns in the neighborhood? It’s something I think just about any poor, small New England town would like to know. Does money follow the high-brow amenities or do you need money to get the high brow in the first place?