Friday, 22 March 2013

Lincoln Dine-A-Round: #2 - If it’s Tuesday, it must be Tacos

Taco Tuesday. You don’t have to say where you’re going. If you’re in the Lincoln area of New Hampshire (that includes neighbouring North Woodstock) and you say you’re going to Taco Tuesday, then everyone knows where you’re going. It is now a well established local institution, part of modern-day après-ski folklore.
CJ's Penalty Box Sports Bar
Downstairs at the Kancamagus Lodge at the east end of Lincoln’s Main Street, CJ’s Penalty Box is a lively sports bar renowned as much for its friendly atmosphere as its après-ski specials. On Sundays it’s meatloaf, Mac n’ Cheese on Mondays.
And on Tuesdays, the special is Tacos. And not only are the Tacos special, so is the price – they’re just $1 each.
The taco bar is regularly topped up between 4.00pm and 7.00pm, and you simply help yourself to however many taco shells you want, add the chilli-con-carne from the hot dish, maybe a handful of nachos and cheese, some guacamole and salad. Don’t go too mad on your first visit to the taco bar, because you can go back as many times as you like.
I’d been promising Julie and Megan I was going to take them to Taco Tuesday since we booked the trip. Gosh, you know how to treat your family, I hear you cry, but of all the restaurants we visited and excellent meals we had during the week, this was probably our favourite evening. This was mostly because it was just a fun, family night out. Megan loved the novelty of going up to the taco bar to get her food, and we all enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. The fact that we managed to grab the last small available table is a sign of how popular the bar is (especially on Tuesdays...) and I spotted a couple of guys I recognised from Loon Mountain enjoying a beer and taco themselves after their day’s work on the hill, which is surely good testimony.
Great value daily apres-ski specials at CJs
After her first plateful of hearty Mexican fare, Megan took a little wander around to study all the sports items on display, from local ice hockey trophies to professional baseball memorabilia (mostly Boston Red Sox, naturally). She was then ready to head back for more chilli, and not wanting her to feel conspicuous by being the only one eating, I obligingly accompanied her (any excuse...), this time choosing one of the tortilla wraps which happened to be on offer that evening, also only $1. Julie declared herself suitably sated after her one taco and salad and so did not make the trip for another round, although I think she did help Megan out a little bit as the second helping would otherwise have beaten her.
Megan had had one eye on the two dartboards ever since we’d arrived, so once we’d all decided we’d eaten enough, the three of us spent a happy half-an-hour taking it in turns to step up to the oche. I think more darts ended up outside the ring than inside, but it was good, clean family fun. 

Preparing to leave, Julie wondered how we go about paying for our food as nobody had actually taken an order from us and we had simply helped ourselves. In a reflection of  local life (people don’t think twice about leaving car keys in their unlocked cars when they park in town), it’s all done on an honesty system, I explained – when paying for your drinks, you just tell the bartender how many tacos you’ve had and she adds them to your bill. So, three of us had dined out on a fun feast of tacos, tortillas, nachos, dips and salad all for just 5 bucks. Obviously drinks were extra, but the whole evening cost less than $30 and was very enjoyable indeed. 

So next time you’re in the area, make sure you keep Tuesday evening free. For Tacos.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Lincoln Dine-A-Round: #1 – All Around the World

The easy 2-hour drive up the I93 from Boston had got us into Lincoln in mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time to dive into the Rite-Aid on Main Street to get a few basic provisions (mostly beer and wine, to be honest, but Julie also spotted some great value bottles of cranberry juice and apple juice at just a dollar each, so we could mix up a replica of the refreshing ‘Cran-Apple’ Megan had enjoyed on the leisurely flight over...). We could have gone to the Price-Chopper supermarket, but at the risk of going into too much detail Megan needed the loo and I knew I could just run her into Dunkin’ Donuts next door while Julie started putting a few things in the basket in Rite-Aid.

Actually the ‘run’ into Dunkin’ wasn’t that straightforward in the end – all the new snow that had preceded our arrival was piled a good couple of feet high and was obscuring the pavement (or should that be sidewalk...?), but hey, we weren’t complaining!

Purchases made, we hopped back in the car and decided to take a drive past the restaurant we thought we might visit for dinner that evening. We had never been to the Gypsy Café before and, as it is just a couple of hundred yards down the road right on Main Street, we thought we’d just pull up outside to check the opening hours. As we did so a lady who was walking down the street stopped, turned and started heading determinedly towards our parked car. Expecting a gentle admonishing for perhaps being illegally parked, I lowered the car window and began mentally preparing my apology and excuse. “I’m sorry” came the friendly voice with a gentle, local lilt, “we’re not serving right now. Lunch was until 4.00pm.” It was now 4.10pm. Pleasantly surprised, I quickly established that the restaurant would be open again for dinner from 5.00pm to 9.00pm, we offered our thanks and headed off to check-in at our hotel, the Indian Head Resort. “That was nice of that lady to stop for us” commented Julie, and we both agreed that it epitomised the friendly welcome and attentive service we always get when we’re skiing in New Hampshire

After unpacking and taking a quick and refreshing dip in the hotel's year-round heated outdoor pool (and relaxing the muscles in the adjoining hot-tub) we showered and got ready to head back into town. The Gypsy Café was already busy with most tables already occupied and all the bar stools taken, but we were quickly seated in the cosy rear section. We had heard the food was of an international flavour, and the menu proudly proclaimed ‘food from around the world’. The specials were tempting, and we chose to share what turned out to be very plump fish-cakes as a starter, which were delicious. The value-priced kids’ menu offered fairly standard children’s fare and Megan was delighted with her burger, which was just want she fancied.

Julie and I both pondered long and hard over what to choose for our main dishes, the choices on offer being very varied both in terms of style and geographical origin, and all sounding very tempting. I toyed with the Black Angus New York Strip Steak, but decided I could tuck into a good steak in most restaurants in the area and decided I should go for something from a little further afield. The Jamaican Jerk Chicken perhaps, or maybe the indian-spiced Tiger Salmon with yoghurt sauce? I was more than pleased with my final decision – the Thai Red Curry Duck. Served on a saffron rice, the red curry sauce on the two duck breasts had just the right amount of fire in the spice and, being more of a red wine person, the whole dish was easily washed down by a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (or quite simply Cab, as the locals tend to order it). Julie was equally delighted with her Shrimp Piri-Piri: the attentive waitress has accurately advised that it wasn’t excessively hot (from a spicy point of view, that is) and that the citrus flavouring was not overpowering. And Julie is always partial to a glass of crisp, chilled Pinot Grigio and was not disappointed.

With fabulous food a little different from the normal offerings, in casual surroundings and a relaxed atmosphere, our first visit to the Gypsy Cafe will definitely not be our last, and next time maybe I’ll sample cuisine from a different part of the globe.