Wolfe's Tavern in Wolfeboro: A place the general would be proud of
Wolfe's TavernAt the Wolfeboro Inn, 90 N. Main St., Wolfeboro; 569-3016; www.wolfestavern.com
Serving: Seven days a week, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. (until 9 p.m. in the winter).
Cuisine: American, traditional and contemporary comfort food
Dinner Pricing: Starters and salads, $4-$13; pizzas and burgers, $10-$13; entrees $15-$28.
British General James Wolfe never visited the Lakes Region town that now bears his name. In fact, it was his demise, on the battlefield in Quebec City during the French and Indian War, that prompted Wolfeboro's founders to name their new town after him.
The scores for Wolfe's TavernAtmosphere: 19/20
But it's fun to imagine what the general would think of his namesake community today. He might not be too happy about the clogged traffic on summer weekends, but he'd probably be very impressed - and feel right at home - with the food, drink and atmosphere at Wolfe's Tavern.
The tavern is at the heart of the Wolfeboro Inn, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee just up the hill from the center of town. The inn is a beautiful property, a stately white house that's been expanded over the years to meet the modern lodging, food and beverage demands of a high-end small hotel. But step inside the door to the tavern and it's 1812.
Softly lit, with a massive brick fireplace, exposed beams festooned with pewter mugs, wide pine floors and a jaw-dropping mounted moose head, the tavern is a throwback to the earliest days of the 19th century. We wouldn't have been surprised to see someone quaffing an ale at the bar wearing knee breeches and a ruffled shirt, clinking mugs with a guy in a T-shirt, Bermudas and flip-flops.
The tavern's menu is just as attractive, featuring a mix of traditional and contemporary takes on comfort-food dishes. General Wolfe might find a few familiar items, though we're pretty confident his kitchen staff wouldn't have prepared them with the flair and flavor the tavern's staff employs.
The tavern has you covered whether you're a meat lover, a seafood fan or a vegetarian, and the selections all sounded so good, your reviewers had a hard time deciding which routes to take. Ultimately, meat was the odd man out (although if our Teenage Bottomless Pit had been with us, all three of those major food groups would have appeared on our table).
For starters, we chose the Asparagus "Fries" ($7.95) and the Potato Crusted Calamari ($10.95). The "fries" were simply asparagus spears, dusted in seasoned flour and fried. The spears were large (finger width) but tender, their bright green skin beaming through the thin coating. They were served in a wire cone basket with a chipotle ranch dipping sauce that was good but almost unnecessary.
We probably order calamari far more often than reviewers should, but A) we love it, and B) it seems to us that those little squid rings are good indicators of a restaurant's kitchen skills, since it's so easy to turn them into rubber. Wolfe Tavern's calamari reminded us of why we love it and how good it can be. The potato coating (we assume it was potato flour, though the menu did not specify) was delicate and lightly seasoned, fried just to golden. The squid itself was as tender as any we've had. Served on a bed of baby spinach leaves, it was accompanied by a delicious, mild charred-tomato/horseradish dip and a separate dish containing basil-seasoned salt (both of which also went well with the asparagus "fries").
We've encountered some terrific sauces in recent dining excursions, and those that were key components of our entrees were right up there with the best of them.
I ordered the Wild Mushroom Ravioli ($17.95). An ample serving of large, round mushroom-filled ravioli, notably yellow in color (a testimony, we assume, to the egg content in the pasta), came tossed with grape tomatoes, halved green and Greek olives and more wild mushrooms. All delicious on their own, but those ingredients were pulled together and elevated by what was described as a lemon rosemary cream sauce. Tomatoes were unmentioned but clearly part of the mix as well, judging by the slight tang and pinkish-orange color of the sauce.
The entire assembly was served atop ribbons of zucchini, which might have passed for fettuccine were it not for the slight green edge and veggie flavor of each al dente strand. I added grilled chicken for an additional $6 - a tender, sliced breast cutlet served atop the dish - but it turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as the ravioli would have satisfied completely on its own.
General Wolfe would have found a familiar-looking dish had he ordered The Dining Companion's entree: Shrimp Pot Pie with Lobster Sauce ($23.95). Served in a cast-iron skillet topped (but not enclosed) by a hand-formed pastry crust, it looked like it could have been cooked in the working fireplace of a Colonial-era kitchen. The dish was loaded with shrimp, accompanied by bite-sized chunks of potatoes, mushrooms, celery, carrots and asparagus, along with spinach and an absolutely decadent lobster sherry sauce. The sauce lent a buttery, seafood-rich flavor to every ingredient in the dish, and made this one of the best entrees we've had in a long while.
We rarely pass on dessert when we're reviewing, but these dishes were all so good that we had to finish them, leaving no room for sweet endings, so we'll have to come back to check out the dessert menu. That's fine with us, though, since Wolfeboro has always been one of our favorite towns in the state, and now, Wolfe's Tavern is one of our favorite spots for food and drink.