NH summer pleasures: Open air dining
Ah, summer. It's that fleeting time of year when people long to do everything outside, knowing only too well that another harsh winter isn't all that far away.
After what seems like a neverending winter, many people take advantage of the nice weather as often as possible. From picnics to pool parties, people are heading outside, and for some, outdoor dining is at the top of the list.
Southern New Hampshire is not without an impressive list of options for dining al fresco. From upscale dinners that include a wine list right down to seasonal ice cream stands, chances are you'll find it locally.
Few things signify the start of summer in Hooksett as the opening of The Brick House Drive-In Restaurant on Hooksett Road, said owner Gary Cote.
"We're open the third Saturday in March, and close on Labor Day," said Cote, who has owned the popular burger spot with his wife, Rosanne, since 1986.
"After this winter, people were chomping at the bit to get out," Cote observed, adding that he sees a spike in customers on nice weekends at the beginning of each season. "It's crazy on weekends in May."
Customers who went to the Brick House as children are now returning as adults, with some bringing another generation to the popular burger and ice cream stand.
"I've been coming here since before I could reach the counter," said Kim Reedy, who was stopping in for lunch recently with her husband, Joe.
The couple now lives in Tennessee and say there is nothing quite like the Brick House where they currently live.
"Every time we're here and they're open, we stop in," Reedy said.
There are plenty of picnic tables on the property, and according to Cote, the rain doesn't always deter customers.
"Last week, during the rain, we were still busy during the day because it was a warm rain," he said.
In some cases, the warm weather can be too much of a good thing, when it simply gets too hot to dine outdoors, said Christine Decloux, manager of the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem.
"When it's brutally hot, our guests just can't sit out there," said Decloux of the two areas of outdoor seating at the restaurant that were empty for a couple of days recently during a stretch of high temperatures.
But when the weather cooperates, Decloux said outdoor seating fills up very quickly.
"People come out to enjoy the beautiful weather," she said. "The outdoor season is so short in New England."
While The Brick House closes promptly on Labor Day, Decloux said the Tuscan Kitchen is flexible about when they close off patios for the season.
"We'll keep them open as long as the weather works for us," she said. "There is some nice weather into the fall, too."
Goffstown's outdoor dining scene, especially in the downtown area, focuses on meeting up with friends and neighbors.
"We have gentlemen, regulars, who come sit out in the morning and have their coffee," said Corey Paris of Apotheca.
The patio has seating with large tables that fit up to five customers, where they can stop in and chat.
"People like sitting out this time of year more than they like sitting in," Paris said. "People come and sit, even after hours, and it's never been a problem."
Brenda Cadieux, owner of The Village Trestle, is in her first season with its outdoor patio.
"It's been very popular," she said. "I think in New England, we're cooped up so much, that when we can get out, we really tend to take advantage of it."
Cadieux said it isn't uncommon for customers to see people they know going by on Main Street and stop to chat with them, or someone walking a dog or even driving by.
"It's homey," she said. "People like meeting up with their neighbors."
In Bedford, outdoor dining is popular, too, with smaller establishments offering tables outside, such as Chipotle, Starbucks and The Fresh Market.
If you're looking for patio dining, T-Bones and sister restaurant The Copper Door may be just the ticket.
"We spend a large amount of time and effort on maintaining the garden-like atmosphere of the patios," said executive chef Nicole Barreira.
Dining outdoors brings a different, laid-back vibe to the restaurant that enhances a dining experience, making it feel more like a mini vacation, even if it's just for an hour or so, Barreira said.
"Outdoor dining gives you a picnic feel," she said. "It adds a whole different element that no matter what you do inside, you just can't duplicate it."
Barreira said the summer menus at the restaurants reflect that vacation feel, with featured items like lobster rolls and fried clams.
Customer Kevin Howland, who recently had lunch on the patio at the Bedford T-Bones, said customers just like being out in the nice weather.
"We're cooped up inside all winter long, so when we can get out for some al fresco dining, we try to do it," he said.
The patios will remain open as long as customers want them to be, Barreira said.
"Our answer is yes to our customers," she said. "If it's October and we think it's too chilly to be out, if a customer wants to sit outside, we'll set them a place."