Our Gourmet: Red Hook's menu as good as the beer

BY OUR GOURMET October 01. 2013 6:08PM

Cataqua Public House
1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth; 430-8600; redhook.com
Open: Sunday, Noon-8 p.m.; Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Cuisine: Pub fare
Pricing: Starters and soups, $3.50 to $12; salads and pub favorites, $8 to $15; desserts vary.
Scores for Cataqua
Atmosphere/Menu: 26/30
Appetizers: 18/20
Entrees: 16/20
Desserts: 6/10
TOTAL: 82/100

After a great experience at the Portsmouth Brewery a few weeks ago, we headed back to the Seacoast to try another restaurant that features its own brews. Red Hook Brewery, located in the Pease Tradeport, isn't new to the scene. The West Coast-transplant has been brewing in the Granite State since 1996. The brewery's Cataqua Public House features some unexpected menu offerings, which made it worth the trip.

The starters list is expansive (Jerk chicken empanadas! Pork potstickers!), so it took The Dining Companion and me some time to decide what to order.

I started with the Backyard BBQ Short Ribs ($12), which are slow braised in their Blackhook BBQ sauce, served over a jalapeno and cheddar cornbread, and topped with fried onion strings. This was by far the highlight of my experience at the Cataqua Pub. The short ribs were fork-tender and I couldn't get enough of the rich, smoky sauce, which thankfully they slathered on generously.

The cornbread was sweet with a subtle kick from the jalapenos. I used it to wipe up the remaining sauce on the plate. My only complaint? The portion size. It was appropriate for a starter, but I could have eaten three times as much, the dish was that good.

TDC opted for the Fried Lobster Rangoons ($12). The rangoons were packed more like a spring roll then the traditional triangular shape we're used to with crab rangoons. The outer crust was slightly crisp, being deep fried, while the inside is soft and creamy. The filling was a mixture of three different cheeses, lobster, spinach and artichoke.

TDC said there were a few good chunks of lobster meat, but overall it was a fairly even mixture. It's served with a roasted tomato salsa that makes for a mild dipping sauce with a garden fresh taste. TDC enjoyed the sauce quite a bit and used it with his dinner entrée.

For dinner, I had Redhook's Own Chicken and Waffles ($11), billed as a Southern fried chicken breast served over house-made waffles, topped with a rich, maple-sausage country gravy. While the appetizer ribs had plenty of sauce, I was immediately disappointed that the chicken and waffles didn't get nearly enough.

What there was of it was good — I liked the balance of sweet and savory, with just enough spicy sausage and not cloyingly sweet from the maple flavor. The sauce was served directly over the chicken, making what could have been a crispy, well-seasoned coating a bit soggy. The waffles were pillowy soft but cut into pieces, which seemed to get a bit lost in the dish.

TDC ordered the tacos ($13) and chose the chicken filling over the pork. The chicken is seasoned and served with cilantro aioli in three separate flour tortillas, with lettuce, shredded cheese, and diced tomatoes off to the side along with sour cream and a house-made salsa. TDC liked the freedom to add the trimmings in the amounts and combinations he chose. Also along for the ride was a mixture of rice and black beans. The chicken was well seasoned and flavorful, but fairly mild — a good choice if you are looking for an enjoyable Mexican taste without heavy spicing and hot sauces.

While the menu directs you to ask your server about the week's dessert selections, giving you the impression that there would be a few to choose from, we were informed that the only dessert on hand was a slice of New York-style cheesecake. We shared a generous slice, but without topping and much else on the plate, it was nondescript.

Once again, we were shut out of enjoying some Hefeweizen, as they ran out of the classic wheat beer before we got there. Undeterred, I tried Red Hook's seasonal, the Pumpkin Porter, a dark ale brewed with maple syrup, spices and of course, pumpkin. While this isn't a style of beer I would normally drink, I was glad I chose it: very smooth and drinkable.

In addition to Red Hook's seasonal offering and standard line up of brews, the pub offers some "guest" brews. TDC tried the Kona Longboard Island Lager, but unfortunately wasn't as impressed with it as I was with the pumpkin, and was still longing for the Widmer Hefeweizen.

It was too late in the day for us to take a brew tour, which Red Hook offers on a regular basis for $5, but that is a great way to sample different kinds of beer. You can also order a sampler off the menu in the pub.

We really appreciated the variety of the menu, especially the long list of starters. More than chicken wings, nachos and burgers, although they serve those too, the food offerings were unique and delicious. And they are all served in a Bavarian-style, large open concept dining area, with large windows. It was a different dining experience for us, and one we think you will enjoy.


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