22 Main St., Center Sandwich, N.H.The last time we were in Center Sandwich, our Teenage Bottomless Pit was just getting to the age at which he thought he had better things to do every Columbus Day weekend than to tromp around the Sandwich Fair with his parents.
It’s been years since then, and the now college-student TBP, being older and wiser, freely gave up precious time with friends to spend Father’s Day weekend at the lake with dear old Dad and Mom, prodded only slightly by the promise of a nice dinner — just up the street from the Sandwich fairgrounds at the landmark Corner House Inn.
Located in the heart of one of New Hampshire’s most idyllic villages, the Corner House Inn is a huge old farmhouse and barn with several small, interconnected dining rooms and an upstairs bar and dining space. The decor is colonial country, and there isn’t a hint of re-creation in the place. It’s authentic, antique, and very comfortable.
We were seated in the front room, with a view from the bay window onto the street and some of the village’s circa-1800s buildings and to the mountains that surround it all, seemingly insulating it from the modern world.
While the village and the atmosphere is quaint, the vibe inside the Corner House is fun and casual. The staff, decked out in uniform T-shirts and a variety of shorts, jeans and slacks, is engaging and knowledgeable, quick to chat and ready to answer patrons’ questions.
The menu covers a lot of ground, with pub fare, plenty of seafood options, and three sizes of prime rib served Friday and Saturday nights. And when we visited early Saturday evening, the specials menu was long enough that I lost track, thinking our waiter had moved on to describing entrees when he was still ticking off the list of special appetizers.
We started with appetizers from the regular menu. TBP chose the Maple Buffalo Chicken Fingers ($9.95), four large pieces of chicken fried and coated with a unique sauce. It’s orange and it’s spicy, as you’d expect, but before the hot comes a quick taste of sweet maple — a great combination of flavors that some enterprising school student should lobby the Legislature to enshrine as New Hampshire’s official Buffalo chicken sauce.
His mom, The Dining Companion, chose the Mushroom Caps ($7.95), stuffed with a mix of maple sausage, spinach and cheese, topped with melted cheese. The flavors blended perfectly (who can live in New Hampshire and not love maple?) and the abundance of gooey cheese made it indulgent. A perfect appetizer to share with the table, which, to her credit, she did.
I opted for the Blue Lump Crab Cake ($9.95), which was dense and moist, with a thin crust from the saute pan and the right mix of spices and aromatics to offset the sweetness of the crab. Given the name, though, I expected a little more lumpiness to the crabmeat in the cake.
For her entree, TDC bounced between the Lobster and Scallop Pie ($22.95) and the Shellfish Saute ($21.95) but finally decided on the pie. The scallops and lobster were tender and delicious, but there was little flavor to the sauce. She anticipated a thicker cream or butter sauce, but it was as though a bit too much of the lobster/scallop liquid found its way into the dish. The parsley on the top, albeit fresh, was a bit over-abundant, and she scraped it off after the first bite.
I turned to the daily specials for the Chicken, Spinach and Feta Ravioli ($16.95), which was topped with marinara sauce and finely shredded Parmesan. Marinara wouldn’t have been my first choice for this dish — something lighter and whiter, perhaps — but it did work, and the ravioli itself was terrific. The filling wasn’t all feta, which would have quickly become overwhelming. Rather, the feta, ground chicken and spinach were mixed into a more typical ricotta base, which made for a light filling with a punch of flavor that a standard cheese ravioli often lacks.
TBP, true to his carnivorous roots, chose the Hunter’s Meatloaf ($18.95), a blend of venison, beef and pork formed into a baseball-sized ball. The boy was alarmed when it arrived, thinking this single meatball couldn’t possibly be enough to fill him up, but he was more than satisfied.
TBP is no hunter, but an old baseball coach turned him on to venison some years back, and the boy was pleased that its rich flavor was front and center in this outstanding meatloaf. It was served with caramelized onions and buttery, creamy smashed red potatoes whose texture let them act as a sort of sauce for the meat.
All the entrees came with a mixed-greens salad with a choice of buttermilk dill or maple-cherry vinaigrette dressing.
We were all fairly full by the time our plates were cleared, so we could only manage one selection from the daily list of desserts: the Key Lime Pie ($5.95), which TBP and I split. He thought it was good but a little heavier than he had hoped. I agreed that it was fairly dense, but it was refreshing nonetheless. Brightly flavored, more citrus than sweet, it was one of the best key lime pies I’ve had.
In writing this column, we have the pleasure of eating in some great places around the state, but we’d have to say that for scenery, atmosphere, food and service, our trip off the beaten path to the Corner House Inn is right up there with our favorite dining experiences.
Our thanks to Lakes Region reader Nancy Chapman for the suggestion. Check out the Corner House, and you’ll thank her, too.