200 Grafton Drive, Portsmouth, N.H.
It is not often that diners find gourmet food at a golf course — or even go looking for something of the kind. Golf courses are for golf, and golfers, mostly beer and burgers, lemonade and hot dogs, and days spent in quite a different pursuit than those usually found at fine-dining tables.
We have been looking for just such an pleasant anomaly, and we found one at Pease International Tradeport: Grill 28 at Pease Golf Course, just off Route 33 in Greenland. The restaurant is in the large, airy, fairly recently refurbished and comfortable clubhouse.
For golfers there are 27 holes, short waits for tee times and an expansive clubhouse/lounge area that even offers winter golf in the form of electronic simulators. For diners there is Grill 28, a cut way above the normal pubs found at golf links — and on a par, foodwise, with other pubs of a commercial, chain nature.
Besides “27 holes and 1 great grill,” Grill 28 advertises patio dining, lounge dining, dining-room dining, function facilities indoors or out, a huge parking lot, fireplaces in the winter and generous hours for those in the neighborhood who simply want a good meal — breakfast, lunch or dinner.
As our visit on a recent afternoon turned toward evening, we noticed more diners of the non-golfer variety than those with plastic spikes on their shoes: couples, families and singles enjoying a beverage on the patio and some delicious food from the kitchen.
There were two golfers in our trio, while the third has never set foot off a first tee. It was well into the afternoon, but as you will see from our menu selections we had very different nutritional ideas floating around.
Having missed a proper breakfast, one in our threesome was struck by The Starter’s breakfast offering of Steak and Eggs ($10.25), and after checking with the kitchen we were told that yes, it certainly was available at that hour. Beyond a whole lineup of standard breakfast items such as muffins and bagels and fruit dishes and pancakes, there are varieties of omelets for about $7, a Quiche du Jour and Eggs Benedict. It’s a good breakfast lineup, usually found at a real restaurant and not a golf course.
The steak was a plump 6-ounce sirloin (which looked to be at least 8 ounces), cooked nicely to order medium-rare, with a couple of eggs, breakfast hashed potatoes and thick, buttered toast. It was a formidable breakfast, or lunch, and served to remind us that a hearty breakfast might help with strength and physiology during those testing moments on the course. Putting lessons, however, do not come with breakfast.
Another in our party, in the mood for lunch, chose two items off the “T” Time Tapas menu, and we all shared a few bites of these delectable dishes.
The Asian Lettuce Wraps ($7.49) were crisp, cool and refreshing, with a tangy and tasty soy-ginger dipping sauce. Accompanying fresh and chilled Bibb lettuce wrappings were an equally moist and well-prepared slaw of water chestnuts, mushrooms and seasonings, along with a moderate helping of Asian-style diced and marinated chicken, which was moist and substantial, making the wraps a bit unmanageable for the hands but well suited for the fork. Remember, having sure hands and the proper equipment are always important at a golf course.
The offerings on the dinner specials menu, pre-printed and available at the desk as you enter Grill 28, enticed at least one of us, so a late lunch/early dinner was on our scorecard.
Salmon du Jour ($15) was a memorable meal combining the best of seafood with a cool creation I would never have thought to pair it with. A thick slab of Atlantic salmon filet sat simply atop a fresh bean and corn salad that was refreshing and moist and in delicious contrast with the fish, which was pan-seared and slightly crispy around the edges, and still moist and temperature-hot on the inside. The salmon provided a solid combination with the bean salad, which featured garbanzos and kidney beans, plus corn, diced onions, tomatoes and peppers mixed in a semi-light, oil-based dressing.
A bite of seafood, a couple of bites of bean salad, back to the seafood, then back to the salad provided satisfying, even-tempo dining almost on a par with hitting fairways, hitting greens, hitting fairways, then greens again, all around the course. Finishing my meal was like making a putt, directly into the center of the cup. A winner, on anyone’s scorecard.
Also from the Tapas lineup came perhaps the star of the round. The Pesto Scallops ($10.49), as simple and delicious as the salmon dish, were on level with any fine seafood restaurant on the Seacoast. Although there were only four sea scallops, they were large, and well-seared, loaded with a buttery, creamy pesto sauce which served to flatter and enhance the generous bed of parmesan lemon-flavored risotto. This is the culinary equivalent of making two birdies in a row — and well-suited for sharing. The scallops were unusually large, making for three modest bites of each one, and the rice was as flavorful and starchy as a rich Italian-style risotto should be. Well played.
There are dozens of selections at Grill 28 that are remarkable, and of good value pricewise, including the beer list, of course. Along with all the usual domestic ales and beer, there is a Fuller’s ESB from London, a Belhaven Scottish Ale, and Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier, from Germany’s oldest brewery. Those ales, served from 16.9-ounce bottles, are reasonably priced around $6.75.
Lunch or dinner salads (seven on the menu, with add-ons such as chicken or tuna salad, chicken tenders or seafood or steak) are creative and enticing. Also, Flatbread Sandwiches of all varieties ($10.49) join a long list of sandwiches and burgers where a standard lunch runs about $10. And for dinner, a selection of seafood is complemented by pasta dinners, braised pork shanks, chicken creations, a Quinoa Stir Fry ($8.99) and all manner of side orders and other pub standards.
Consistency, a valued trait on the golf course, often leads to sameness in the club restaurant. That’s not the case at Pease, either in the food or the surroundings. In our summer tour of a few courses where extra effort is being put into the restaurant, we hope to find more that are as satisfying and pleasing as Grill 28.