Our Gourmet: A great dinner at a local landmark

April 25. 2017 8:58PM

One of the twin Maryland Crabcakes on The Yard's appetizer menu. 
The Yard
1211 Mammoth Road, Manchester; 623-3545; theyardrestaurant.com

Lunch 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner Monday-Thursday 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10, Sunday 3-8 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Pub 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday.

Cuisine: American

Dinner pricing: Appetizers $7-$12; entrees $17-$30; “Lighter Fare” $10-$15.

The scores for The Yard:
Atmosphere: 15/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 16/20
TOTAL: 85/100

Not being residents of Manchester, we’ve heard much more about venerable city institutions than we’ve actually experienced. Last year, for instance, Mrs. Gourmet and I had dinner for the first time at the Puritan Backroom. This week, we visited another Queen City landmark that, aside from a couple of cocktail receptions in the distant past, neither of us had been to before.

We had a hankering for beef most of the day, so when we started looking for a destination, The Yard’s “Seafood and Steak House” description popped up, and on further investigation, the menu’s Beef & Lamb section sold us.

We arrived at the intersection of South Willow Street and Mammoth Road to find evidence of construction all around the property. A new sign referring to the place as the Backyard Brewery & Kitchen got our attention — and got our hopes up. Indeed, The Yard is in the process of transforming itself into a brewery restaurant, but completion is still several months away. For now, it’s still The Yard, an old standby on the Manchester dining and entertainment scene.

Given its vintage, we weren’t sure what to expect. The atmosphere in the dining room is “family restaurant,” and reminded us of the kind of place we used to go with our parents back in the day. When’s the last time you saw complimentary crackers and cheese and dips at the salad bar? It’s the kind of place that we would have felt comfortable bringing The Bottomless Pit back to in his younger, hungrier days.

The menu was more contemporary than we expected. In the appetizer section, Shrimp Cocktail ($9.95) was the only throwback dish, and there were no mozzarella sticks or jalapeno poppers anywhere in sight.

We thought about the Ahi Tuna, Maple Bacon Chicken Wings and Prime Rib Egg Rolls before deciding to start with what turned out to be two excellent appetizers: Maryland Crabcakes ($10.95) and Balsamic Sauteed Brussels Sprouts ($7.95).

Crabcakes are an appetizer that gives us a good first impression of a restaurant. And these crabcakes told us that while The Yard may be a family restaurant, it pays attention to the food. These two baked crabcakes, each maybe a little bigger than half a tennis ball, were loaded with big chunks of crab and minimal filler with a very light breading. They were mildly flavored, but the chipotle aioli with which they were served added just the right amount of slightly sweet spiciness. Among the best crabcakes we’ve had in New Hampshire.

Equally good, bordering on addictive, were the balsamic brussels sprouts. A long rectangular plate was piled with these small, halved sprouts, lightly browned and tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette before being topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. I had feared that the vinaigrette would be too strong for the sprouts, but I was wrong. The balance of flavors was perfect, the sprouts were tender, and if another plateful had magically appeared, we could have skipped the entrees.

For her entree, Mrs. G chose the Roasted Haddock ($18.95). This was a terrific dish with a big filet of baked haddock perched atop a “hash” of crab, corn, roasted red peppers and fingerling potatoes. Simple in concept, elegant in execution with rich flavors and aromas, this was a wonderful way to prepare a relatively unassuming fish.

Informed by our waitress (and the menu) that prime rib is a specialty of the house, I opted for the 16-ounce prime rib ($24.95) with a side of garlic mashed potatoes. The beef was a solid inch and a half thick, lean except around the outer perimeter, and cooked rare (but warm) as requested. All was good, but it was a huge piece of meat, and half of it came home as leftovers. I can’t imagine how anyone could manage the 28-ounce bone-in cut. I rarely eat prime rib, and to be honest, I prefer the marbling, flavor and seasoning potential of a steak to the roast-beef quality of the rib.

We ordered our desserts to go. The Italian lemon cake ($4.95) was moist and light, with a bright lemon flavor. The tiramisu ($5.95) was slightly dry, but nicely flavored. Both had the familiar look of desserts purchased from an outside supplier.

The service was efficient, friendly and informal — just as you’d expect at an old family-favorite dining spot. The value factor, though, wasn’t quite as family-friendly: Our three courses for two with two beers came to $92.

Still, all the other factors combined to make it clear to us why The Yard has been a Manchester favorite for years. When the brewery conversion is completed, we’ll be back — and we’ll let you know how it goes.

Our GourmetManchester

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