Our Gourmet: A comfortable cafe with farm-fresh fareDecember 19. 2017 6:03PM
Umami284 1st NH Turnpike (Route 4), Northwood; 942-6427; www.umaminh.com
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday (brunch), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Cuisine: Farm-to-table comfort food
Pricing: Burgers/sandwiches, $12-$14; hot dogs, $8-$11; salads, $8-$12 plus additions; rice/noodle bowls, $11-$14.
Scores for Umami
Holiday stress getting to you? Craving a hot coffee, or a beer and some comforting food? We suggest you go visit Umami.
Located on Route 4 about a half mile west of Route 202 in Northwood, Umami bills itself as a farm-fresh café. That it is. Housed in the attached barn of an old farmhouse on “Antique Alley,” Umami features locally sourced meat and produce and whips it into burgers and sandwiches, adventurous hot dogs, salads and comforting noodle and rice bowls.
Umami also offers a variety of beers and coffees, as well as Sunday brunch and entertainment Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday around the noon hour.
Our Gourmet (OG), with the Dining Companion (DC) and Fussbudget (FB) in tow, made the trek one recent late afternoon. Entering through one of two front doors, we immediately were impressed by Umami’s coziness and sparseness (it’s a big barn, after all). Rough-hewn wood predominates, with a smattering of tables scattered about and others built onto the barn’s support structure. Several corners contain plush couches and deep easy chairs, perfect for relaxing and hanging out. Artwork and bookcases adorn the walls to provide visual interest along with the artful chalkboard menus.
The clientele this afternoon ranged from a hipster with close-cropped hair and enormous beard on a laptop to a group of giddy schoolchildren and, off in a corner, an older couple each staring at a tablet or laptop.
Service was relaxed, smiling and mostly tie-dyed. This is a place to hang out awhile, and with our background reminded us of the laidback atmosphere outside a Grateful Dead or Phish show — in a good way. We perused the chalkboard menu and ordered.
OG prefers noodles to rice, but ordered a Korean Beef Rice Bowl ($14) when the DC wanted noodles. Fully aware we’d never finish both, we also ordered a Frankfurter ($10), just to ensure we’d cover as many Umami bases as possible. Also, because we love hot dogs.
The dog was served first, and was spectacular. A quarter-pound, nitrate-free behemoth — easily an inch and a half in diameter – had been seared in duck fat, making the skin crispy while the beefy innards were still decadently juicy. Nestled in a potato roll, the dog was topped with a wonderfully tangy sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a rich Russian dressing. This was a hotdog Reuben, a delicious mess of a meal. At the FB’s insistence we had sat on a plush couch, fronted by a coffee table, and we needed some acrobatics to keep clothes and couch clean, but enjoyed every minute of it.
We eyed our rice bowl with trepidation, but dug in. Brown rice was tender while retaining some chew. It was amply topped with a fried egg, thin slivers of carrot and zucchini and rounds of green onion, as well as corn, sprouts and edamame, all mixed with a dollop of delicious brown garlic sauce. The star of this show was the beef: bite-sized bits of grilled meat tasting both of smoky char and a spiciness carrying some heat. This was another winner, although we think more runny egg yolk or a bit more sauce would do this dish well. Having pigged out on the hotdog, most of this meal went home.
The DC decided upon a Tofu Noodle Bowl ($11). Thick, slippery udon was tossed in a sweet/savory umami sauce, topped with tofu, shredded cabbage, carrots, basil, sprouts , scallions and edamame. OG thought the dish delightful, but the DC did not. A lover of thin rice noodles and angel hair pasta, she was put off by the udon’s heft. The sauce was quite spicy, she said, without any warning. When the DC remarked, our server apologized, saying the heat was unusual.
The FB went for the cheeseburger from the kids’ menu ($6) with ketchup and a hot chocolate ($3.65 with whipped cream). His drink came overflowing with fluffy sweet cream atop a deep, rich chocolate. He had trouble handling the hot paper cup before it cooled sufficiently. OG thought the burger exceptional, cooked to medium well and oozing gooey cheese.
This burger was ambitiously sized for kids and the FB turned his nose up at the crunchy charbroil (OG loved it) after eating only half. The boy did like his fries, though,and he finished his burger at home.
Though full, we craved something sweet. The DC went to order and came back with a Peanut Butter Cup latte ($3.15), a perfect end to the meal. Chocolate and peanut butter were a nice mix with the coffee, though a mouthful of peanut butter dregs at the bottom were a downer we didn’t expect.
This is a café that begs you to be a regular, and we’d love to sit back and enjoy some music, or an eggy brunch with friends on a Sunday. They say you can’t go home again, but in Northwood, you can visit Umami.