Perhaps I’m unreasonably prejudiced, but I detest the word “eatery” so have probably let that deter me far too long from dining at Thompson House Eatery in Jackson, New Hampshire. I now see the error of my semantic quirk and realize what I have been missing.
We were immediately impressed by the fact that the menu credits local producers and growers: Peppermint Farms for its all-natural Black Angus beef, Tuckerman’s and Moat Mountain Breweries, Great Hill blue cheese and several nearby farms. Good fresh ingredients are a good omen.
We also liked the variety of dishes on the menu, especially since each of them was too unusual to be among the pre-made choices chefs can now order frozen from purveyors. These were clearly the creations of an intelligent chef who knew his ingredients well.
The regular menu presented tempting choices. T.H.E. Outer Banks combined salmon, shrimp, scallops and mussels with roasted Roma tomatoes, roasted butternut squash and mushrooms in a tomatoes, sherry and dill broth served over baby spinach with a wild rice and scallion custard garnished with crabmeat aioli. Talk about layers of flavor!
All-natural pork tenderloin medallions are pan seared and deglazed with maple liqueur, topped with a conserve of local peach, roasted pear and fresh basil and crispy pancetta, and served with pecan-crusted sweet potatoes. What could be more appealing on a winter night?
But a full menu of lighter dishes made equally tempting suggestions: shrimp sautéed in olive oil with minced vegetables, tomatoes, basil and garlic, or prime sirloin topped with slow-roasted plum tomatoes, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese.
I was mightily tempted by another dish from this menu, called Fungus Among Us. It was mushroom ravioli sautéed with roasted artichoke hearts, fresh spinach, roasted butternut squash, Greek olives, basil, fresh Mozzarella and Roma tomatoes, in a tomato and wild mushroom cream splashed with Maine’s Cold River Vodka, topped with lemon chutney and parmesan crisps. Who would think of combining these ingredients?
But I finally settled on another mushroom ravioli dish from the Friday Night Specials menu. The roasted mushroom ravioli were paired with smoked duck sausage, tossed with spinach, roasted eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in a leek and lemon cream garnished with candied walnuts.
After finishing every last bite I mopped up the delicious sauce with a slice of grainy fresh bread (ignoring the memory of my mother’s admonitions that mopping up the sauce was something done only in the privacy of one‘s own home).
My partner in this culinary excursion chose the seafood risotto, also from the nightly specials menu. Generous amounts of haddock, shrimp and mussels were sautéed with tomatoes, basil and risotto in a ricotta pesto cream. It was even more delicious than it sounded, like a chunky, rich bouillabaisse with creamy rice.
Both dishes were preceded by the house salad, a bed of impeccably fresh greens topped with grated carrots and beets, red onion slices, grape tomatoes and cucumber slices. Accompanying it was a tray of “weeds and seeds” as Tammy, our highly knowledgeable server called it, generous cups of sunflower, poppy and sesame seeds, oregano, toasted noodles and coconut to sprinkle over the vegetables.
We also appreciated the pepper and salt grinders on the table -- the latter filled with crystals of Maine sea salt.
Regular readers may have noticed that I rarely discuss desserts in any detail. That’s because I usually savor every bite of my earlier courses and don’t have room, and because I’m not especially fond of sweets. So desserts rarely tempt me.
But we were both so intrigued with the idea of a pumpkin cobbler that we ordered one with two spoons. It was everything I like about pumpkin, rich, warm and not over-sweetened, browned at the edges and served with pumpkin ice cream and almond pecan crumbles. And the espresso I ordered with it arrived piping hot. The finish was worthy of the dinner.
I‘ve learned that you can‘t judge a restaurant by its name. Thompson House Eatery is in the middle of the picturesque village of Jackson, in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. In midsummer or fall, or when snow covers the mountains and trails of Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, it’s wise to call first for a reservation: 603-838-9341.