October 18, 2008

Fish Out of Water

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- SO TODAY I figured I would take a break from my usual Saturday routine, which involves work, and head over to the Seacoast to take in what was left of the fall scenery and get some good seafood. Although I usually approach ventures like this with a degree of regimentation -- I like to know what I'm doing -- I simply hit the road this time around, and after about an hour of driving found myself in downtown Portsmouth.

Downtown Portsmouth, I think, is where New Hampshire's hipsters hang out, to the extent that we have any up here. The colonial section has some impressive old architecture and draws plenty of locals and tourists alike. It also has plenty of shops, selling goods ranging from specialty foods to objets d'art. It was only natural, then, that I would spend my time in the colonial section looking for a cheap lunch.

MARKET SQUARE, Portsmouth -- Members of the upper-middle class take in the bourgeoisity on a Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Benjamin Kepple)

This quest, as I found, was not in vain. However, it certainly seemed futile at times. Initially, my plan was to get some cheap fried seafood at some seafood shack, and I figured there would be at least one in the immediate area. After all, it's Portsmouth. As such, it's a port. A port on, you know, the Atlantic Ocean. So I was sure I could find some place offering this type of lunch in the Market Square area.

Unfortunately, my assumption was faulty. When I asked a nice lady at an information booth where one could find a good seafood restaurant within a few blocks, I was told there were few such places. However, she then offered two recommendations. The first I discounted immediately because, although only a quarter-mile or so away, it was in Maine. I'm sorry, but I was in no mood to hike across a bridge only for the privilege of spending my hard-earned in Maine, a state all can agree is godforsaken and wretched. The second, which sounded promising, ended up being closed -- it was only serving dinner. So this led me to wander around for a bit looking for some place to eat.

Many of the restaurants I stumbled upon, despite being jammed into every nook and cranny down by the water, were only serving dinner. Although I must admit I don't know if I would have eaten at them if they had been open; the prices were simply out of my league. I'm sorry, but I am but a poor writer and given the economic climate, I cannot justify paying $8 for a bowl of clam chowder -- as I saw on one menu -- or $16 for an entree at some place selling fusion cuisine. $8 for a bowl of clam chowder! That reminded me of this:

What's that, you said? "But Ben? You hate Miller?" OK, so I'm not a fan. But that's not the point. The point was I felt like a fish out of water down there, among the coffee shops and art stores and people who clearly had no interest in college football. The whole experience was just strange, as I normally move well in such circles, but it had absolutely no draw for me whatsoever.

But anyway. I did finally "find" a place -- "The Rusty Hammer" -- that sold a decent and cheap lunch. I say "find" because it was the first restaurant at which I had considered eating, but on which I had taken a pass, trying to find a place devoted to cheap seafood. Oh, if only I had heeded its sign proclaiming its generous value for the dollar in the first place! They weren't kidding, either.

Anyway, annoyed at my failure to find a cheap seafood place, I sprang for a bowl of clam chowder, which was about $6. For my $6, I was astonished to find the bowl held roughly half the contents of the kitchen's soup tureen. It was an amazing amount of chowder and enough for a whole meal. I had also ordered a Caesar salad, which was all right, but it ended up being too much food. All told, the final bill came to about $15, not including tip, and it was a quite satisfying lunch. The only minor quibble I had was the programming on the bar televisions -- one was tuned to golf -- golf, for God's sake -- and the other was tuned to some professional football preview. That's fine on Sunday, but Saturday? Put on some ESPN!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at October 18, 2008 08:14 PM | TrackBack
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