With only one night and a day to spend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on our recent East Coast road trip, there was no time to spare. This charming port city, located on the Piscataqua River, is home to a huge amount of delectable New England-style eateries with perfect water views. I had chosen most of our eat-stops before arriving in town (as we gluten freers do), picking places recommended by family and friends or even restaurants I had been to in the past and fallen in love with.
Thankfully however, my planning went awry and on our final afternoon we realised we had no lunch plans. Hungry and thirsty, we made our way down Bow Street, just north of Tugboat Alley, where a number of gluten free favourites are located, including Martingale Wharf. We soon came across a laid back pub meets waterfront restaurant: River House. I squealed as I glanced inside and realised this was none other than the gluten free seafood haven I had seen across various social media accounts of the wonderful clan of New England gluten free bloggers.
We took a seat at the bar where we had the best of both worlds: close proximity to drinks and staff recommendations and yet still in view of the water which peeped at us through the doorway leading to the main deck. Immediately upon stating I was gluten free, I was handed a hefty gluten free menu. As all gluten freers know, most gluten free menus cannot boast ample options for all three courses. River House is one of the few exceptions to the rule with a decent selection of appetizers, main courses and desserts for its celiac and gluten free customers.
The choice was a no-brainer for me as soon as I saw New England Clam Chowder on the menu. Clam Chowder is a thick, hearty white soup, full of fresh local clams and other seafood, dependent on the time of year or what is fresh that day. It most always calls for thickening, and while more and more places are starting to offer a celiac-friendly version, the majority of seafood restaurants on the coast will still use wheat flour for this very purpose. Thanks to River House, I was able to be transported back to summers in Maine and Massachusetts as a child, when I practically drowned myself in this yummy starter any chance I could get. The clams were fresh, the flavour rich and the gluten free flour mix did not change the flavour as I remembered it in the slightest.
What is even more special about River House is that it has a dedicated gluten free fryer. Again, this is an exception in New England – a part of the world where fried clams, calamari, haddock and now even lobster, dominate the menu. The choices were limitless, with items such as fried shrimp, lobster rolls, seafood ceasar salads and more. I had, however at this stage, already indulged in a hefty bowl of fresh seafood goodness and so opted for the fried chicken tenderloins. Again, a nostalgic choice. I always wondered when I was little why in my mom’s part of the world, the chicken nuggets were actually chicken strips and not round, frequently leading me to opt for them because they were “better than in the UK.”
The small chicken tender plate I ordered was of course, by no means small – this is the US after all. What appeared to be small to medium sized breasts of chicken breaded in a flavourful and crispy batter were put down in front of me, with a side of homemade ranch dressing for dipping. Thinking back on this afternoon, I do not think I could have been happier if I even tried. My boyfriend too, happily munched away on his mega hamburger, which also could have been an option for me as River House, of course, provides gluten free hamburger buns. The fact that neither of us had room to indulge in one of several gluten free desserts (I had heard that Barbara’s Gluten Free Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae was a winner) will come as no surprise to those reading this review.
Our lunch experience that afternoon was blissful, with a large number of helpful staff at the ready, willing and able to answer any allergen-related questions customers may have. However, with things spelled out so plainly and simply in the form of a gluten free menu, dedicated gluten free cooking equipment and spaces, I for once, had to scratch my head to find questions to ask aside from “what is the best thing you have?”
53 Bow Street
(Call 1-603-431-2600 for enquiries)