By Rachel Forrest
Hampton Union, July 23, 2004
The tag line for this downtown Hampton hideaway is "a casual, laid back, local watering hole." Boy, I'll say. I didn't feel like I was even on the East Coast in this funky, fun, comfortable restaurant (not that the East Coast isn't fun, mind you, I did grow up by the Atlantic). But this place is like it's in Santa Barbara maybe. Or Sausalito. Or Half Moon Bay. Surf's up, dude.
And the food is like that too -filled with the colors of summer: creative, tasty and with a main menu made up of whatever happens to be special that day.
The restaurant has been owned since last August by former regulars Scott Eagleson and Joan Thompson-Eagleson, who apparently needed to be here more than as just customers and I can see why. Chef Jean Jozepaitis, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, manages the back of the house, while manager Adrienne Jimoulis, takes care of the front.
The modern artwork on the walls is the abstract stuff I'd have in my own home, and there's a surfboard from the 1920s hanging over the bar, along with lots of other eclectic paraphernalia from patrons and local artists. Even the light fixtures are a funky Jetsonesque design adventure. Tables are covered with white paper with a jar full of crayons, and if you make a good picture they'll hang it up for you, kid or not.
Oh right. Food.
While there is a regular daily menu with apps like mussels, salads in three sizes with protein add-ins (chicken, salmon, mozzarella), an Angus burger, and pita nachos (handmade!), the main menu changes daily. A daily menu, not just a few specials. Wowza. What fun.
On a recent evening, we started with a tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with basil and olive oil ($7.50). The tomatoes could have been a tad riper, but the mozzarella was very fresh and the salad as a whole was not overdressed, letting the flavors of nature come through. The evening's corn chowder ($3.75) for a cup was naturally thick with a hint of roasted smoky flavor, subtle, and just right.
Other appetizers included a coconut shrimp with a jalapeno apricot dipping sauce ($9.95) and scallops wrapped in bacon topped with a maple chipotle glaze (surprise! maple and chipotle combo!) for the same price.
I had scallop feta alfredo with fresh veggies and linguine ($16.95), a heaping plate/bowl of perfectly cooked pasta with a colorful blend of red peppers, green zucchini, yellow summer squash, red onion, and four drizzles of red pepper puree on the rim of the plate. There were at least eight very large sweet scallops and the sauce was pure white and not too thick, yet still coated the ingredients. Feta is a good choice in this unique and delicate Alfredo sauce. The red pepper puree on the rim turned out to be very spicy, so I put a bit in the dish to jazz it up. The meal was both gorgeous and tasty.
My companion had a flat iron steak Caesar ($15) with an ample portion of sliced medium rare steak on top of torn romaine with shredded parmesan and a light dressing. It was very simple and yet very flavorful and tender. There is nothing over the top here, but it's all tasty and still surprising.
Other entrees that evening included a fish burrito with cornmeal coated haddock, chipotle sauce, cheese, salsa, cilantro and scallions in a warm tortilla ($13.95), and a sesame crusted ahi tuna ($16.95).
Of course you can't count on finding any of these dishes the next time, although I trust the daily choices will be just as good whatever day it is. But what you will be able to get whenever you go is an excellent margarita -like The Horny Margarita with Sauza Hornitos Tequila, cointreau, Newman's Own Lemonade, fresh lime juice and a splash of cranberry in a jam jar ($7). There are 10 different tequilas and many beers on tap, including the bar favorite, Boddington's. The wine list is not extensive. There are no wines over $32 a bottle, or over $7.50 a glass. But what the heck - they have 10 different tequilas!
The more I sat and enjoyed the Atlantic Grill the more I felt like I was on vacation in California and then of course there's the addition of live folk and blues and rock and alternative music from local favorites such as Ed Jurdi and Ethan Bessey on Thursday and Saturday nights (check the Web site for the calendar at www.comfortablynumb.info). On other nights background music runs from rock 'n' roll to real Jazz (meaning not that mild easy listening stuff - OK, now I'm a food, art, and music critic).
I had already heard that many different age groups and varieties of people hang out here and from what I've seen it's true. There's a large bar area where the music is performed and a few different seating areas for "rapping" (a term used in the '60s for hanging out and talking, not the more modern musical connotation).
So if you're coming back from the beach, but don't want to hang out there anymore, stop off at the Atlantic Grill and relax with the flavors, colors, sounds, and vibe of summer. It's like California, but in New England.
Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner, world traveler and free-lance writer who lives in Exeter.
6 High St., Hampton
Take some simple concepts, terrific ingredients and put them together creatively and with a dash of pizzazz.
Easy-going. They treat you like you're one of the locals, even if you look like a total tourist. Well, they know you will become a regular soon, so they might as well treat you like one. Celebrity staff guy John Mann is there on weekends.
AMBIANCE LLLL and a half.
It's not fancy, not out of this world special, it's just totally cool. There's a great mix of people, the bar scene is really fun. Kids are welcome, and it's like being on vacation without the tourists.
There are some restaurants I go to just for fun. I do have my usual hangs, and this may become one of them. I liked the art, the crowd, the simple yet interesting dishes and the addition of live music makes it even better.
ABOUT THE RATINGS
LLLLL - Excellent
LLLL - Very Good
LLL - Good
LL - Fair
L - Poor