By Rachel Forrest
Hampton Union, Spotlight, April 3, 2015
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
I've reached beervana. I'm sitting at the bar at Hayseed and get to sample great Smuttynose beers from the brewery right behind me.
The year-rounds, the seasonals, the Smuttlabs experimentals — they're all here. I start with a paddle of four samples: single, double, triple IPA and a cider (because they have guest taps). I go on to the East Coast Common, a delicious Smuttlabs/Great Rhythm/Stoneface collaboration. (Brewer Scott Thornton just happened to be right behind us, but I would have ordered it anyway.)
I could get wine on tap or even a cocktail. It wasn't until I was told they have a martini and Manhattan night on Wednesdays that I even realized they had a full bar.
But it's not all this wonderful beer that makes Hayseed a great destination. It's that the food is perfect for the beer, containing Smuttynose products in some dishes and in others, just pairing perfectly.
Chef Kevin Hahn, formerly of the beloved Pepperland Cafe in South Berwick, Maine, has created a wonderful brewpub menu with snacks and dishes to fit all dining styles, including plenty of meatless options.
Since I now live with a vegetarian, I'm much more aware of the challenges they face when dining out. While I tend to order plenty of meat dishes when away from Austin, Texas, where I spend half my time, the meatless options on the menu here are outstanding.
Friend Vicky and I tried many dishes to start and I came back for a few more on another visit. Lentil pate served with Old Brown Dog Ale mustard ($7) is almost meaty in its richness and umami qualities, smoothed on crunchy crostini. Mellow spices make it even more interesting.
The beer cheese dip ($6) is a must. Cheddar, mozzarella and one of my favorite beers of all time, actually my "gateway" IPA, the Finestkind, are all creamed up for spreading on crackers. A little bitter, a lot tasty.
Order each of the pickled eggs ($2), especially if you're a party of two, because they're cut in half. Not deviled — pickled. One is marinated in soy for a touch of salt, one is old-school beet like at the old man bar in coal country, and one has a slow jalapeño burn.
We didn't try any of the sandwiches, like the grilled cheese made with beer-soaked cheese and layered with pickles and Dijon mustard, or the kimchi-marinated pulled pork topped with an Asian-influenced slaw for crunch.
Instead, we went right to the hearty dishes. The Roasted Root Vegetable Pie (vegan!) is excellent ($13), each element distinctive. Chunks of just-soft root veggies with their light, sharp flavor mingle with fried chickpeas and English peas in a tangy Old Brown Dog gravy, all inside a flaky golden crust.
We loved the Schnitzel with spaetzle and lentils ($19). While ours was made with pork, you can also get it made with eggplant. The pork was pounded to a tender thinness, and crisp outside with a light coating, topped with a touch of lemon parsley butter. The spaetzle was perfectly cooked, not at all doughy, just satisfying and light next to roasted cauliflower and lentils.
Cioppino is fantastic here — a small bowl is filled with mussels and fresh white fish in a hefty red lobster broth with tomatoes and aromatic fennel ($19). For that Provençal touch, a dollop of rouille, a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, saffron and usually chili peppers, is placed over all. We mixed it in and soaked up the broth with crusty bread. It's a great dish with a refreshing session ale or a lush red wine.
Other dishes include a mushroom and crispy polenta bolognese and a stew of beef braised in a quad with potatoes and boiled carrots. There are also blackboard specials including a burger, pizza and a New York strip steak chimichurri.
For dessert, get the banana pudding, which is creamy and exotic and topped with candied and spiced pecans for crunch, instead of old-school Nilla Wafers — it's a welcome twist on the classic. We also tried the chocolate stout cake with coffee cream cheese frosting, which is like the most decadent soft cupcake you can imagine.
Hayseed is the perfect beer lover's destination, but so much more. Beer geeks will swoon over the beer selection and they're adding firkins to the mix. The guest taps are fun, too.
Wines by the glass are very reasonably priced, most under $8.
The restaurant can get hectic and service slows down a bit when it's busy, but none of my visits had any issues and the staff really knows the beer and food.
For me, the terrific food is the aspect that makes Hayseed a unified whole, the perfect balance of rustic and hearty, finesse and flavor. And it all goes great with beer.