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Apparently restaurateur Michael Conneely knows how to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Since 1999 the affable Irish immigrant has packed people of all ages into the Peddler’s Daughter, on Wingate Street, by serving up lively entertainment as well as traditional Irish pub fare, including award-winning fish and chips. In 2005 he replicated his successful Haverhill model and opened up a second Peddler’s Daughter in Nashua, N.H.

His third entity, Bistro 45, located on the second floor of the 45 Wingate Street pub, is a cozy and upscale European-style bistro. Reopened after a recent renovation, it has a decor that is intimate and romantic, with warm woods and lots of natural light. The atmosphere is decidedly friendly and familial thanks to the steady presence of Conneely and his wife, Mags, as well as the open attitude of executive chef Monica Armstrong, also an Irish immigrant. Their style sets the tone that keeps the loyal core of regulars coming back. The patrons in turn create a pleasant vibe for other diners. It reminds me of the bistros I frequented as I traveled alone throughout Europe and Britain. Those locally run establishments were both safe and inviting.

On the evening of our visit, a stylish sixty-something woman appears right at home as she alternates between reading her newspaper, sipping chardonnay, and eating her order of Angry Shrimp. The Angry Shrimp appetizer is one of Chef Armstrong’s signature dishes. The French-trained Irishwoman says that a trait of true bistros is that they offer their own take on familiar dishes. “The challenge for me was to design not just one ‘house specialty’ but lots. So I’ve taken everyday menu choices and created something a little different.”

Take those Angry Shrimp, for example. After taste testing, I attest that the spunky spitfire has certainly given jumbo shrimp a spicy twist by sauteing them in a sweet chili sauce and then setting them on a cool bed of micro greens.

At the mahogany-colored bar, four of Haverhill’s high-powered businessmen are perched in their favorite seats. They make no bones about it: these successful baby boomers admit they are better fed by ordering off Monica’s menu than by preparing their own meals after a long day at the office. The menu changes seasonally and, on this early April evening, they order from the spring menu: Tenderloin of beef, duck fat (that’s right, duck fat) sumo herb fries, roasted button mushrooms and red wine jus ($25); seafood coconut curry, salmon, haddock and prawns served with jasmine rice ($18); pan seared skate wing, sauteed baby spinach, pomme puree, brown butter sauce ($20), and smoked chicken breast with black beans, scallions and goat cheese, fresh tomato sauce, tossed with pappardelle ($17).

Conneely and Armstrong have created a menu as eclectic as the immigrant city’s population. The bistro, even after its renovation, has retained from its former industrial-age life the brick walls, bare-beamed ceilings, and wide-plank wooden floors.

Conneely balances his desire to celebrate the historical aspects of the former “shoe capital” of the 1900s with his dedication to the renaissance of Washington Square. In fact, he has been instrumental and proactive in advancing commerce in the downtown area, serving on the Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Association, and the Haverhill Arts District.

Indeed these days Washington Street, which runs parallel to Wingate, hosts upscale restaurants including Keon’s Bistro and George’s. Hip and trendy spots like Johnny’s Martini & Piano Bar and the Chit Chat Lounge attract younger crowds that may just now be discovering the longtime landmarks such as The Tap and The Lasting Room.

My dinner mate and I start with a Flirtini and a Cosmo, coupled with an order of Angry Shrimp and side of those heart-attack helpers, duck fat sumo fries. And as the name suggests they were big and fat and decadently delicious.

We asked Chef Monica for her suggestions and did quite well following them. The New England rack of lamb encrusted with garlic and rosemary and accompanied by roasted tomato and truffled mashed potato was cooked to perfection. And the braised pork shank, served with crispy napa cabbage, sweet potato hash, and brown sugar glaze, simply fell off the bone. Both entrees were fragrant and full of flavor.

The menu is now influenced by our summer season and Chef Monica promises to make good use of lots of local food products by creating dishes such as the crabmeat & avocado salad with diced fresh mango ($9); Chatham cod fish with English peas, bacon lardoons, fava beans & napa cabbage, chervil, lemon, caper & nut brown butter ($17), and the pan seared tuna with herbed couscous, spicy red pepper coulis, and fresh vegetables ($21). I’m looking forward to becoming one of the regulars.

Bistro 45

45 Wingate Street, Haverhill


Hours of operation: Wednesday through Saturday, 5 pm to 10 pm for dinner and 5 pm to 1 am for drinks; Sundays, 11 am to 3 pm for Brunch

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