It’s rare to find a perfectly cooked seafood stew. Shrimp—and honestly everything from the sea—is fickle and can go from tasty to travesty in just a few seconds. But in the dead of winter here in coastal New England, few things bring more joy than seafood stew done right.
That alone should be reason enough to take a trip to The Carriage House in Rye, New Hampshire. Just across the road from Jenness Beach State Park, the cozy spot has been welcoming diners since 1931, and was recently purchased by the team behind Louie’s restaurant in Portsmouth, which was shuttered by a fire in April 2017. Since that time, owners James Woodhouse, RJ Joyce, and executive chef Brett Cavanna have hosted pop-up events to support their staff while waiting on the landlord to repair the Portsmouth building.
While they haven’t given up on Louie’s, they’ve brought a number of former employees together for the new project. Fans of Louie’s will be pleased to find the farfalle Bolognese with handmade pasta (kids who demand their pasta with butter get handmade pasta, too!), but most of the menu draws from modern New England cuisine, with a slate of oysters and other raw bar offerings and entrees heavy on seafood, like the seafood stew.
The saffron-scented broth is subtle, and is packed with shrimp, mussels, littleneck clams, and local monkfish. Local offerings drive a lot of the menu—the chef works with everyone from Garen’s Greens in South Berwick, Maine, to Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, New Hampshire, to source produce. A good example is the scallop crudo starter, made with dayboat scallops from New Bedford. The preparation changes with what’s fresh. Summer saw it served with fresh peaches, while a recent offering was sprinkled with poppyseeds and chervil, studded with sliced Concord grapes from Night Farm right in Rye, and dotted with lemon curd. While crudo often involves a tiny jewel-like serving of raw fish, this dish features a generous 2.5-ounce serving of sweet scallops.
Crudo is new-school New England, while the cod pâté app skews more toward old-school. Inspired by French brandade—a creamy mix of salt cod and oil or milk—it presents more like a lush rectangular cod cake. Layers of fish flavor atop potato rosti, enlivened by Meyer lemon and pickles, it’s definitely crave-worthy.
For mains, if you aren’t feeling the seafood, the farfalle Bolognese is a great choice, hearty with meat sauce atop rustic house-made pasta. Or try the North Star Lamb Stew, so called because the lamb comes from North Star Sheep Farm in Windham, Maine. It is the perfect dish to savor while gazing out over the windswept ocean from the restaurant’s second floor.
Ask for a recommendation for a wine to pair with whatever dish you choose. The restaurant has an impressive by-the-glass list, and the staff is very knowledgeable about it. Wine education for servers includes quizzes—not to mention tasting every bottle on the list. Even the desserts have suggested wine pairings, but you might be hard-pressed to choose just one sweet treat. The Butternut Budino is like a fresh pumpkin pie in a glass, with house-made granola standing in for the graham cracker crust. On the other end of the spectrum, the hearty chocolate bread pudding, served with cream cheese ice cream, is dense and satisfying.
Prefer to drink your dessert? The Carriage House has you covered with the “just a skosh” section of classic sweet cocktails. Think a grasshopper or a Brandy Alexander, a perfect warmer for a dark winter evening. carriagehouserye.com