CONCORD, N.H. — For too long, New Hampshire's capital lived up to its unofficial tagline — "City in a Coma" — almost self-deprecatingly embracing its lack of culture, restaurants, attractions, or really just about anything to do.
Thankfully, during the past five or so years, this city of 42,000 has shaken off its slumber. A gaggle of eateries, an independent movie theater, several charming (and killer good) bakeries, a kick-butt independent bookstore and a terrific (and large) natural/gourmet foods store have turned Concord into a must-stop for folks headed north for the lakes and mountains.
When you stop, you'll discover a delightful hybrid of a New England community, a photo-worthy small town that sports the conveniences of a larger city. And all without congestion or even any particularly tall buildings. One corner in particular should be on your itinerary. Tucked on a one-way drag off Main Street are neighboring foodie finds you won't want to miss.
Start at True Brew Barista, a coffee and sandwich shop by day and hopping pub with live music by night. Nestled along the large courtyard-cum-playground known as Bicentennial Square, the horseshoe-shaped shop welcomes visitors with comfy couches, large tables and a near endless beverage menu scrawled over several walls of chalkboard.
The lattes are great, due in large part to the near obsessive attention to detail by the staff. If you're the half-caff-part-soy-3/8-inch-foam-but-just-a-sprinkle-of-cocoa type, this is your place. A large lunch menu (that actually stretches well into evening) of sandwiches and treats rounds out the offerings. At night, most people swap the java for one of the craft and local brews on tap.
Once you've tanked up on caffeine, head around the corner to Granite State Candy Shoppe. This old-time ode to all things chocolate and gummy and sweet has been a family operation since 1927. When you walk in the door, the delicious aroma of cocoa and sugar practically assaults you.
Spread over two adjoining storefronts, the shop offers seemingly endless choices of candy and chocolate made by hand on location. Their filled chocolates are heavenly, each getting a signature design hand-applied to the top to indicate the filling hidden inside. Kids will love the wall of bin candy, scoopable gummy lobsters, licorice, malt balls, chocolate-covered raisins, rock candy and tons of other classics.
In summer the real appeal is the ice cream, which the shop stopped offering decades ago because of ingredient shortages. But several years ago, Jeff Bart revived his grandfather's recipes and started churning out creamy creations once again. If you're a purist, the vintage vanilla is worth a visit to the city on its own.
One caution — the servings are large. Get a kiddie size, but ask for it in a medium cup!
If possible, visit on a Saturday morning. That's when a sprawling and fun arts market fills Bicentennial Square and a massive farmers market sets up outside the statehouse just a block away. Kids will enjoy climbing the trees on the statehouse lawn, assuming you can pull them away from the freshly fried doughnuts...