At Laconia’s Local Eatery,
the Ingredients Always Come First
By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Which came first – the chef or the egg? In the case of Kevin Halligan, owner of the Local Eatery in Laconia, definitely the egg.
“When I was younger I had a fresh, local egg,” Halligan said. “It tasted so good, so fresh. I figured if a local egg could taste that good, what about everything else? Meat, cheese, fish – anything. I could never go back to anything else. I wanted to be a chef that cooked with only fresh, local food.”
And that dream came true. Halligan, 36, a New England Culinary Institute-trained chef, opened the aptly named Local Eatery five years ago in a portion of the town’s former train station. The 1891 structure was built in the Romanesque Revival-style, making for an intimate atmosphere with historic gravitas and unique architectural detail: high ceilings, wooden beams and lots of natural light.
Not only does Halligan use local ingredients, he even grows some himself. Halligan and his wife, Gillian, and their four children acquired a 1.5-acre farm in Sanborton last year where they grow their own potatoes, cucumbers and other produce. They also raise their own pigs, which are slaughtered off-site but butchered at Halligan’s other business – Local Provisions, not far from the restaurant on Main Street. The butcher shop is situated on Main Street near where Halligan had his first business in town – a bakery.
Halligan said he’s always had a good working relationship with the dozens of local farmers he deals with, but has a new understanding of what it takes to run a farm now that he’s tried his hand at it himself. This year he grew more than 350 pounds of new potatoes and bushels and bushels of cucumbers. He’s been keeping the fresh flavor of the spuds simple – just roasting them with salt and pepper and putting them on the menu – and he’s experimenting with a variety of pickling methods for his cucumbers.
“We hardly freeze anything here,” said Halligan. Even in the winter Halligan serves fresh produce which has been preserved from summer bounty or grown by local greenhouses. There are more than 35 local purveyors listed on the restaurant’s website, including local vineyards and breweries.
The bottom line has stayed the same: “Ingredients always come first.”
Halligan changes his menu every two weeks. He designs around the season, availability of local ingredients and his whimsy. And yes, a portion of his regular customers show up like clockwork to sample those new menus.
The menu on a recent weekend included small plates – sweet corn agnolotti with lobster crème fraiche; corn purée and sweet potato crisps; and smoked salmon hush puppies with sauce gribiche, crispy capers and fresh dill.
Entrées included sticky chicken thighs, with confit potatoes and tomatoes; house sausage with an oregano crunch; braised pork with zucchini bread, jalapeño jam, and mustard sugar with sautéed zucchini; and pan-seared halibut with corn purée, roasted tomatoes and summer salad.
And with his own butcher shop, Halligan always has a local burger and special cuts of beef and pork.
“We have cuts of meat you won’t find anywhere else,” he said, “like picanha and chuleta steaks and lamb shoulder rolls.”
Halligan’s love of local food could come from the fact that he was raised in this area of the state and, in a nontraditional way, from his mom’s not-always appetizing kitchen.
“She used boxed potatoes and cooks with canned soup and made something called “Forgotten Chicken” in a Crockpot with cream of mushroom soup. No wonder it was forgotten.
“That’s why I started cooking at such a young age. I started with one of those sandwich presses that made grilled cheese, and I never stopped.”