A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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Dishing It Out:

Grow, Prepare and Share at Umami

By Stacy Milbouer /Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

Any fan of tofu, beef or soy sauce has enjoyed the savory taste called umami – which stands proudly next to the other four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

The Northwood eatery with the same name, not only specializes in umami flavors but in the basics of fresh, locally sourced food prepared and served in a way that respects the environment. Umami Farm Fresh Café is situated on First New Hampshire Turnpike on what’s known as Antique Alley.

And there’s no better way to refuel for a treasure hunt or any activity than with locally produced, fresh-as-can-be dishes. “Grow it, prepare it, share it” is the café’s mantra.

Chef and restaurant partner Zack Squier said the menu is designed around local products available at any given time. In fact, Umami displays a list of the local purveyors who supply the fresh products including: Hunky Dunk Farm, Deerfield; Old Family Farm, Nottingham; Stonefence Farm, Pittsfield; Brookford Farm, Canterbury; Bartlett Farm, Concord; Paradis Farm, Dover; Vernon Family Farm, Newfields; Brasen Hill Farm, Barrington; and The Root Seller, Nottingham.

In addition to being locally sourced, Umami is also solar-powered and uses recyclable cutlery, cups and containers.

“We take pride in being sustainable and locally sourcing our meats, veggies and produce, supporting local farms,” said Jess Belair, who co-owns Umami with Squier and Bobby Graves. She explained that the whole concept of the café started with a pig she won at the Deerfield Fair. “I won one pig, so I got another and started producing pork,” she said.

After success selling her products at farmers’ markets, Belair opened a co-op market with products from nearly 50 local farms on the site where Umami is now situated. Eventually the co-op closed, but the mission of promoting and supporting local producers morphed into the café, which opened in June of 2016.
Umami is a counter service establishment with the day’s offerings neatly drawn on blackboards. The décor is farmhouse hip with reclaimed, 19th-century wood, vintage signs and art with cozy corners, couches, lots of natural light and fully stocked bookshelves.

A big portion of the menu is given over to burgers and sandwiches served with French fries, salad or slaw – all featuring those deep umami flavors.

Squier, who has worked in the restaurant business since he was a teenager, said his cuisine has an Asian influence, since umami is such a prevalent flavor in Asian cooking.

The Umami Burger is epic – a towering sandwich made with farm-raised beef, American cheese, lettuce, onion, Korean pickles and fancy sauce (gluten-free buns are available for a small upcharge). The Mack, which can be eaten as a burger or a Korean-fried chicken sandwich, is topped with mac and cheese, house Korean ham and American cheese.

And the fries are not a throwaway. They are hand-cut and seasoned with cracked pepper and sea salt. But for an extra $2 you can opt for one of the house’s specialty fries for the ying-yang spicy fries with sweet chili aioli, Sriracha aioli, sweet pickled onions and Fresno chilies; and the amazing Dilakash fries with hand-mixed curry spice, smoked paprika aioli and alder-wood-smoked sea salt – to name a few.

Guaranteed these are some of the best fries around. The secret? They’re fried in uber-flavorful duck fat – an umami-palooza if ever there were one.

And in case you were wondering what exactly umami is, just try the Spicy Ramen – burger or Korean fried chicken sandwich – with pickled Fresno chilies, cabbage, spicy mayo, chili garlic jam and for crunch, crispy, fried Ramen.

The restaurant also has house-smoked hot dogs, noodle bowls, salads and rice bowls with a choice of tofu, teriyaki chicken, Korean beef or char siu (Chinese barbecue) pork belly – if you want to opt for an added protein. The bowls are filled with a large portion of brown rice, house garlic sauce topped with carrot, zucchini, sprouts, scallion, grilled corn, edamame and gochugaru (Korean ground red pepper flakes) with a farm-fresh fried egg on top.

Umami also has a Sunday brunch. The menu continues with the locally sourced, umami-flavored dishes like Korean steak and cheese scramble and eggs with Irish curry, short-rib hash. Also available are duck-fat home fries, poutine and fresh mimosas.

As if the food isn’t enough, Umami serves a full coffee café menu of beverages using New Hampshire-roasted coffee in hot drinks – like sap-house latte made with local maple syrup, thin mint lattes with organic chocolate and mint syrup and Honey Bears espresso with raw local honey and local milk.

They also serve a small selection of wine and local beer and feature live music on Friday nights, Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.

Umami is at 284 1st New Hampshire Turnpike in Northwood. Information: 942-6427 or umaminh.com.