A guide to living local in Southern New Hampshire

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Restoration Café

Doses Out the Cure for Standard Fare

By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

Tom Puskarich is much more than just the chef-owner of Manchester’s Restoration Café.

“We’re mom,” he said, referring to his role as “part concierge, part chef and part mother” to the residents of the apartment building where the café is situated.

Restoration Café is in the lobby of The Flats @ Hanover Commons – luxury studio apartments on Hanover Street. Residents of the building are a big part of the restaurant’s clientele, but it also draws clean-food lovers from all over.

Puskarich found the space when he was looking for a commercial kitchen from which he could run his catering and food preparation businesses. The owners of the Flats were also looking for someone to run a café for the residents, and Puskarich found himself back in the restaurant business.

“We’ve also been known to sign for residents’ packages and walk their dogs,” he said.

But the café is enjoyed by more than just residents. It’s open to the public and seats 40 inside, and 40 more in the hip, urban patio during warm weather. It was once the dormitory for nursing students and later was used for other medical-related businesses. Puskarich kept with the spirit of the lobby’s restoration by using apothecary-themed decorations here and there along the brick walls and shelves.

But the café’s name also refers to the spirit of healthfulness and rejuvenation apparent in the menu. Puskarich uses fresh and local ingredients to make healthy versions of sandwiches, burgers, breakfasts and food bowls.

“It’s light, clean food for real people,” he said. “This is a manifestation of what I eat at home. It’s a small menu with a huge variety.”

The key to Puskarich’s small menu is flexibility. There may be fewer items than other restaurants, but that allows for the use of the freshest ingredients and options, options, options. Most of the items on the menu can be made to suit all dietary preferences, including gluten-free, paleo, keto, vegetarian and vegan.

“Seventy-five percent of our menu is base-line gluten-free and vegetarian. But we don’t have that one, lonely vegan offering or paleo offering. We can alter most every dish on the menu by adding or omitting ingredients,” he said.

The menu includes favorites like paleo bowls made with Malanga root hash, onions, peppers and broccoli with soft scrambled egg and spinach ($8). The egg can easily be removed for vegans and no protein will be sacrificed, and the same for the red-curry yogurt sauce in the tandoori bowl ($7) with spiced lentil salad, mango, currants, almonds, mint pesto, spinach and red-curry yogurt sauce.

Grilled chicken, seared tuna steak, seared tofu or butternut squash and quinoa cakes can be added to any of the bowls (for a small upcharge) to accommodate all diets and appetites.

The menu also includes sandwiches – including the popular pressed tuna and egg ($10), which is so much more than it sounds. No canned tuna here. This is rare tuna loin, hard-boiled egg, garlic mayo, crispy capers and greens on ciabatta served with side of popcorn.

And there are even some items for meat lovers, like the pressed pork loin Cuban – $9 for roast pork, ham, gruyere cheese, whole-grain mustard and pickled pineapple on ciabatta. And the local burger ($8), made with local Angus beef, locally made cheddar cheese, pickled onion and Z sauce (a reference to Z Food & Drink, Puskarich’s former Manchester restaurant).

Restoration’s drink menu is also small but carefully considered with coffee and espresso drinks, cold-pressed juices and healthy smoothies ($5, small, $7, large) like the Mauxmaux, made with almond milk, baby kale, banana, peanut butter and cinnamon, or the Apple Pie with Granny Smith and Gala apples, banana Greek yogurt, cinnamon and ginger topped with gluten-free granola.

He also serves local beers and craft cocktails featuring New Hampshire-made spirits and even have Prosecco on tap to make drinks like When in Rome ($9) made with pomegranate and burnt-orange syrups.

Puskarich, a California native, moved to New Hampshire in 1989. He is a veteran of the Manchester restaurant scene. He owned and ran Z, then started a catering business as well as his newest venture YPC – Your Personal Chef – preparing and delivering healthy totally prepared food with gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, low carb and paleo choices – “like a healthy Blue Apron, but you don’t have to do any cooking and the food is local and healthy.”

The catering and YPC are also based out of Restoration Café and yes, many residents of the Flats pick up their meals for the week in the lobby where Restoration Café is situated.

“Typical customers are busy professionals,” he said, likely to order four to six meals a week. “Between the café and YPC, I am the answer to, ‘What are you having for dinner?’”