Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hart's Turkey Farm

Hart's Turkey Farm
I have no idea how old I had been the day when my father got that crazed look in his eye. I'll never know if his actions were premeditated or if he simply had a fever... a fever for Thanksgiving dinner. But I do remember his piling the clan into the car, and proceeding to drive about three hours and change north to New Hampshire to an institution I had never heard of before, but is well known to all presidential potentials during primary season. The place I speak of is Hart's Turkey Farm in Meredith, New Hampshire.
As fortune would have it, today we had an opportunity to go for one last day of skiing...t-shirt spring skiing is pretty bomb. And after the day had turned to mashed potatoes at Ragged Mountain, our jellied legs and stomach grumbles gave way to a need that must have resembled my father's driven by desire journey to New Hampshire so many years ago. A half hour drive later, and we had arrived at Hart's Turkey Farm. 
One of many dining rooms, note
the collection of turkey plates
as decor
The building seems smaller than image of the restaurant that randomly pops up in my dreams, especially now with the knowledge that it can hold up to 500 hundred people, and regularly welcomes bus tours and biker gangs... er ... gangs of bikers. It's an old school structure that has grown in size over the years since being opened by the Hart brothers in 1954. But the quality of the food has not changed. It's pretty affordable, generous in portion, simple and made from scratch. Wholesome, filling and comforting are so bred into the atmosphere and food served in this building that it's no wonder that the restaurant is a New Hampshire treasure.
The menu
Now, as you should be assuming, the dish that made Hart's famous is the turkey plate with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy. But I should add that this place has a huge menu. There's turkey tempura, turkey pot stickers, turkey croquettes in addition to a pages-long menu of mozzarella sticks, salads, steaks, New England seafood, and pasta. So seriously, how could the bigger half and I possibly overlook ordering some sort of interesting appetizer?
Turkey croquettes with gravy
and cranberry sauce
We decided after much debate on the turkey croquettes. One order arrives with two turkey croquettes, served crispy and warm with a little dollop of house-made cranberry sauce and a generous smother of Hart's famous turkey gravy. The savory, warm and crispy on the outside croquettes were wonderful. Upon breaking the outer crust, you reveal a mixture of mashed potatoes, finely diced and sauteed onions, and minced dark and white meat turkey. It's like a little pocket of turkey day wrapped up in a package, especially when combined with the smooth, rich and salty gravy and that slightly tart but wonderfully sweet jellied cranberry sauce. 
The turkey plate
Of course, after the appetizer, I had to go with the turkey plate. There are three sizes that you can choose from: small, regular or jumbo. Since we had already gone with the appetizer and I am well aware that portions are generous, I ordered the small. (I know, you're disappointed in me.) I'm not going to hit you with all the fancy adjectives that I usually throw out, because you're probably getting sick of them. I'm just going to tell you what I had. It's thinly sliced white and dark meat turkey.... 
AHHH I CAN'T NOT WAX POETIC ABOUT THIS!!! The turkey is amazing. It's like your most successful Thanksgiving turkey... and while I think I'm going pretty pro with my t-day bird, this turkey is a sure thing without the three day brine, the lack of fridge space, and then the massive clean up. Each bite is juicy, never dried out. It tastes like a quality bird, prepared by people who do it every day, and totally rip each other up over anything that is less than perfect. The turkey prepared at Hart's must be prepared with some sort of brine to get the bird to stay so saturated with flavor... just a touch salty, but mainly clean, and even a little bit minerally at the end with the luscious dark meat.  Obviously it's fork tender, and as you dig through a bit of meat, you're going to give a little swipe in that delicious gravy, and a touch of the cranberry sauce. But then, to complete the bite, they have this incredible stuffing. 
Turkey close-up
Occasionally I'll go out to dinner at a local restaurant, something with early bird special type deals (hey.... the economy ain't what it was) and I'll order turkey with stuffing. The turkey might be acceptable, but damn, the stuffing almost always sucks. It'll be prepared with a touch of chicken stock and some kind of crappy stuffing mix. Not the stuffing at Hart's. They have this down to an art. I'm sure that the restaurant must prepare it's own turkey stock with the remnants of all the birds that they push through on a day to day basis. In addition to this, there seems to be an ample mix of the restaurant's rolls and corn bread, along with a generous mix of herbs and your necessary sweated down onions, etc in butter type veggies. The stuffing is light but balances the flavor of that perfect turkey, the gravy and the tartness of the cranberry sauce. 
If you do happen to make the journey to Hart's, don't snub your nose at offerings like the turkey club or for desserts the mudpie or Hart's root beer float (both amazing). But if you feel the siren call of Thanksgiving turkey when Thanksgiving is months and months away, you have but one mission. Head to Hart's, regardless of the multiple hour journey it may take to get there, and immediately take in the atmosphere, the good times, and that delicious turkey plate. 

Hart's Turkey Farm
233 Daniel Webster Highway
Meredith, NH 03253

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