Midday Celebrations – Merrimack Valley Lunch Spots
The meal we call lunch has had many identities. The “Mad men” had the liquid lunch, the movers and shakers of the 1980s had the power lunch, and New York City socialites are “ladies who lunch.” Though it often makes sense to economize your midday meal by eating last night’s leftovers, there are times when that just won’t do.
Lunch might be a social occasion to catch up with friends outside of the office or home, or a pleasant solo indulgence in the midst of a busy day. With a wealth of available choices, midday dining in the Merrimack Valley needn’t be limited to hearty diner fare, chops and cocktails, or the corner coffee shop. Here are a few places where you can enjoy light and satisfying choices when you don’t want to spoil your dinner with a heavy lunch.
At Seacoast Soups, lunch is always the main event. Owner Dina Williams honed her cooking chops early in her Lebanese grandmother’s kitchen, a place where dishes relied more on intuition than written recipes. So it’s no surprise that Williams has chosen soup as a medium for her creative culinary compositions. The California native
became comfortable experimenting with that region’s multicultural mix of spices, and those influences can be tasted in her rotating selection of soups. Every weekday, diners can choose from one of three crocks of soup: the always-present spicy Thai, chicken noodle, or one of the daily specials, such as Portuguese kale or veggie chili. Fresh green salads and wraps are also available, along with a frozen dinner entree, such as the homemade potpies, which are great when it’s going to be impossible to create a quick dinner. Eric Williams, Dina’s husband and partner, graciously handles the front of the house and can help with tough dining decisions. Customers with dietary restrictions will welcome the simple coding the Williamses have used to highlight the dairy-free, gluten-free and meatless menu items.
Seacoast Soups is open Monday through Friday. There is some table seating, but be warned, it can get crowded during peak lunch hours.
122 Lafayette Road
North Hampton, N.H.
Sahtaine: Ask a person of Lebanese heritage where they most like to eat Lebanese food, and they’ll usually answer “my mother’s house” or “my kitchen table.” Therefore, it is a testament to both the conviviality and culinary skills of the family-run Sahtaine that you will often hear Lebanese being spoken at one of its tables. The restaurant’s name loosely translates to eat in good health.
Like so many of the best mom and pop ethnic restaurants, Sahtaine is located in a humble strip mall. The decor is reminiscent of a pizza parlor, but what the restaurant lacks in style it makes up for in warmth and the feeling that you’re sitting in a good friend’s kitchen. A popular lunch dish on the lighter side is their fatoush salad, made with crisp lettuce, tomatoes, toasted pita chips and lemony sumac. Their precision-wrapped stuffed grape leaves are great for sharing among friends. There are usually two soups to choose from at Sahtaine. The lentil and spinach soup is flavored with fresh lemon juice, and thanks to customer demand it’s even available during the dog days of summer. Ask about their daily soup specials, which may include a multigrain soup, a multibean soup or a delicious chicken vegetable soup. You’ll also find baked kibbee, falafel, and lamb, chicken and beef, kabob’s and shawarma. The family is most helpful in answering any questions you might have while placing your order at the counter. Select your own table or booth and wait for your food to be delivered with a heartfelt “Sahtain!”
319 Merrimack St.
Rhythm Café was born when three sisters with backgrounds in the food business decided to create the type of restaurant they’d want to frequent. Judging by their often-full parking lot, they guessed correctly in thinking that others wanted the same healthier food served in an unpretentious, comfortable environment. The salads are meals unto themselves, served with in-house dressings. In fact, all the food served here is made on-site, including the delicious desserts. Diners who love fruit pies or hand-frosted layer cakes will appreciate the ability to prioritize their calorie consumption. If your meal calls for a toast, Rhythm Café has a liquor license, and often includes a cocktail as one of its daily specials.
The sisters have made clever use of their single-story midcentury bank building; the old drive-up bank window opens for takeout business. The high transom windows, so typical of the era, let the natural daylight in to showcase the changing artwork on the walls. The main dining area is a mix of tables and banquette seating, great
for parties large and small. For people who like to watch the kitchen action, stool seating is available at the old-style lunch counter. The Rhythm Café has given new life to charming downtown Merrimac.
12 School St.
Nordstrom’s Blue Stove restaurant has elevated department store dining to a level unseen in years. Nestled on Nordstrom’s second floor between the ladies and juniors departments, the restaurant’s soft lighting, comfortable booths and small plates menu make it an ideal place to enjoy a pleasant lunch with friends. Diners can split popular favorites such as the sweet potato frites with cilantro lime aioli, or the crisp and spicy dark cherry glazed beef. The cilantro lime chicken tacos alone have a fan following that makes Blue Stove a destination in itself.
Just as exciting as the food are Blue Stove’s wine-by-the-glass offerings, making your meal an opportunity to try something new. The ample counter seating also makes Blue Stove a perfect choice for the peckish solo diner.
75 Middlesex Turnpike
(781) 345-7800, ext. 1610