Local diners who enjoy unique culinary experiences should make a point of visiting the Hooked/Ignite eateries in downtown Manchester, N.H. It isn’t a menu of oddities that makes the rooms so special. You won’t find fried yak or larks’ tongues in aspic.
Instead, you will encounter a dining-out version of the old Certs mints commercials: they’re two…two…two restaurants in one. Confused? Ignite and Hooked are located next to each other. Their doors are literally feet apart. They share ownership, and they also share menus.
That’s right. You can ask your server in either establishment for the other’s menu and order any combination you like. I can’t think of the last time I enjoyed such liberal dining options.
Pity the poor waitstaff. Ignite and Hooked do not share a kitchen. So if some dolt of a customer, like me, visits Hooked and decides to order appetizers from the Ignite menu, entrees from both, and an in-house dessert, that’s going to mean a lot of running back and forth for the server.
I would have despised a customer who did that when I was a waiter, but our delightful waitress was less upset about all the extra hoofing than I was.
Both restaurants occupy long and narrow spaces, and there’s a bar on the left in each. Hooked seats just over 30, sans barstools. Ignite is a tad larger. As the name implies, Hooked features seafood and offers a few “nautical-y” (Did I just make up a word?) design touches. Ignite favors the carnivore in us and has a mild Southern flavor.
These are not fine dining establishments. The Hooked wine list, for example, includes barely more than a dozen options. But both are fine for casual dining — good places for a fun night out. Since they are on the same block as the Palace Theatre, they are mandatory pre- or post-theater destinations and offer outdoor dining in reasonable weather.
We began with two appetizers off Ignite’s menu because they read well and couldn’t possibly be good for you. The starter dish of deep-fried pickles ($5.99) was generous and appealing. Done in clam batter, they were escorted by a criminally addictive Jamaican ranch dip. My intent was to try just a couple to gauge their flavor. I failed miserably and am still ashamed of how many I sampled.
The buffalo bleu chips ($6.99) were even better. A welcome variation on a tired old appetizer theme, this overflowing dish featured homemade fried potato chips with buffalo sauce, blue cheese dressing, a little pancetta for added guilt, and a dusting of scallions. Sinful. Just sinful. And I mean that in a very good way.
The Hooked surf and turf combo ($29) included a 6-ounce sirloin that was actually prepared as requested (a rare thing these days), with a trio of big, smartly grilled citrus shrimp. We opted for a side of angel hair pasta, which made for an odd pairing with the included bearnaise sauce. But that was all my doing, and I’d do it again.
I was hesitant to sample the lobster ravioli with “Champagne-cream-tarragon beurre blanc sauce” ($24) because experience has taught me that too many dishes like it are betrayed by obviously old or frozen lobster, and one bite will tell you. This lobster tasted fresh off the boat earlier that day, though the rich sauce clearly dominated. As a serious lobster fan, I’m not sure I’m crazy about that.
Both the chocolate mousse ($6) and especially the gorgeous cappuccino creme brulee ($6) hit all the right marks.
You don’t have to worry whether to visit Hooked or Ignite. Visit either, and you can enjoy both.
Ignite Bar & Grille
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (dinner served until 10 p.m.)
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight (dinner served until 11 p.m.)
Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Hooked Seafood Restaurant
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Neither restaurant accepts reservations.