Rhythmic raconteur

John Craigie and Langhorne Slim co-bill in Concord

Every John Craigie concert has two sides. His songs are sweet, lingering earworms, with lyricism that’s soothing, provocative and often hilarious. The latter trait is the other part of experiencing Craigie; his comedy talent has earned him comparisons to Mitch Hedberg, even though he’s a storyteller and Hedberg was an absurdist with a skill for the one-liner.

Both share a beat poet delivery. Marry that jazzy cadence to Arlo Guthrie’s breeziness and perhaps feed it an edible, and you’ll have a sense of why fans love Craigie, and the reason other musicians tend to find ways to work with him, such as Jack Johnson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and, most recently, Langhorne Slim.

The two met at last year’s Newport Folk Festival. Craigie played two sets that weekend. The second was a last-minute addition when another artist canceled their appearance. Billed as John Craigie & Friends, it consisted of Beatles songs. He’d just recorded Let It Be Lonely, the latest in a series of live Fab Four cover records; Revolver will be next.

Slim joined him for “I Dig a Pony,” and the two were quickly smitten. “We had mutual friends,” Craigie said by phone recently. “I’d never met him before, but we started talking and he agreed to do that one song with me, and it was really fun.” A short tour, stopping in Concord April 24, resulted.

“I’m really excited to have our crowds mix together and kind of bounce off each other,” Craigie continued. “He’s got a great stage presence, as you probably know. At the end of the night, we’ll do a handful of stuff together for sure…. I think the audiences really like that, because you get something that really makes the show unique.”

Layered with electric texture, Craigie’s studio albums are the opposite of his live shows. For example, “Microdose,” which leads off 2022’s Mermaid Salt, ends with a jazzy dreamscape of multiple guitars. That’s not happening when Craigie hits the stage. On tour, it’s typically just him and his instrument, which suits him fine.

“You’re still very free, and you can talk just as long as the crowd will have you, but when there’s four or five people, kinda twiddling their thumbs behind you, I’m not quite as relaxed,” he said, adding, “my audiences have never said to me, like, ‘Where’s the band?’ It seems to me that what they want is what I’ve been giving them.”

Born in Southern California, Craigie found his musical voice while attending UC Santa Cruz, a few hundred miles north. “L.A. felt very particular and precious; I didn’t feel very free to sit and play my guitar casually,” he said. In the laid-back beach town, “music felt like a much more natural thing … to sort of practice to an audience of people that was very nice, forgiving and pleasant.”

There’s a lot of religious skepticism in Craigie’s lyrics. “It’s a war of the gods … I never picked a side,” he sings at one point. “Is this the Rapture or just the first wave?” is his refrain on “Laurie Rolled Me A J,” one of the best depictions of lockdown neurosis to come out of the pandemic.

Some of this can be attributed to his attending parochial school in a milieu where “there was no way for them to shield us from anything,” he said. “A vague Christianity was how I like to call the way that the Catholics raised me.”

The ’90s milieu offered a weird melting pot of belief and non-belief systems, Craigie continued.

“Kids at that time were going through this born-again thing, so I was meeting hardcore Christians, getting that sort of window … meeting Mormons, people like that,” he said, “All that coming together gave me an understanding, while the society I was in was also heavily rejecting Christianity. I think it was a combination of all that stuff.”

Langhorne Slim & John Craigie
When: Monday, April 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $30.75 and $53.75 and up at ccanh.com

Featured photo: John Craigie. Photo by Keith Berson.

The Music Roundup 23/04/20

Local music news & events

String power: With each of its three members established solo artists, a new album from Nickel Creek is a happy surprise. The catalyst for the aptly titled Celebrants came during an interview with NPR that noted it had been 20 years since their debut release. Made in the process of “spending almost every minute of every waking hour together,” according to fiddler Sara Watkins, the new disc is a solid entry into the canon of a band that helped redefine roots music. Thursday, April 20, 7:30 pm., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $53.75 and up at ccanh.com.

Blood harmony: The first band to ever win The Voice, in 2021, A Girl Named Tom is a family affair, siblings Bekah, Joshua and Caleb Liechty. Urged on by their mother, the three dropped plans to attend medical school to form a group. The project was planned to last a year, but the fates had other ideas. Victory on the singing competition show came via their gorgeous harmonies covering hits like Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Friday, April 21, 8 p.m., Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua, $29 and up at etix.com.

Blues bonding: A summit gathering of blues power, Blood Brothers is the duo of Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia. The two have worked together over the years on a variety of projects — Zito produced Castiglia’s album Masterpiece and released it on his Gulf Coast Records label. Released on St. Patrick’s Day, their debut effort, wrote one critic, “spotlights everything cool about Zito and Castiglia without ever turning into a battle between two successful bandleaders.” Saturday, April 22, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $30 at tupelohall.com.

California thing: With a lead singer drawing comparisons to Alison Krauss, AJ Lee & Blue Summit are being called the new torchbearers for bluegrass by many. In her early years, Lee worked with fellow California-based roots superstar Molly Tuttle before striking out on her own. Her first gig was at the fabled Kate Wolf Festival. The group has released two albums. The San Francisco Chronicle praised their “deft, tasteful playing; and tight, intricate arrangements.” Sunday, April 23, 7 p.m., Press Room, 77 Daniel St., Portsmouth, $10 at Eventbrite.com.

Fab Freddie: Last year Gary Mullen & The Works celebrated 20 years of One Night of Queen, a tribute show that does a very convincing job of recreating the classic rock act’s majestic stage show, with Mullen as front man Freddie Mercury. The effort began after Mullen won the British television talent contest Stars in Their Eyes in 2000 for his portrayal of the kinetic singer, easily doubling the runner-up, the largest number of votes in the show’s history. Wednesday, April 26, 8 p.m., Colonial Theatre, 609 Main St., Laconia, $30 and up at etix.com.

Renfield (R)

Renfield (R)

Dracula’s familiar would like to reevaluate his toxic work situation in Renfield, a gore-filled and yet very cute comedy.

Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), he of the bug-eating and the “yes, master”-ing, is sick of working for Dracula (Nicolas Cage), a total diva of a boss who makes Renfield bring him people to eat. And, much in the manner of Miranda Priestly demanding very specific coffee from Starbucks, Dracula can be picky about the quality of the humans he’s offered. Dracula is also sort of low on funds after centuries of having to make getaways when his bloodlust is found out, so Renfield has to take care of an injured and slowly recovering Dracula in an abandoned hospital in New Orleans. And to procure these people for which he is shown little appreciation, he has to eat bugs, which give him a shot of Dracula strength.

Perhaps it’s good that Renfield has found a support group for people who are also in toxic relationships. He can listen to other people talk about how hard it is to stand up to the people who have power over them — and he can go find those bullies and drag them to Dracula, which makes Renfield feel like all his murder isn’t, you know, all bad.

But a complainy Dracula sends Renfield out to find a better group of people for his boss to eat — nuns or cheerleaders or something, Dracula says, with much the same energy of a louche aging rock star demanding a better class of groupies. Renfield heads to a club to do just that but ends up in the middle of a gangland hit. Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz — just 100 percent doing Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation), son of Lobos gang head Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo), is there with a bunch of goons to kill Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a police officer who is determined to bring down the Lobos (who killed her police officer father). Rebecca doesn’t blink when Tedward holds a gun to her head, instantly dazzling Renfield with her strength and bravery. Thusly he finds a bug to eat and helps her defeat the Lobos. Of course the Lobos don’t love this, so they go looking for Renfield just as Renfield starts to make a serious attempt to break away from Dracula, getting his own studio apartment and buying some pastel sweaters from Macy’s.

Renfield is good-naturedly silly — a good-naturedly silly movie where sometimes dudes get their arms torn off. It keeps the vampire lore to a minimum, goes easy on the quippiness (it’s there but it’s not wall to wall) and offers plenty of opportunities for Nicolas Cage to just take center stage and do his thing. And does he! He dives in with enthusiasm and fully commits to every increasingly hammy bit of Dracula-ness. I’ll bet those spiky teeth he has to wear were unpleasant to have in his mouth but he really does make every moment count with his open-mouth hisses and big vampire smiles. Everything about him, from the increasingly slicked back hair to his specific style of imperious whining, is just note-perfect. B-

Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Chris McKay with a screenplay by Ryan Ridley, Renfield is a brisk hour and 33 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

The Pope’s Exorcist (R)

Russell Crowe eagerly tucks into the plate of spicy meat-ah-balls that is his Italian accent in The Pope’s Exorcist, which is based on the real life of the Rev. Gabriele Amorth — have fun with that Wikipedia page.

Crowe’s accent is great in the sense that he seems to be having a great time with it. I mean, does it have a stagey quaility that reinforces my theory that this movie is a low-key comedy? Sure, but the kid with the veiny skin and the devil voice is pretty standard-issue possession movie stuff, why not have a little fun with it.

The Rev. Gabriele Amorth (Crowe) is a noted exorcist in the Catholic Church. He is also, as we witness in his opening exorcism, a guy who appreciates that sometimes what people need isn’t an exorcism but to believe they’re getting an exorcism. As he explains to a skeptical panel of Vatican dudes later, 98 percent of his cases need doctors or therapists. The other two percent are E-vil, much in the style of the Paramount + TV show Evil, which is a giddy delight particularly if you’ve ever spent any time in CCD as a kid.

Meanwhile, it’s the latter half of the 1980s and a widowed mom, Julia (Alex Essoe), moves with her two kids — angry teenager Amy (Laurel Marsden) and traumatized little brother Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) — to a castle/former abbey in Spain that is her late husband’s sole asset of value. The plan is to renovate and flip this property to raise some cash to take back to the U.S. Neither kid is happy about moving to Spain — not Amy, who flips her mom the bird when she’s not ignoring her, and not Henry, who has been silent since he saw his father killed in a car accident. Very quickly, though, they figure out that this ancient church structure in Spain is not a particularly happy place to have moved (once you see it you’ll think that it would have been more shocking if an ancient evil didn’t dwell in its crumbling walls). Naturally, one of the children is quickly possessed and, because it’s more disturbing for younger kids to say sassy things to priests in a deep voice, Henry is the child who wins the demon lottery.

Eventually, Gabriele is sent by the pope (Franco Nero) to Spain to investigate Henry’s situation. There, Gabriele teams up with the Rev. Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), who was told during his initial evaluation of the demon-Henry that he’s the “wrong priest.” It seems that whatever evil entity that has possessed Henry has a plan that involves Gabriele.

As I said, this movie has a strong ribbon of goofiness that runs throughout — from Crowe’s accent to Gabriele’s little Ferrari scooter to the vein-y stage-blood-heavy representation of the demon to Gabriele’s own jokiness. Some of this comedy is intentional, is what I’m saying. The rest of it — eh, I don’t think the movie minds if you find some of its lore cornball, particularly with the very “episode one” way that it ends. The idea that your child would be in the grip of something no one can diagnose and that is clearly killing him is terrifying. But this movie doesn’t really lean much on that, even though it is probably the chilling element of the movie, and as a result the movie isn’t really scary as much as it’s a kind of non-scary gothic horror that at times almost tips into camp. That said, this movie also isn’t quite as goofy as I would have wanted either, which I say as someone who, again, loves the cheeky Evil.

The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before but it lets Crowe’s Gabriele have just enough lightness to make it a basically entertaining endeavor. B-

Rated R for violent content, language, sexual references and some nudity, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Julius Avery with a screenplay by Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos, The Pope’s Exorcist is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

Featured photo: Renfield

Reading the Glass, by Elliott Rappaport

Reading the Glass, by Elliott Rappaport (Dutton, 322 pages)

Have you ever felt the urge to throw everything away for the love of a good boat and a life at sea? Me neither. But there are people who not only feel the urge, but obey it, who consider “life ashore” boring and “hard to reconcile.”

Part-time Maine resident Elliott Rappaport is one of those people and with his new book he promises “a captain’s view of weather, water, and life on ships.” For those whose knowledge of seafaring comes from Carnival cruises and watching The Perfect Storm, Reading the Glass might be a rough slog. Who knew that boat captains, always portrayed as blue-collar and salty, could be so erudite? Who knew that their memoirs would read like high school science books? Reading the Glass is eye-opening in this respect, as modern mariners apparently talk more like learned meteorologists than pirates of the Caribbean.

But Rappaport brings a dry sense of humor to the task and works to break up long professorial descriptions of weather with elegant descriptions of life at sea. “Below the surface,” he writes, “are things seeable only when the sea is calm — the dolphins, grazing whales, sharks, and mola, ocean sunfish as big as car hoods. Once a giant leatherback turtle, four feet across with long triangular flippers and drooping dinosaur eyelids. I’ve seen their babies on a beach in Mexico racing toward the surf, identical but small as silver dollars.”

Rappaport has been a ship’s captain for 30 years and teaches at the Maine Maritime Academy, a small public college in Castine, Maine, that trains ships’ officers and engineers. (If you have a driftless kid, send them there — the school says 90 percent of its graduates have jobs within three months of graduation.)

Whatever the seafaring equivalent of a public intellectual is, that’s what Rappaport is. He can wax eloquently about where New England’s summer air originates (“the subtropics, carried along by the southerly winds at the the edge of the Bermuda-Azores High and moistened by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream”) and about atolls, the “recipe for shipwreck” created by submerged islands that present “an opportunity to run aground without ever seeing land.”

He can smartly and simply explain weather phenomena we so often hear about in forecasts, such as jet streams, El Nino and the ever popular polar vortex. And you will learn so much about clouds that you didn’t retain from middle school. “There’s a lot going on inside a cloud, most of it poorly understood by the average person,” Rappoport writes. “Or, fairer to say, it’s not a priority for most people to understand.” For example, one misconception is that most people think clouds are composed only of water vapor, which can’t be true since water vapor is invisible. “Clouds are in fact clusters of of water droplets and ice crystals spawned by condensation or deposition the process whereby water vapor converts directly to ice.”

That’s clear enough, but many of his explanations aren’t quite as simple; it would have taken me two years to finish the book if I’d looked up every word I didn’t know (“Taxonomically the bora and mistral are katabatic (downhill) winds….”) and it is not by coincidence that the first glowing Amazon review I saw for this book was written by someone who included at the end of his name “Ph.D.”

For those of us with B.A.s, it’s more of a struggle to enjoy this book, but it’s possible if you focus on Rappaport’s stories, which are wide-ranging like his travels, and vividly memorable. He’s sailed all over the world, and for every place he hasn’t been, he’s seemingly talked to someone who has. He can tell you about the port in Tahiti where the tattoo artists are so good that the crew requires time off for appointments, and explain the origins of a microburst from a personal encounter with one at sea.

For those interested in maritime disasters, he is an encyclopedia of knowledge, not only of long-ago tragedies with no survivors, but also of contemporary battles of human vs. sea. Describing the type of offshore cyclone that can suddenly roil the ocean without warning, he writes of a discussion he had with a friend about a storm in 1990: “‘A giant hole opened up in the ocean,’ he told me, ‘and the ship fell in.’”

It was, Rappaport writes, “an image I have not forgotten,” and neither will we.

Nor will we forget his funny description of the Beaufort scale of wind force (which includes “Force 6: Umbrellas ruined” and “Force 10: Don’t go out”) or the image he paints of himself making his way through suburban Washington, as off-kilter as most of us would be at sea.

“It is May, the trees already a deep summer green and the sky boiling with clouds that would alarm me if I were at sea.” He vaguely knows the direction of the Metro station, but the battery has died on his phone, and “I have no chartroom to visit, no swarm of seabirds flying helpfully in the right direction.” He is wearing the orange rain slicker he wears at sea, its pockets filled with “old bits of twine and candy wrappers.” Finally he finds something by which he can navigate: a Starbucks in the distance, where the well-dressed professionals are “mysteriously dry.” Perhaps they’ve read the forecast, he quips.

It’s that kind of writing and imagery that makes Reading the Glass pleasurable for those without Ph.D.s.

But truthfully, a Ph.D. would help. B+

Album Reviews 23/04/20

Messa, Live At Roadburn (Svart Records)

Meanwhile, back in the doom-metal sphere, we have this new four-song LP from an Italian crew whose unlikeliest press quote came by way of Spin magazine: “If you’ve ever longed for an album that could reconcile Stevie Nicks at her witchiest with the sublime gloom of How the Gods Kill-era Danzig, this is the LP of your dreams.” Anyhow, these guys have a girl singer, which works when the (always slow) music is new-age-y or folky, but when it goes more in the direction of raw, blissed-out, Candlemass/Kyuss-tinted doom metal, it’s a bit of a reach, at least with her vocals, which, although strong overall (she sounds more like Florence Welch than Stevie Nicks, point of order), sound a little overwhelmed in the context. I’m sure she’d rather be in a Nightwish-type epic-metal band, but she’ll figure that out at some point. It’s a different kind of trip, I can assure you of that. A

Ric Wilson, Chromeo, & A-Trak, Clusterfunk (Free Disco Records)

Collaborative, highly accessible nine-song EP from a bunch of guys I remember covering (or ignoring) during my days covering velvet-rope club techno back in the mid-aughts. And that was probably to my detriment; I keep hearing about this or that going on with A-Trak and Wilson, but I don’t like Chromeo, as you may have noticed in these pages, and probably never will. Suffice to say, though, that this record is a pretty big deal, there are lots of semi-famous names on board this often catchy funk/hip-hop/spoken-word fricassee, such as King Louie (who tables some cool weirdo-rap on the ’90s-prostrating “Whisky In My Coffee”), Felicia Douglass of Dirty Projectors (in the Kool & The Gang-sounding “Everyone Moves To LA”), STIC.MAN of Dead Prez (on the record’s most fascinating dance-funk track, “Git Up Off My Neck”), Kiéla Adira and Mariame Kaba, whose spoken-word rant on the criminal justice system is pretty priceless. A


• This Friday is April 21, which means we’re pretty much done with this stupid delayed-action winter, unless Mother Nature has plans to dump 20 feet of snow on us just to see if we’re paying attention. Ha ha, remember in January, there was no snow, and it was kind of warm, and everyone was like, “yeah, wow, talk about a lame winter” but suddenly in March (my least favorite month to begin with) good old “MoNat” (that’s the celebrity hip-hop name for Mother Nature) realized she’d lost all track of time playing Candy Crush, and she suddenly turned into Oprah Winfrey, yelling “Yikes, here you go, you get a driveway covered in a foot of frozen vanilla Slushy, and you do too” and whatnot, and all that massively heavy, dense-packed hatefulness sent 8,000 people to the hospital with chest pains and dislocated elbows? Well, folks, it’s almost over, it almost is, but first we must talk about a few albums that will be streeting this week. I’ve decided that we’ll start the week with Atum, a new album from comically overrated ’90s band The Smashing Pumpkins, because that’s what’s crackalackin’, home skillets, look at the ’90s rebirth that’s happening all around us, it’s all that and a bag of chips, I tell you! Can you even believe it, a new Pumpkins platter, and the band is still fronted by that Uncle Fester dude. I keep seeing all kinds of tweets and stuff saying, “Man, I loved the Pumpkins back in the shizniz, they were so fly, booyah,” and no one gets into an argument with them because they feel so sad for them. Anyway, I’ll bet this music will be absolutely awful if it’s anything like old Pumpkins, so I suppose I should trudge off to the YouTube box and see what the new single, “Beguiled,” is about. OK, here’s the video, and the tune is pretty much like Megadeth-metal at first, and ha ha, look at Billy Uncle Fester, all dressed up like the crazy dream-villain from that Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell, but it’s 100 times worse than ever before, like he’s really trying to channel that Cell dude. You shouldn’t let your kids watch this video. Huh, now there are ballerinas doing Swan Lake stuff, in Uncle Billy’s creepy Cell world. The song is OK if you like mid-tempo ’90s metal. Hm, now a bunch of people are doing fancy modern dances and stuff. One of the guys looks like Jim Carrey’s alter ego from The Mask. The ’90s are coming back, folks, there is no escape. Pray for us all.

• No way, a new album from The Mars Volta, with their most transgressive title yet, Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazon, which translates to “May God curse you my heart.” Lol whatever, I’ve made fun of — um, I mean, reviewed some of their previous albums, like, their music has always struck me as freeze-dried low-grade prog-rock that’s missing its flavor packet, but let’s not go there, I’ll go have a listen to the title track and be normal. Wow, it sounds like Latin-radio stuff, which is a lot better than anything these guys have ever done. Maybe there’s hope, fam.

• Frenetic and spazzy flamenco guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela are releasing their new album, In Between Thoughts A New World, this week. Hopefully it won’t be a bunch of metal covers again, please oh please oh please. OK, the single, “Descending To Nowhere” is normal, but then a bunch of spiffy Spyro Gyra layers appear and it starts to sound like polite Weather Channel jazz. Kinda dumb but it’s OK.

• Lastly, it’s ’90s-radio-poppers Everything But The Girl, with their newest full-length, Fuse. The rope-in track is “Nothing Left To Lose,” a trippy, percussive, trance-pop dealie that sounds like Roxy Music reborn as afterparty patter. It’s perfectly fine.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Cornmeal cookies

Cornmeal may not be an ingredient you consider when making cookies. However, after trying a cornmeal cookie on a trip to Kentucky, I was hooked and knew I needed to create my own version. Think of these cookies as short, sweet corn muffins that have a nicely crisp edge. Enjoyed with a cup of coffee or glass of milk, they are a delicious treat.

The majority of the ingredients in this recipe are straightforward with only two notes. If you are a regular reader, you will notice that I specified the type of salt. Although it’s a small amount, the taste of the cookie can be altered by the salt. If you use kosher salt, you will need a pinch more. However, kosher salt is a bigger crystal, which may mean that there will be tiny pockets of saltiness in the cookies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is worth nothing. With smaller crystals, table salt guarantees even distribution of salt.

The other ingredient of note is the cornmeal. I recommend using medium grind, as I think it adds a nice amount of crunch to the cookie. You can use coarse grind, but that may make the texture almost pebble-like. Fine grind is an acceptable substitute, but that does mean you will lose some of the crunchiness.

Make a batch for your next gathering. I am pretty sure you will be the only person who brings cornmeal cookies. You may even get requests for the recipe!

Cornmeal cookies
Makes 4 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups medium-grind cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine butter and both sugars in a bowl.
Beat on a medium-low speed, using either the paddle on a stand mixer or a hand mixer, for 4 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beat after each addition, scraping sides to combine.
Add vanilla to dough, and mix until combined.
Add flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt, stirring until combined.
Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, then scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared tray.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
Allow to cool for 4 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.

Featured photo: Cornmeal cookies. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Gaby Maroun

Gaby Maroun is the head chef of Sevmar Mediterranean Bistro (401 Main St., Unit 108, Salem, 870-0018, sevmarbistronh.com), which opened inside the town’s 97 Shops Plaza in January. Co-owned by Maroun’s daughter, Jocelyn, Sevmar gets its name by combining the family’s last name with that of Kelvin Severino, owner of the national demolition company ADEP Group and Jocelyn Maroun’s business partner. The restaurant features traditional Mediterranean appetizers, entrees, salads and other items with a modernized twist, along with a full bar, a Sunday brunch menu, catering options and more. Maroun immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1980s and has been involved in cooking authentic Lebanese cuisine ever since. In addition to Sevmar, his recipes have set the tone for other successful eateries in town, like Jocelyn’s Mediterranean Restaurant & Martini Lounge on Route 28, as well as Salem Kabob and Cedar’s Mediterranean Food.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

An infrared grill. I even put one in my house.

What would you have for your last meal?

I like a good lasagna.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Trattoria Amalfi [in Salem].

What celebrity would you like to see eating at Sevmar Mediterranean Bistro?


What is your favorite thing on your menu?

The marinated grilled chicken.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

People like to eat fresh food and real ingredients. Every restaurant has hummus now.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I like to cook any food from my garden, [like] green beans, cucumber tomato salads, eggplant and grape leaves.

From the kitchen of Gaby Maroun of Sevmar Mediterranean Bistro in Salem

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup extra fine bulgur wheat
2 bunches parsley (about 2 cups, chopped)
2 firm chopped tomatoes
1 chopped red onion
2 ounces freshly chopped mint (or ½ teaspoon dry mint)
Pinch of salt, pepper and allspice

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.

Featured photo: Gaby Maroun, head chef of Sevmar Mediterranean Bistro in Salem. Courtesy photo.

Mexican eats downtown

Alas de Frida now open in Manchester

Since 2015, Maricela Cortes and her husband, Isaac Sacramento, have been serving up authentic Mexican cuisine atEl RincónZacatecano Taquería in Manchester. A new restaurant now open just a few blocks north on Elm Street is serving as the couple’s sister establishment, introducing an eclectic menu of items not available atEl Rincón, in addition to a larger bar space.

It’s called Alas de Frida Mexican Restaurant & Bar, and it’s the newest dining spot to debut downtown. The eatery and bar has taken over the old space of The Birch on Elm, as that restaurant continues renovations in its new home in the former Noodz storefront across the street.

Alas de Frida gets its name from the famous late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Artwork and quotes from Kahlo are displayed throughout the restaurant and bar’s interior.

“I read a lot about her and [she’s] my inspiration,” Cortes said.

The menu features options that are all fresh and authentic, but it’s nearly completely different from what you’ll find at El Rincón. Perhaps one of the more notable changes is the addition of birria, an item Cortes said she is frequently asked about by customers.

“Over there [at El Rincón], a lot of people are always asking, ‘Do you have birria,’ and I say ‘No,’ and so I wanted to have birria because it’s very popular,” she said.

In fact, the menu includes almost an entire page dedicated to birria dishes. Although traditionally served in Mexico as a goat meat-based stew, Alas de Frida’s birria features slow-simmered barbacoa beef, with onion, cilantro and a cup of consommé, or the stewed broth, for dipping. You can get them as tacos, or try birria-inspired dishes like birria plates with rice and beans, loaded birria nachos or even noodle bowls of birria.

Cortes, who comes from the east-central Mexican state of Puebla, has also added several native dishes to the menu. The mole poblano, for instance, features grilled chicken covered in a mole sauce and roasted sesame seeds and served with a side of rice and corn tortillas. There’s also an appetizer called the Mexican wings, which are tossed in a spicy house sauce made with charcoal-grilled serrano peppers, tomatoes and garlic.

Alas de Frida is open six days a week for lunch and dinner — its lunch specials run the gamut from huevos rancheros and scrambled egg burritos to flautas (filled flour tortillas), quesadillas, enchiladas and fajitas.

Tacos, meanwhile, are served with blue corn tortillas, another new feature Cortes said is exclusive to Alas de Frida. Ground beef, shredded beef or chicken tacos are available a la carte, while other options served three per order include al pastor (marinated pork and grilled pineapple pieces), carnitas (slow-cooked seasoned pork) and vegetarian, with grilled mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, zucchini and squash. Cortes is also working toward soon adding trompo tacos al pastor, featuring meat that’s shaved off a rotating vertical spit.

Alas de Frida’s bar is much larger than its sister restaurant, enabling Cortes to offer an expanded menu of specialty cocktails. There’s a selection of more than a dozen house margaritas, in addition to domestic and imported beers, and pages’ worth of tequilas to choose from. Scratch-made horchatas are also available, as well as a few creative takes on mocktails.

Alas de Frida Mexican Restaurant & Bar
Where: 931 Elm St., Manchester
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed on Mondays.
More info: See “Alas de Frida Mexican Restaurant & Bar” on Facebook, find them on Instagram @alasdefrida_nh or call 518-7172

Featured photo: Photos courtesy of Alas de Frida Mexican Restaurant & Bar in Manchester.

Pies, greens and submarines

The Ricochet opens in Derry

Derry native Joey McCarran fondly remembers Romano’s Pizzeria, a town institution for nearly two decades. After several years spent on the West Coast post-college, McCarran and his wife, Lauren, are now back in his hometown — they’re known as “Jo and Lo,” and they’ve just opened a new restaurant together in the same storefront he used to frequent growing up.

The couple’s own experiences traveling across the country and returning home, McCarran said, inspired the name of their new eatery: The Ricochet. Gourmet pizza pies, calzones and hot subs are among the stars of the menu, which also features appetizers, salads, craft beers and cocktails.

“We like to say that the whole thing about this place and what we tried to do here is that it’s a feeling,” he said. “You’re going to ricochet off the walls here but at the end of the day you’ll end up where you’re supposed to, and that’s kind of what we were thinking we did. … We were here, there and everywhere. We hadn’t really planned on moving back to New Hampshire, but I grew up here, my family is still around, and I wanted our daughters to be able to come back.”

The couple took over the space last July and have been hard at work ever since on renovations and menu development. Ricky Alback, who McCarran said had been an employee at Romano’s at the time of the ownership change, has stayed on to serve as The Ricochet’s head chef.

“Ricky and I, we’ve been working tirelessly over here, just to make sure that we have something that we really like and that we can share with everybody,” he said. “It’s been fun to hear all of the feedback. Some days everybody orders all of our sandwiches, and we’re like, ‘Wow, I guess we were a sub shop today!’ … Then we might have a pizza day, and all of the pizzas will be gone.”

McCarran also recently started a company called Little Wild, which aims to provide locally grown hydroponic produce for area restaurants and other wholesale customers.

“I’ve got an investment down at a farm in Haverhill, Massachusetts, that’s going to [have] 30,000 square feet of hydroponic produce production,” he said. “All that produce will be coming to The Ricochet. … The idea is that … a restaurant like ours can really benefit from a local supplier that is consistent and can keep delivering, so customers will want to come back.”

The Ricochet boasts a unique aesthetic McCarran likened to a zen garden, with low lighting and plenty of vibrant plants. While it has been somewhat heavy on the takeout clientele at least to start, he said he has steadily noticed a surge in the volume of dine-in customers as of late.

Pizzas, McCarran said, feature a thin crust reminiscent of a southeastern Connecticut style.

“My wife is actually from the Mystic area, and so we really like that style of pizza,” he said. “We do a small and a large, and then any of our pizzas can also be a calzone.”

Among the several fan favorite pies out of the gate have been the El Jefe, featuring local pulled pork, barbecue sauce, red onions, pineapple and bacon; the Reaper, a spicier pizza with ghost pepper cheese, chorizo and hot honey; and the Figgy P, which has fig jam, Gorgonzola cheese, fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced prosciutto and a balsamic drizzle.

Subs feature rolls McCarran picks up fresh every day at Tripoli Bakery, just over the state line in northern Massachusetts. Many of the tried and true classics are represented, from a house meatball sub with marinara and provolone cheese, to a BLT, a chicken Parm and a steak bomb.

Salads, meanwhile, start with a garden or romaine base before they can be built in all kinds of different ways with proteins, toppings and dressings. There’s also a modest selection of made-to-order appetizers, like onion rings, crispy cut fries, chicken tenders and wings.

The Ricochet is also fast becoming known for its beverage program, which includes a rotating lineup of craft beers and creative cocktails. McCarran has even partnered Ali and Rob Leleszi of Rockingham Brewing Co. to brew a house Mexican-style cerveza, which he calls “the perfect pizza beer.” It’s available on tap now and will soon come canned when the second batch is ready.

“The beer is called Cerveza de Lechuza, and Lechuza was the beach [where] we would be pretty much every day when we lived out in Malibu,” McCarran said. “It directly translates to ‘owl beer,’ and so that’s how we always talk about it. Like, ‘Hey, come sit with us and have an owl.’”

Despite its small space, The Ricochet features a small stage in the corner of its lounge space for live performances. McCarran is also working on adding outdoor seating at the end of the plaza.

The Ricochet
Where: 35 Manchester Road, Suite 10, Derry
Hours: Tuesday, 4 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 8 p.m., Friday, noon to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
More info: Visit ricochet.pizza, find them on Facebook @thericochetderry and on Instagram @lovethericochet, or call 434-6500

Featured photo: Photos by Annie Hardester, on Instagram @annie.the.baker

The Weekly Dish 23/04/20

News from the local food scene

Gyros to go: Join St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral (650 Hanover St., Manchester) for A Taste of Glendi, a gyro drive-thru event happening on Saturday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For $10, you can get a bagged meal featuring a ground lamb gyro with herbs and spices, a bag of chips, a soda and water. Orders are drive-up and cash only. Glendi, the three-day Greek food festival and 40+ year tradition at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, is due to return in mid-September. See stgeorgenh.org for more details.

A fruitful discussion: Learn how to grow a healthy fruit crop during a free outdoor workshop at King Street Vineyards (25 King St., Milford) on Wednesday, April 26, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Topics to be covered will include establishing goals and setting expectations for your fruit harvest this season, as well as proper feeding and watering requirements and how to identify and address pests that may threaten your crop. As the event takes place outdoors, bringing your own lawn chairs is recommended. Opening day at the nursery, meanwhile, is slated for Saturday, April 29, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — according to its website, families visiting with children on opening day can take home two New England strawberry plants per child. Space is limited for the April 26 workshop so register early online at kingstreetvineyards.com.

Get ready for ribs: Tickets are on sale now to this year’s Great American Ribfest & Food Truck Festival, a three-day event slated to return to Anheuser-Busch Brewery (221 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack) from Friday, July 21, through Sunday, July 23. In addition to eats from a wide array of barbecuers and food trucks, the outdoor festival boasts a full schedule of live performances throughout the weekend. New this year will be an expanded children’s area and a People’s Choice rib sampler. The event will kick off with a concert on Friday night, followed by two days of festivities, all to take place rain or shine. Advance admission is $32.50 for adults and $14.50 for kids ages 10 to 16 for the Friday night concert; and $12 for adults and $10 for seniors over 60 and military service members for Saturday and Sunday (kids ages 16 and under get in free per paid adult). Free entry for all attendees is available on Saturday, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and on Sunday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. See greatamericanribfest.com to purchase tickets.

Meals on Wheels purchases old Blake’s: Local nonprofit Meals on Wheels of Hillsborough County has purchased the former Blake’s Restaurant & Creamery storefront at 353 S. Main St. in Manchester, which closed in January. “This is part of a larger plan to increase our capacity to produce meals for our Meals on Wheels and Community Dining programs,” reads an announcement in its April newsletter. “The new building will enable us to improve efficiencies and offset the rising costs of food and gas.” The announcement goes on to say that the nonprofit’s long-term plans include reopening the building as part of its Dine Out Club program, which provides donation-based meals for people ages 60 and over. On April 3, Meals on Wheels of Hillsborough County hosted its first open house in the new location, which was attended by several of its board and staff members. Updates on the building’s renovations are expected soon. Visit hcmow.org or follow them on Facebook @hcmow or Instagram @hcmealsonwheels.

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