So when Mame's Food & Spirits was brought to my attention while on a recent trip to New Hampshire, I immediately fell for its historic past and knew a growing hunger would require a visit.
The story of Mame's actually began in 1748 when Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth granted a parcel of land called Crotchtown, located at the fork of the Pemigewasset and Winnipisaukee Rivers, to sixty settlers who hailed from Hampton, Exeter and Stratham. Of those sixty grantees, twelve were named Sanborn. Among the remaining number, were many members of the Leavitt family, also related the Sanborn clan. For that reason, the new community - although permanent settlement was delayed until 1764 due to hostilities brought about by the French and Indian War - was renamed, Sanbornton.
The town was incorporated by Governor John Wentworth in 1770, and later, represented by Jeremiah Sanborn at the first legislature when they convened in Exeter during 1784.
The story tells of a Mr. Runnels stating that "There was only one person in Sanbornton who suffered from witchcraft." He went on to relate that while transporting a half barrel of rum to town with his team of oxen, Mrs. Mehitable Danforth - the witch in question - requested he stop and tap the keg at her home. Upon his refusal, Danforth immediately bewitched one of his oxen. Runnels had no recourse but to beat the ox severely, and in doing so, claimed to have been chased by the evil spirit, a fact he attested to by frequently showing what he deemed "cloven prints" along several rocks.
In getting back to our story; to Jeremiah Sanborn and his wife was born a son, John. John Sanborn became a physician and made his home in Sanbornton until 1815, when he relocated to Meredith, New Hampshire.
While in Meredith, Dr. John Sanborn practiced medicine, and in 1825, built sturdy, three-story structure that not only served as his private residence, but also, as a base for his medical practice that treated those within the mill community.
The structure is a testament to the skilled laborers of the era. Its hand-hewn beams are supported by triple brick walls that have stood the test of time through the typically rugged New England winters.
Our party of eight entered the establishment and I immediately noticed a couple of rooms on the lower floor with a nice blend of patrons. We were in a festive mood and it was the warm and comfortable atmosphere within these rooms that we sought to enjoy.
After a minute or two, we were greeted by a woman with a not-so-salutatory demeanor, who with few words, began leading us upstairs.
I was quite taken aback by the manner of her response. Inquisitively, I peeked into the rooms and noticed there was ample room for our party, with numerous empty four-person tables. Now far be it from me to question the motives behind a particular establishment's policies, but I am pretty sure that catering to a customer's request - particularly eight paying customers - is a universally accepted practice. I'm sure she heard one of us mention that we would happily push two tables together, or even divide into two parties of four if necessary, in order to be seated downstairs. The woman ignored our pleas and continued guiding us upstairs. At that point, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I'd developed for the historical ambiance of the building were fading fast, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and see how things unfolded. I wanted to take in the entire experience without altering the already deteriorating dynamics.
We were led to an empty room with three tables; a table for four, a table for six and a table for eight.
The woman, who seemed "put out" by our patronage, poured water in complete silence and left. And there we sat for ten minutes unattended to in any manner. We sat in an empty room for ten solid minutes, staring at each other with looks of incredulousness.
After ten minutes of inactivity, a perky, yet obviously over-worked waitress arrived with menus and an unconvincing smile. I immediately sensed the situation and began a friendly interaction. She responded in kind, but I could easily read between the lines of how things operated around here.
We asked what beer they offered and she responded they were running a $2.00 per bottle special on Sam Adams Cold Snaps. We ordered a round and she raced from the room. Within a few minutes, she returned with our beverages and placed two small bowls of red kidney beans with crackers in the center of the table and left.
The beans themselves, I found extremely appetizing, although our party had mixed feelings in this regard. Served in a light horseradish sauce, I enjoyed them quite a bit.
However, the two small bowls were paltry for a party of eight and they were soon gone. And after another ten minutes of inactivity, so were our beverages. The lack of attentiveness was becoming a display of utter ridiculousness.
When I say remaining patient for this review was perhaps the most frustrating and trying experience I've ever endured as a food writer, it is by far my greatest under-exaggeration. For here we sat for another fifteen minutes; alone and unattended in this attic room. Those in my party were not quite as accommodating as I, and began openly relating their dissatisfaction loudly. Their degrading remarks would've been far more effective had there actually been an employee somewhere in sight to hear them. Restless and amazed, we actually left our table and roamed the restaurant's other rooms. So long were we left unattended that upon, our return to our table, no one even realized we were ever gone. It was becoming a comical experience.
Suddenly, a flurry of footsteps erupted from the stairwell and our waitress ran into the room and placed two baskets of hot bread on the table. She passed around the remaining beers and took our orders.
For her part, she was sweet and tried to pretend she was unflustered, but she was obviously over-worked (I later found there were only two employees servicing 6 rooms) and highly-stressed. But like a pro, she did her best to pretend all was well and did the best she could do considering the circumstances. Me? I was really irritated with management at this point.
Our orders placed, she left. It was then we realized some of the beer was frozen and erupted in a non-stop flow of froth. The table cloth was a mess, we were irritated, restless, hungry and any other adjective you could imagine one would feel in our situation. I decided to play a little game and took out my cell phone and set the clock. Here's the results:
Time elapsed until frozen beer could be reported: 11 minutes
Time until a request for an additional basket of bread could be filled: 7 minutes
Time until appetizers arrived: 12 minutes
Time until the FIRST four entrees arrived after appetizers were cleared: 32 minutes
Time between the FIRST 4 entrees were served and the SECOND 4 entrees were served: 7 minutes
It was just absurd. So absurd, in fact, that I've had to devote all this space and time to relating elapsed time when I should be talking about the food. But what left to say when you've endured such an experience?
In the remarks on the back of their menu it reads, "...Mame's is known for it's interesting and relaxing atmosphere, it is also known for its superb food. Chef Rob Heath and his staff works diligently to provide a wide variety of interesting dishes."
Perhaps, but any gains made in the kitchen (and there were not many according to our opinion as a whole) are lost with lack of customer service and attention.
The New England Clam Chowder ($4.50 cup/ $7.50 bowl) was merely pedestrian - far too many potatoes and far too few clams in my opinion. In the heart of New England, I expected more than this. I've had far better in New Jersey.
The rest of my dinner party rated their meals between a 5 and a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. That's a shame because I'm sure their thought process was tainted by the horrible experience and lowered the grades accordingly. After all, how can one legitimately expect to enjoy a meal when you've been sitting in the same spot unattended to for over two hours. Unacceptable business in my book.
The check arrived and it was $182.00. I insisted on giving the waitress a 20% tip because it was blatantly apparent she was a sweet girl trying to excel while working amidst a deplorable situation.
To be frank, I detested having to write this review as I have done. I do not feel I've ever openly knocked an establishment as I am doing now, and it bothers me immensely to do so.
That's an unfortunate commentary on an eating establishment that I entered just begging to love. It is a restaurant, that when coupled with its history, could've been something really special. Sadly, it is not.
In essence, I can summarize succinctly; "What the ambiance could have been, the experience should have been."