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FOOD & TRAVEL

Bringing some sass (and good cooking) to Dover, N.H.

This is the second location for Sassy Biscuit; the original opened in Billings, Mont.

The waffled pressed shortcakes are one of the popular items on the Sassy Biscuit menu, including this one with warm blueberries and whipped cream.
The waffled pressed shortcakes are one of the popular items on the Sassy Biscuit menu, including this one with warm blueberries and whipped cream.

Sassy Biscuit — the name alone was enough to get us in the door. The menu was inviting, offering breakfast-brunch upscale comfort food. Waffled pressed biscuits with warmed blueberries and sweet lemon butter! Fried chicken biscuit sandwich with apple beer jam! Biscuit French toast with Chantilly cream! Oh my.

We have to say that during the slowing pandemic, when restaurants were allowed to open, this lively, warm comfort-food eatery provided great solace and sustenance.

For owner Jilan Hall-Johnson, the restaurant is not only about offering refined Southern-style cooking but also about changing misguided perceptions of Black culture.

Elevated comfort food includes Sassy Biscuit's dropped biscuits, this one with brown gravy and rice, topped with a fried egg.
Elevated comfort food includes Sassy Biscuit's dropped biscuits, this one with brown gravy and rice, topped with a fried egg.

“People don’t associate sophistication and class with Black-owned businesses,” says Hall-Johnson. “I’m trying to break some of the misconceptions, to show there’s more to our rich culture and history than poverty and strife.

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“We have fun here!” she continued. “There’s playfulness in our food. There are stories in our art. And, yes, we play the music a little louder.”

Sassy Biscuit in Dover, N.H., is a vibrant corner eatery offering elevated comfort food.
Sassy Biscuit in Dover, N.H., is a vibrant corner eatery offering elevated comfort food.

This is the second location for Sassy Biscuit; the original opened in Billings, Mont., where Hall-Johnson’s husband, DeMarco Johnson, was stationed while in the Marine Corps. The two met in culinary school, before Johnson joined the military and Hall-Johnson went on to get a graduate degree in counseling. And then, after making biscuit waffles for their three kids, Hall-Johnson landed on her “bruncherie” restaurant idea. Things in Billings were moving along successfully, when a New Hampshire-based friend of Hall-Johnson’s visited her and threw out the idea of opening another Sassy Biscuit on the East Coast.

“We knew immediately that Dover was the place,” she says. “We felt the city was super cool and hip, and still up-and-coming.”

Plus, as she says, “We don’t want to be where you’d think to find us. We want to stand out and offer something unique.”

Sassy Biscuit features Black art and music.
Sassy Biscuit features Black art and music.

The Sassy menu is divided into four main sections: Pressed Shortcakes (waffle pressed biscuits), Griddled Cakes (pancakes and biscuit French toast, Spooned cakes (dropped biscuits), and Knife and Fork Sammies (biscuit sandwiches). There’s also porridge options and stews and soups, along with a simple kid’s menu. We’ve tried the Cobbler, a comfort-inducing, all-is-well-with-the-world plate of soft waffle pressed biscuits with warmed blueberries and sweet lemon butter. If you lean toward sweet over savory, do not miss the Sojourner, delicious light biscuits prepared like French toast, topped with strawberries and Chantilly cream; it’s the second most popular item on the menu for good reason. The most popular item is the Kitchen Sink, with tiny cut home fries mixed with sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms, topped with bacon gravy and a fried egg. This hefty savory dish is loaded with flavor and will sustain the heartiest eater until dinner time. The Kentucky is the most popular chicken dish on the menu. We like it; the fried chicken breast was moist, the house bacon added crunch, and the apple beer jam, made with brews from Loaded Question Brewing Co. located in Portsmouth, N.H., enhanced the sandwich with its unique, slightly hoppy flavor. But our favorite dish to date is the Johnson Style spooned cake, because we love the flavor-layered brown gravy with a little kick/sass to it. It’s served with sage sausage over rice and topped with a fried egg. A dropped biscuit is served on the side.

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“It took me eight months to develop the biscuit and waffle recipes,” Hall-Johnson says. “My kids got sick of them!”

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Recently, Hall-Johnson opened Jook – A Chicken Joint. A Jook Joint (or Juke Joint) is where, during the Jim Crow era, plantation workers and sharecroppers would gather to socialize and have a good time. Jook is located in the back room from the Sassy Biscuit dining area, with a bluesy, intimate vibe, and one heck of a good, made-from-scratch fried chicken sandwich. 104 Washington St., Dover, N.H., 603-343-5596, www.thesassybiscuit.com; $7-$11.50


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com