IN THE KITCHEN Geno’s is a favorite among Portsmouth residents and the lucky tourists that happen upon this family business hiding in plain sight on the Piscataqua River.
Francesca Marconi Fernald is the second generation of her family to operate the picturesque waterside eatery that was founded by her mother, Evelyn Marconi, on Memorial Day 1965.
It’s named for Francesca’s father, Geno, who skippered a lobster boat out of the Port City for many years.
In addition to using her mom’s original recipes as a base for all that’s served, Francesca keeps a garden that provides fresh produce, herbs, and fruit for the menu.
THE LOCALE Geno’s is a small shingled building on the back channel of the Piscataqua River. It has an outside deck with a great view of the bridge to Peirce Island and the boats docked at the commercial fishing pier across the channel. It’s a seasonal restaurant, closing at the end of October or November, “when it begins to snow, or gets too cold to seat diners on the deck,” according to our cheerful server.
ON THE MENU As you might expect, the restaurant specializes in seafood. It’s not a big menu and it’s not fancy. It’s just good. There are chowders (all gluten-free), fish stews, lobster and crab rolls, and salad.
Although it’s hard to imagine, somebody in your party may not be in the mood for fish. No worries. Geno’s also offers excellent hamburgers ($5.25), two hot dogs ($7), egg salad ($5.55) and white breast meat chicken salad ($6.50) sandwiches, grilled cheese ($4.25), and awesome apple wood bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches ($5.55). All are served with potato chips and a pickle.
Lobster dishes are priced daily. The stews and chowders are available in three sizes (lobster stew: 8 oz. $6, 12 oz. $9, 16 oz. $12; clam chowder and fish chowders are $4.25, $6.35, and $8.50 for similar sizes). We tried the 12-ounce portions of the lobster stew and clam chowder.
The lobster stew was more like a lobster Jacuzzi, with copious amounts of claws bobbing in a delicate, buttery broth seasoned with paprika and cracked pepper for a little bite. Francesca’s homegrown parsley adds body to the broth.
In case you can’t make up your mind which chowder to order, you can sample any of the soups before you commit.
We moved on to our chubby stuffed clams ($1.85 each). They were a tad bready but had a wonderful citrus bite, and the clam flavor definitely came through.
Next were the stars of the show – the lobster and crabmeat rolls. It would be difficult to find fresher and tastier crab and lobster rolls anywhere on the New Hampshire coast. We tried a jumbo lobster roll (prices the day we visited: small, $13; regular, $17; jumbo $22) and a regular crab roll, both served with chips and pickle along with sides of cole slaw and potato salad ($3 each).
It’s hard to imagine just how much sweet, tender lobster is in a jumbo roll. Think massive. Customers can choose to have it made with mayo or melted butter. We chose the former but either would rock.
The hand-picked Maine crab (you can see Maine from Geno’s deck) — shelled that day — was sweet, succulent, and among the best we’ve ever had.
You can’t skip dessert at Geno’s. Everything is homemade and with as many local ingredients as possible. We had a whoopie pie ($3) and a slice of blueberry pie a la mode ($5). The whoopie was whoopee! A light, sweet cream sandwiched between homemade devil’s food discs. The fruit pie was equally awesome: a grandma-style homemade crust with a delicate Maine blueberry filling and excellent vanilla bean ice cream.
Geno’s Chowder & Sandwich Shop, 177 Mechanic St., Portsmouth, N.H. 603-427-2070, www.genoschowder.com .
Tom Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.