The trip began with a sublime bang: Paul Flynn’s food-fuelled road trip to New England

We landed in Boston, the gateway to New England and a second home for the Irish

New England comprises six states – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. It was in my subconscious ever before I went there. I had a clear image of it. Shingle homes, brilliantly white, nestling on manicured lawns, enveloped by grand old trees. Picture postcard villages, sedate and untroubled. Coastal towns where pleasure boats jostled for space among the trawlers that ploughed through moody seas for lobsters for my well-buttered rolls.

However, New England was mostly about those trees, golden, russet and orange covering the landscape in fall like a captivating quilt. I was determined to get there at some point in my life.

The last time my wife Máire and I had an American road trip was our honeymoon almost 30 years ago, from San Francisco up through Napa Valley to a very chilly Lake Tahoe. We were young, unblemished, full of vigour and life. Now, all these years later after a lifetime of work, we needed a new road trip to retrieve that youthful sparkle.

The trip began with a sublime bang. We landed in Boston, the gateway to New England and a second home for the Irish.


Raffles Hotel is one of those iconic brands. Its origins are in Singapore and this was the first one in North America, just opened three weeks ago and as alluring as a newborn baby with levels of convivial luxury that we were unaccustomed to. We took in the views over the city as we waited for dinner, its lights flickered and twinkled in welcome.

We ate in Amar, the in-house Portuguese restaurant by Michelin starred chef George Mendes, who upped sticks from New York and brought his family to Boston. I love the democratic friendliness of Portuguese food. It’s not up itself and this didn’t disappoint. Among all sorts of delicious things we ate that first night, the seafood rice for two was spectacular.

A modicum of jet lag made us rise early so we hit the streets at dawn, marvelling at the grand Boston houses, imagining the generations that had lived there and how they went about their lives. Boston Common was quiet, you could feel the history in the place. It somehow felt ancient, removed from the modern city. Revolutionary statues punctuated it reminding us of the struggle to birth this great nation.

On Beacon Hill, Charles Street runs parallel to the river. It is full of charm and shops that rarely exist any more. Picture framers, clothes menders, Mom and Pop hardware stores. We came upon a stupendous cafe halfway down the street. Tatte is a bakery with an exotic DNA. Brimming with shimmering pastries, I really wanted to have the lamb hash with labneh and challah, but I was saving my appetite for later.

Chef Mendes met us for lunch back in the hotel before we picked up our car. Charmingly generous with his time, he set us on our way. I had my first lobster roll in Raffles, which was ultra-memorable, warm and welcoming. Jodi Adams, the Doyenne of Boston’s dining scene, is due to open la Padrona, a luxe Italian restaurant, within its vertiginous walls in December. This in itself is a statement of the hotel’s ambition.

We picked up the car (it’s important to note that most American rentals don’t have satnav so get your roaming package sorted, you will need it) and headed for route 1A, the scenic 158km stretch heading north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In truth, the first part of the journey was a chore, the usual suburban and sometimes stressful clog. I only settled in when we drove through Salem, the town of my nightmares as a boy as a result of the movie Salem’s Lot. That and Freddie Kruger put me off horror for life.

They make the most of their ghoulish reputation derived from the Salem witch trials in the 1690s. Gigantic skeletons, witches, bats and pumpkins adorned every house. It was surreal, yet somehow quaint. Americans embrace Halloween with enthusiasm. It’s as traditional as apple pie, but it has to be said in recent years we are catching up here.

We reached Portsmouth and checked into the Hotel Thaxter, a remodelled period gem in the centre of town. We ate Happy Hour oysters at The Franklin. The barman mentioned there was jazz at 6pm every second Tuesday in the Pressroom, a long-established music venue. Luckily it coincided with our visit. The place was as atmospheric as only a long-standing jazz club can be. Old folks ate burgers, drank beer and chatted. They have been coming since the 70s. We ate sliders and discovered local beer, some of it so cloudy I almost needed a spoon. It was a great night.

Portsmouth is the best of both worlds, a working town, with tugboats brooding in the harbour, patiently waiting to battle the tumultuous Piscataqua river and tourists ambling through shops and learning more of the history of the founding fathers. I liked it, you could tell that music was important, with numerous venues featuring many distinguished artists. This town has everything.

The next day we visited Strawberry Banke Outdoor History Museum, the oldest settlement in New Hampshire, then took a spin along the coast and found ourselves in the village of Rye for an exercise in extreme house envy. We intended to go for more lobster rolls in Rays Seafood Shack but we couldn’t as we had made a classic mistake of having a monster breakfast in The Friendly Toast Café that morning. We walked in, bought some fizzy water and left again cursing our rookie error.

That night we ate in Nichinan, the Thaxter Hotel’s very lovely Japanese restaurant. We were content to have an early night until I spotted some delicious places on my walks – the Moxy American tapas bar, and the Black Trumpet Bistro and Bar.

Up the road to Portland, Maine we went the next day. The preponderance of lumberjack shirts was the first thing I noticed. It’s obvious that Maine people were hipsters before the name was coined. Woolly hats and craft breweries abounded. Wispy beards were de rigueur and the absence of bling was conspicuous. This was a real town and I loved it as soon as I set foot in it. We stayed in The Cambria, functional and perfect for what we needed, a 10-minute walk from all the action.

I had my list of restaurants and at the top was Duckfat, a place that specialises in confit duck. I’d seen it on Somebody Feed Phil and I was obsessed. It turns out it was just around the corner, and no sooner than we dumped the bags we were in the queue for lunch. My restaurant list for Portland is extensive. We went to a number of brilliant restaurants over our three days there, including Evo, Central Provisions, Bar Futo, Crispy Gai, and Eventide Oyster Co, but there were many more on the wishlist.

I’ve rarely come across a city with so many delicious opportunities, and with a population of 70,000, the diversity and quality of the food was astounding. None of these places were fancy, all were thrillingly different. It was the perfect place for us. We spent a most enjoyable Saturday morning wandering around the Portland Farmers Market. It was fall perfection, and everything we imagined a New England farmers market to be.

When we weren’t eating, we drove. We became enthusiastic leaf-peepers and joined the many tourists among the stunning Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountains, two hours from Portland to view the fall foliage. It was truly stunning.

The only downside of the trip was watching the rugby in an Irish bar surrounded by New Zealanders. In truth, they were lovely and showed grace in our defeat. We became best buddies with some of them for a night, but isn’t that what travelling does to you?

Aer Lingus operates daily direct flights from Shannon Airport to Boston, with fares starting from €219 each way including taxes and charges. Hertz has car rental from €50 per day including full cover.

Paul Flynn

Paul Flynn

Paul Flynn is a chef, restaurateur and contributor to The Irish Times. He and his wife, Máire, run the Tannery restaurant and cookery school in Dungarvan, Co Waterford