June 2, 2016

The Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Exterior shot of the brick building housing the Black Trumpet bistro and wine bar

photo by: Ron Manville

The Black Trumpet overlooks Portsmouth's Old Harbor.

When Evan Mallett first set foot in the former chandlery-turned-restaurant at 29 Ceres St. in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he was immediately smitten. Inspired by the setting and the meal, the Boston-based food writer quickly packed up and resettled in the port city to work as a prep cook in the historic restaurant. Though the structure—part of a series of connected buildings referred to as Merchants’ Row—has been a restaurant since the 1970s, its history stretches back to the early 19th century.

According to local historians, the block of nine Federal-style units dates from around 1803 and was constructed after a fire decimated the original wooden buildings used by local shipping merchants. Before Ceres Street existed, the property directly abutted the Old Harbor, welcoming shipments of oil and whale blubber that sat in vats until they were turned into household items like candles, soap, and wax. Though much of the unit 29’s history has been lost over time, talk that it was once the tallest building in the United States persists, and whispers of a visiting benevolent ghost abound.

When the building became available for purchase in 2007, Mallett and his wife, Denise, jumped at the opportunity and have been operating the restaurant, renamed the Black Trumpet, as a locally sourced bistro and wine bar ever since.

A shiny patina believed to be the vestige of the linseed oil used for candle making is still visible on the first- and second-floor walls of the restaurant, which Mallett has outfitted to celebrate the building’s past. Meanwhile, exposed brick and structural wooden beams remain in the downstairs dining room and the second-floor wine bar that overlooks the water.

Today, Mallett's restaurant offers a highly-curated selection of 12 organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines by the glass, as well as a craft cocktail menu. The three-time James Beard award semi-finalist for Best Chef Northeast also curates a varied seasonal menu that includes softshell crab and crispy duck breast.

Location: 29 Ceres St, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Hours: Wine bar opens at 5 p.m., dining room at 5:30, nightly.

You’re Having: Mallett recommends a glass of the fruity, light-bodied Frapatto Italian red, paired with the fried almonds, olives, and garlic—an item that has been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening.

Best Yelp Review: “If you're a foodie you have to check this place out! We were upstairs in the wine bar area—it overlooks the harbor & the working port…unforgettable!” –Mara B.

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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