The Library Restaurant, a popular steakhouse located on State Street in downtown Portsmouth, is easy to spot: just look for the massive Federal-style Rockingham House with a pair of gilded lions guarding the entrance.
Inside, the inimitable 230-year-old Victorian-style dining room is as extravagant as the exterior is imposing. “I get so excited about this place. It’s amazing construction and you can’t replicate it,” says owner Bruce Belanger, motioning to the original Italian marble floors in the foyer, and the chocolate brown applied patina ceiling in the dining room, outlined with mahogany panels built in1889 by the Pullman Car Woodworkers. Original gem-encrusted sconces from Shreve, Crump & Lowe line the walls. It’s no wonder The Library won Best Fine Dining restaurant (as well as Best Steakhouse and Best Business Lunch) for this year’s Best of Taste awards.
When Belanger purchased the restaurant 20 years ago, he wasn’t a restaurateur. He owned a heavy equipment construction company. “In the early days I’d wear my hard hat during the day and trade it for a jacket and tie at night,” he says. He researched restaurant management and got to work on the nitty-gritty, maintaining all the charming details and updating the look with fresh paint and mobile cherry wood bookcases that create intimate spaces for smaller parties.
Here, patrons can relax, listen to soft jazz, sip wines from the award-winning list of over 180 varietals, and enjoy creative steakhouse fare prepared by Executive Chef Jesse Farrington and his staff. Start with the addictive pork Potstickers, or cornmeal-crusted Bang Bang Shrimp, which are flash fried and cloaked with sweet-and-sour chili-garlic sauce. Or, preview The Library’s quality steak with an order of Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio, paper-thin slices of buttery beef tartare topped with capers, sliced red onion, and a drizzle of olive oil.
If the dining room feels right for your most special occasion, the bar is a more casual, cozy British-style pub, pumping out classic rock and lively conversation. Sidle up to the marble-topped bar, once the Rockingham Hotel’s check-in desk, and order one of over 100 martinis, including the popular Cosmopolitan, made with vodka, cranberry juice, and Cointreau, or the Espresso Martini, a creamy concoction made with espresso-flavored vodka, a shot of espresso, Bailey’s, and Kahlua.
Belanger believes in paying attention to the details. “First off, we source the best product we can buy, and stick with it so the beef is as consistent as possible,” he says. Choose from marbled steaks, like the 16-ounce Gentlemen’s Cut Prime Sirloin, the decadent 24-ounce Bone-In Ribeye, or the lean and tender Filet Mignon, all seared to your liking and dabbed with butter and secret sauce. Add a punch of flavor with the proprietary dipping sauces, like the House Brewed Steak Sauce or the rich Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce, made with veal-based brown gravy and chunks of melted Gorgonzola. “The best complement is when someone says, ‘This steak is the best I’ve had at any restaurant in the country,’” Belanger reflects.
Beef not your inclination? Pescatarians will be happy here. The popular Baked Stuffed Haddock, chock full of fresh chunks of lobster and sherried cracker crumbs is hearty and flavorful, as is the Grilled Salmon, served with potato roesti and zucchini slaw. A generous side of the popular Lobster Mac and Cheese could double as a hearty meal for one.
The mouth-watering side dishes are meant for sharing, great for those who have trouble deciding. As befits a steakhouse, there are several potato preparations: Salted Jumbo Baked, creamy Roasted Garlic Mashed, rich and cheesy Au Gratin, or thick Hand Cut Steak Fries. Try dipping these in Béarnaise Sauce for a heavenly treat. Balance the starch with crisp Sauteed Asparagus or the popular Creamed Spinach to complete the meal.
Save room for home-style desserts, like the thick and rich Peanut Butter Pie, or the classic Crème Brûlée, with a burnt sugar crust and creamy vanilla custard. The majestic Seven-Layer Chocolate Cake is sure to put a smile on any chocophile’s face. “I love when people have a great meal and leave happy,” says Belanger, “That’s what this business is all about.”
The Library Restaurant
401 State Street