|By G. Michael Dobbs|
In the restaurant business, it's always a tricky proposition to change the menu and direction of a beloved establishment. The owners at the Hampden House at 1 Allen St. in the center of Hampden have pulled it off with an outstanding new Italian menu.
La Cucina de Hampden House still has its trademark warm and intimate atmosphere. It's clearly still a place where friends gather for a drink, a pizza or something more substantial.
When my wife and I recently visited the restaurant we were torn about whether to try a specialty pizza from the restaurant's brick oven or an entre. The pizzas looked very appealing and included an eggplant Romano pie with marinated eggplant ($7.75) and Gorgonzola cheeseburg ($8.25).
We decided, though, to try two entres and found a wide selection from which to choose. The new menu features soups, salads, pasta and risotto dishes as well as fish, veal, beef and chicken offerings.
The appetizers caught our eye at first with the blackened scallops ($9) and the crab cakes ($10) vying for our attention.
We ultimately decided to try a house salad with our meal ($2). It was a generous blend of fresh greens with grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers and a creamy balsamic vinegar dressing.
We also were served thick chunks of a delicious home made foccacia bread that was also cake-like in texture. On the table was an olive oil dipping sauce featuring a variety of spices.
Our eyes wandered over the menu and we were attracted to the salmon portabella ($20), which was roasted salmon atop a portabella mushroom stuffed with a wild mushroom ricotta duxelle on a bed of baby spinach. We also were tempted by the filet mignon alla porcini ($26) a steak encrusted by black pepper and porcini mushroom powder and served with a porcini-grappa infused sauce.
After much discussion, my wife tried one of the nightly specials, a penne pasta dish with shrimp and chicken ($16) and I had the "crazy Alfredo" ($17).
The crazy Alfredo mixed chunks of white meat chicken with sweet Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and sopresatta salami in a spicy Alfredo sauce over fettuccini.
Now those who are expecting a standard Alfredo sauce should be warned: this sauce is light, flavorful and a pleasant surprise. It perfectly complemented the meat in the dish.
The penne dish also was satisfying with a generous amount of shrimp and chicken.
Now the challenge in visiting a restaurant such as this one is having the ability to have a dessert. Sometimes the spirit is willing but the flesh is full! Our server brought over the night's dessert platter that included key lime pie, carrot cake and "lazy man's cannoli."
We chose a raspberry cheesecake and a chocolate truffle (both $6). Both were very good.
With a menu such as this one, the "new" Hampden House will be continuing its tradition of excellence.