The Halligan Tavern has filled the void left in downtown Derry, N.H., when the Firehall Pub & Grille closed at the same West Broadway location several years ago. While the former fire station provides the same vintage atmosphere, with brick walls, cast iron fixtures, and light pouring in from the original engine bays, we like the food better at this incarnation of the restaurant and pub.
And we like the name, an homage to the Halligan bar, a forcible-entry tool used by firefighters and named for Hugh Halligan, a New York City firefighter who designed the instrument in the 1940s.
The menu is simple but not simplistic, with enough items for variety but not so many as to confuse and disappoint. All the dishes, even the most traditional, have been reinvented with a special twist.
It’s a real tavern in the sense that there are close to two dozen beers on tap, including tried and trues like Bass and Guinness, but also some unusual selections like Kona Pipeline Porter and Seadog Blueberry, a microbrew hailing from Maine. There’s also a great pub community, with Tuesday night trivia (when all Harpoon drafts are $2 from 7:30 on), and during
We started our meal with a glass of Smithwick’s ($5.25) and a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels ($10), simmered with fennel, red onion, and andouille sausage and served with shaved Manchego cheese and a slice of grilled bread. The small, tender mussels were excellent, especially with the mild heat and smokiness of the sausage and the touch of sweetness from the fennel. The homemade bread was excellent, but we felt there should have been more than one slice.
For the brave of heart (and arteries), the tavern offers poutine ($8) among its appetizers. The French-Canadian favorite features french fries topped by melted cheese and gravy, with Halligan’s version adding bacon bits.
For dinner, one of us chose the crispy, fried tuna tacos ($16): breaded, fried tuna steak, Napa cabbage, scallions, green chili, pineapple salsa, and cilantro cream served on grilled flat bread that holds up to all these great ingredients better than a taco would. The salsa was fresh and tangy, the fish cooked just right, and the cilantro cream was the perfect topping. Our guest, who dines out at least five times a week, raved about this one.
Tuna was the inspiration for the night, with another in our party trying the blackened tuna salad ($15), herb- and spice-crusted grilled yellowfin with greens, avocado, lime-soaked cucumber, peanuts, and cucumber-cilantro dressing. This is a dream salad, with crackling fresh ingredients and bright, lively flavors.
But we weren’t all fish enthusiasts. The Halligan burger ($9) is a whopping, 12-ounce patty made from ground rib-eye steak, charcoal-grilled and served with tomato and lettuce, onion rings, fries, and a pickle. If you would like either cheddar, muenster, Swiss, or gorgonzola cheese, it will cost an extra $1.
You haven’t been to the Halligan Tavern unless you’ve attempted to consume the fried BLT ($10), which would send Dagwood Bumstead running for cover. This puppy is more than 6 inches tall, and without fail draws a gasp from anyone who orders it without prior knowledge of the size.
The sandwich is constructed from homemade grilled wheat bread, thick slices of house-smoked bacon, lettuce drizzled with buttermilk dressing, and tomato slices, and speared with an onion ring and pickle. This is a huge and clever take on a diner classic, and that is what Halligan does best.
On the lighter side, Halligan has two soups on the menu every day, Pipeline Porter onion soup and seafood chowder ($6), both excellent. The chowder is one of the best we’ve ever had.
Halligan also has a late-night menu, served 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. All dishes are $5, and include nachos made with blue corn tortilla chips with black bean and beef chili, jalapeños, red onions, black olives, diced tomatoes, pepper-jack cheese sauce, shredded greens, and cilantro cream, and pepper-and-egg sandwiches.