North End Italian finds its way to Weirs Beach, thanks tothe Ray family

LACONIA — Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December in the former Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, is already making a name for itself with its authentic, made-from scratch Italian food which features fresh ingredients and recipes from the owner's grandmother.
A week after it opened, an enthusiastic customer who identified him-or-her self as Bumble 2249 wrote in the Winnipesaukee Forum, ''Faro has set the bar for authentic Italian restaurants in the Lakes Region. Real homemade pasta. Homemade sauces. Best of the best meats, cheeses, breads and desserts! There are other good restaurants here but as far as Italian cuisine is concerned, this is it.''
Those kinds of endorsements are music to the ears of Richard Ray, whose family had operated the Lobster Pound since 2007 and has operated an Italian restaurant in Boston's North End for decades.
''We saw the price the price of seafood steadily increasing and realized that we couldn't continue to offer the same kind of quality we wanted for our customers without pricing ourselves out of the market. So we decided to return to our roots and offer authentic Italian using old family recipes,'' says Ray, who grew up in Boston's North End just a few blocks away from Fanueil Hall.
The Lobster Pound closed on October 15 last year and an extensive remodeling was started, led by Ray's brother Mike, which saw quaint and rustic seating arrangements created, art work installed on the walls including old photos of Italian street scenes and modern works by artist Peter Max, a friend of the Ray family. The tables all feature white tablecloths and the renovations provide an intimate atmosphere which helps make the dining experience more personal and relaxing.
''Many people come in and spend two hours enjoying their meal and conversation. That's what we want for our customers. There's no sense of being hurried and we limit our servers to just three tables, so they'll always be readily available,'' says Ray.
He says that one popular feature so far has been valet parking on Friday and Saturday nights, which customers have greatly appreciated during the cold winter nights as they can move from the warmth of their vehicle into the restaurant and then find a warm vehicle waiting for them at the front door when they leave.
''We went from a 40-year-old concept of a large volume, seafood restaurant to one which makes the dining experience very special,'' says Ray.
The lounge area has changed as well and offers comfortable sofa and chair seating on both sides and ends as well as high top table seating. There are 10 flat screen LCD TVs in that area, which makes it perfect for watching sports while having pizza and calzones as well as beverages during games.
And there's a totally new menu, one which features a wide variety of choices, from the 16-inch hand tossed North End style thin crust or personal plank pizza, all made with fresh ingredients, to antipasto, salads, shrimp scampi, pepardella Bolognese, lasagna Florentine, braised lamb shank, and chicken, pork and beef dishes prepared with an Italian flair.
Ray says that the best selling appetizers are pan-seared shrimp crostini while chicken parmesan is the most popular dish on the regular menu.
Patrons highly recommend the antipasto as an appetizer as it features dried meats and cheeses directly from Italy. The pastries are from Modern Pastry in the North End while the Italian-style breads come from Montreal, which Ray says has become the baked bread capital of the Northeast.
Ray says the many of his meats come from Italy and are delivered to the North End in Boston before being shipped to Laconia. The gelato comes from the North End and knowledgeable patrons say it as as good as anything they've ever had in Italy.
''Having quality ingredients is very important to us. We want people to have an authentic experience with the classic taste that only comes from fresh ingredients,'' he says. Among the popular items are Ray's homemade limoncello, a lemon-vodka apetif or an after dinner drink, which he makes using his grandmother's recipe.
Ray says that he has been very happy to see new customers this winter who have become regulars and is looking forward to the summer tourist season, which he expects will be very busy.
Currently the hours are Faro are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations are recommended on weekends and can be made by calling 527-8073.

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Chicken Parmesan is the most popular dish at Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December at the former Lobster Pound in Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Chicken Parmesan and lamb shanks are among the many Italian specials at Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December at the former Lobster Pound in Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Faro Italian Grille has created new intimate dining in the former Lobster Pound at Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Disorderly conduct charge dropped against Alton man speaking his mind before board but selectmen move to tighten restrictions on public speech ever further

ALTON — The state has dropped one of two charges against a man who was arrested by police after speaking his mind during the public comment section of the February 3 meeting of the Selectboard.

A charge of disorderly conduct lodged against Jeffrey T. Clay that alleges he purposely caused a breach of the peace by disrupting the meeting by continuing to speak after being informed "repetitively" by the board that public input was closed was dropped on March 23.

A second charge against him for knowingly refusing to comply with a lawful order given by Police Chief Ryan Heath to move from the Alton Town Hall is still pending and is scheduled for trial on April 6.

In interviews Clay has given since his arrest, he said his biggest complaint about the Alton board is that there is a lack of transparency in conducting the town's business.

Clay said he understands the need for non-public sessions under limited and delineated rules established by the state Legislature but thinks the Alton board is entering non-public sessions unlawfully. He also said it is having public workshops at odd hours of the day so people can't attend them.

He said he learned they held a non-public session to discuss him, but he was not told nor was he given the option to have that meeting held in public, as is his right under RSA 91-A, the state Right-to-Know law.

Since Clay became a regular at the Alton selectmen meeting, the board has made changes to the way it handles public input.

On January 14, the board unanimously enacted a revised public participation policy that indicated members of the public are "privileged" to be able to address the board. The rules say the board will not hear complaints about individuals or employees of the town and that all speakers are to conduct themselves in a civil manner.

"Obscene, libelous, defamatory or violent statements will be considered out of order and will not be tolerated," reads a part of the new rules.

Those rules also say a person who has been warned about violating the above and continues to do so may be removed from the meeting.

During the public input that immediately followed the rule change, Clay expressed his displeasure with the lack of adherence to the Right-to-know law and told the board that having a police officer at every meeting was "intimidating" to people who have opinions to voice.

Clay was arrested at the very next meeting, in part for saying that some board members should resign and for demanding an independent study on the way the board conducts its business.

Then selectman David Hussey said Clay's statements were "deflamatory" and he left the room, returned with Heath, and Clay was arrested and removed.

Since Clay's arrest, a new board has been elected and it has again changed the way public comment will be conducted.

According to former Chair R. Loring Carr, the board voted four-to-one on March 16 to limit public comment to those addressing items that are on the agenda for that meeting.

When asked how a resident could address a item that is important to them but not on the agenda, Carr said the concerned person has only to speak to the town administrator or his secretary beforehand and he or she will be placed on the agenda.

He said the intent of the newest rule is to try and reach some kind of balance and keep some level of board/citizen decorum.

Retiring PSU President Sara Jayne Steen delivers final State of University address

PLYMOUTH — Asserting that "Plymouth State University is vibrant and energetically moving forward," President Sara Jayne Steen delivered a favorable report in her annual State of the University address on Wednesday. Citing continued success in experiential learning opportunities, an impressive recruitment and marketing effort, the culmination of a major fundraising campaign and campus capital improvements, Steen's message highlighted the university's achievements before faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

Steen announced earlier this year that she will be stepping away from the presidency in June, after leading the university since 2006. She thanked the faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends for all that has been accomplished in her tenure.

"I am honored to have served you for nine years as president," Steen said. "I have no doubt about the positive value of public higher education. I have seen what this campus and its people are made of, and I will always love PSU."

"I am grateful to the campus for your support and participation," Steen said at the top of her address. "You contribute your ideas, expertise and talent to keep the university both excellent in quality and financially solid. Because of your work, the state of the university is strong."

Steen emphasized PSU's goal of preparing students for productive, meaningful careers through experiential learning, a principle Plymouth State has embraced with continued success.

"PSU's culture of service with engagement is key to the experiential learning environment," Steen said. "We at PSU are fortunate to have rich, productive partnerships with our host communities of Plymouth and Holderness, and throughout the Lakes Region and North Country and across New Hampshire. They invite partners to engage with us in educating students at the same time that those students serve area schools, non-profits, businesses, and agencies."

In the past year, the institution has expanded its recruitment and marketing efforts. Steen noted those efforts have been successful.

"PSU has received an all-time high number of inquiries and applications for next fall," Steen said. "PSU is positioning itself for the future."

That future, stated Steen, includes the ALLWell North academic and athletic complex, slated to open this fall. The facility will be the largest academic building on campus, providing new space for classes and research, and for programs in health and human performance, community wellness, athletics and recreation.

The university recently reopened the venerable Samuel Read Hall Building after a $4-million renovation. Hall Building is now home to the departments of counselor education and school psychology and of nursing. The Center for the Environment and Center for Rural Partnerships are also located in the facility. The modernization allows PSU to expand capacity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs, including health disciplines, in Governor Hassan's proclaimed year of STEM.

Steen added that the university's greatest challenges moving forward are reinforcing its financial footing and ongoing student recruitment.

"We must continue to work on enrollment, on diversifying revenues, on continuing to manage resources prudently and effectively and on reallocating as necessary to pay for strategic investments."

This year also marks the conclusion of Steen's "Imagine a Way" fundraising campaign, which she launched in 2007 with a goal of raising $20 million in support. Her motivation, she said, was her own educational opportunity and success.

"Like many of you, I am a product of public higher education, as is my husband, and we live a better life than we once could have imagined," she said. "We hope that for our students. The future does begin with imagination, as we, in my mother's words, imagine a way."