CENTER HARBOR — Sometimes the greatest culinary revelations occur when two items that don't necessarily have anything to do with one another become combined. And that's how the newest dining establishment in Center Harbor came to be – Bellies and Butts, located at 313 Whittier Highway in Center Harbor, which combines under one roof the talents of Jess Stephens, who owns Cider Bellies Doughnuts, and Scott Ouellette, a prolific restaurateur who has been honing his barbecue recipes under the brand Rubbin' Butts BBQ.
The idea for the restaurant happened almost by accident. Ouellette was at the ice skating festival that Center Harbor throws each winter, and looked across the street at the vacant storefront, which most recently housed Center Harbor Provisions. He mused aloud that it could be a great place for him to use as a home for his growing barbecue business, which up to that point had only been available as a catering option. Someone he was standing with, who was familiar with Stephens' product, suggested that she could offer coffee and doughnuts in the morning, and he could serve barbecue for the lunch and dinner crowd. Ouellette said the name for the new business came immediately to a third member of the party.
"My mother was standing there and said, 'Hey! Bellies and Butts!' and the idea was born," he said. "I think it took us all of five minutes to think, 'this is a brilliant idea'."
That idea became a reality last week, when Bellies and Butts opened to the public. Ouellette's work is well known to Lakes Region residents, or to anyone interested in fine dining in New Hampshire. Ouellette, along with business partner Andy Juhasz, operate seven other food businesses, including O Steak and Seafood in Laconia, Canoe in Center Harbor, the Inn on Main and O Bistro in Wolfeboro, and Magic Foods Catering.
Meanwhile Cider Bellies Doughnuts, which started six years ago as a food cart at Moulton Farm in Meredith, has quickly grown. In addition to the Moulton Farm location, Stephens also sells her doughnuts out of a food truck in Hooksett. Bellies and Butts will be her third sales point, and the first one that is a brick-and-mortar building.
Stephens expects the morning business to be mostly for locals on their way to work, or vacationers heading out for a day of adventure. Her doughnuts are made fresh daily, not too sweet and with a gentle blend of spices. She serves them plain, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, or striped with a maple glaze. She also offers muffins, and coffee drinks. Coffees will be made using beans from Woodshed Roasting Company, located in Laconia. The morning beverage menu includes espresso and cappuccino drinks and nitro-charged, cold-brewed iced coffee.
"Having Cider Bellies here in the morning will be a great use of the space that we won't be using (at that time of day)," said Ouellette. He will also ask Stephens to leave him with a batch of doughnuts to sell throughout the day, and also to incorporate into dessert recipes, such as doughnut bread pudding, or doughnut sundaes.
Although he runs several other restaurants, Bellies and Butts will be different from his other ventures. It will be his first that will be casual dining, and, while there are a few tables, he expects most of his business to be call-ahead take-out. Located within view of Center Harbor's town docks, both doughnuts and barbecue will likely become favorite foods for island residents to pick up and bring back to camp.
"Everything here, the idea is to do nothing from concentrate, everything from scratch," he said. Rubs and sauces for his smoked meats will be made in-house, as well as all of the sides, and fresh salads in the summer time. The smoked sausages, made by North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, are an exception.
Ouellette's barbecue style is a mix of regional styles. He prepares his brisket in the Texas tradition, with a simple rub of salt and pepper. Pork ribs are East Coast Southern, and Ouellette prefers to cook his ribs until the meat is ready to fall off the bone – unlike so-called "competition" ribs, which still require a firm bite.
A chef known for fine dining cuisine, Ouellette started dabbling in barbecue five years ago.
"This started out from just a love of barbecue and wanting to have barbecue for a party I was throwing for my mom and dad." Ouellette couldn't find a suitable vendor to cater the affair, so he resolved to provide the food himself. That experience captured his imagination, and he has been working on his recipes and technique since. He now has three custom-made smokers, a double-barreled cooker that will be parked at Bellies and Butts, a single-barrel that can be trailered to off-site events, and another single that will provide food for concert goers at Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion.
"I think this is going to be a really fun location," said Ouellette.
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