Cozy, Culinary Delights British, French and American Classics at their best: White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant in Marbledale, CT *****EXCELLENT by Elizabeth B. Potter
The new White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant will put Marbledale, Connecticut on the map for our readers throughout the quad-state region-that is New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. An earlier version of this restaurant had for many years a reputation for good food with local Connecticut diners, primarily those from the Litchfield Hills and northern Fairfield County. Busy and somewhat raucous, this earlier tavern was known for its good burgers and draft beers.
Let me just say that The White Horse has undergone a facelift. Gone are the dark rooms and dank bar smells. John Harris, a native of England who has owned and designed restaurants in London, New York City, and Westport, bought the White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant in December 2008, closed it for six months, and re-opened it in June, 2009. The new restaurant has been thoughtfully redesigned with large windows, decks, and patio, which show off the formerly invisible but now flowing (gently) Sweet Aspetuck River. The interior of the restaurant features two well-lit, well-reconstructed dining rooms. The room at the northern end sports a classy mahogany bar as well as tables in front of a large stone fireplace on which hangs the origina11840 pub sign painting from the original White Horse Pub in Mayfair, London, England. Cathedral ceilings expose early, primitive barn beams, possibly early Dutch. A comfy, inviting fire, along with interesting antiques and artifacts frame this room. Ancient pictures decorate the walls, also early documents, e.g. a1488 land deed from northern France, a 1649 pamphlet from Parliament issued after Charles I's deposition, a document issued during the 41st year of Queen Elizabeth I's reign, a 1597 manuscript with Elizabeth I's seal, also a 1641 oak tavern table-in continuous use, an Elizabethan oak chest of drawers, and behind the bar a much later twentieth-century artifact, a red Indian Chief motorcycle from 1920, which apparently broke the land speed record at 200 mph. The southern room with its very large windows shows off the decks and patio, which will be used again when warm weather returns in May. Meanwhile, in addition to dining tables, this room features several large old pub-styled oak booths, shipped over from London, comfortable and private. My dining partner from Litchfield Hills was already seated in a booth when I arrived a bit breathless from running across Rte 202 from a neighboring parking lot. (The main parking lot was filled with the cars of the Saturday lunch diners at 1:30 pm.)
Our server, charming and attractive (and as we would learn, tolerant and patient regarding our numerous questions) brought us our menus immediately and soon after glasses of ice water as I had missed breakfast and wanted to try some food before sampling the wine. My friend tried Guinness Stout on tap, which he enjoyed. While studying the luncheon menu he brought to my attention the fact that all the entrees were under $20. Was this a guy thing? But as I perused the menu, I noticed that all the appetizers and salads were under $10, and that the hamburgers, for which the restaurant's new incarnation continues to be known, range from $7.50 to $13.50. Later, when I had time to study the complete menus I realized that the prices on the dinner menu were the same prices as those on the lunch menu. And the daily specials were also under $20. I was impressed.
You see, recently we had been invited by a restaurant in Dutchess County to a special "game dinner:" $65 for dinner, not including drinks, tax, or gratuity. I quickly figured that any couple buying the game dinner- add a couple of glasses of wine, tax, and a 20% tip if the dinner and service were any good at all-would spend a minimum of $200 per couple. I also find the prices, particularly for "special holiday dinners" served on Valentine's Day, New Year's, Christmas, and Easter, unnecessarily high in our northeast region, often starting at $55 to $65.And usually because there are so many holiday celebrants dining out, the food and service are not the best. I also have observed that many of the better restaurants in the mid-Hudson region, particularly on the east side of the Hudson, are often pricier than their counterparts in western Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and southern Vermont, with entrees starting at $24 and climbing to $44 and appetizers and salads starting at $10 to $12. Well, relief is in sight. ..During Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which features Hudson Valley produce, diners can enjoy three-course, prix-fiXe lunches for $20 and dinners for $28 at participating restaurants. And often the participating restaurants in the Hudson Valley extend their menus for five to six weeks.
With his French chef, Fabrice Denis, John Harris at The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant has created a versatile menu of British classics with French and American touches, which will appeal to adults and children alike, all reasonably priced and featuring local produce. Although Fabrice Denis is the son of two Parisian chefs, he has learned how to prepare some of the best British and American food that I have tasted in a long while. Some of the British "old favorites" include Fish and Chips, Shepherd's Pie, Guinness Beef Stew, British Raj (Curried) Chicken Salad, Steak and Blue Cheese Salad, and Bangers & Mash. The French bistro classics include French Onion Soup, Chicken Crepes with a Wild Mushroom Sauce, Omelettes du Jour, Moules Frites, Croque Monsieur, Pain Bagnard, Crepes Princess (aka Suzette), Creme Brulee, and Poires Belle Helene. The American enduring traditions include all manner of hamburgers (six varieties ranging from The Classic Pub to the Kobe Burger) also Chili, Coconut Shrimp, Clams Casino, Chicken Wings, Quesadillas, Mac and Cheese, and Philly Cheese Steak. The Guinness Beef Stew ($16.75) is a wonderful pick-me-up; perfect comfort food for cold, rainy, and snowy days. We tasted small bites of tender, succulent Angus beef with pieces of carrots, potatoes, and onions slowly roasted in a brown sauce made richer with Guinness, served over mashed potatoes, and garnished with parsley sprigs. The Steakhouse Shepherd's Pie ($14.75) is another winner, made with ground sirloin, carrots, peas, and onions in a rich sauce, topped with mashed potatoes, slowly baked, and then lightly browned under the broiler. Having experienced a slight case of food poisoning while dining out on rather soggy fish and chips the week before (possibly due to bad oil), I was nervous about ordering The White Horse's Fish and Chips. What arrived was Superior Fish and Chips ($12:50), aptly named as these were crunchy-crisp batter-coated slices of fresh tender cod served with tartar sauce, and accompanied by a combination of seasoned British Fries and Sweet Potato Fries, with malt vinegar and/or ketchup. Ah, perfection, the best tasting and crunchiest Fish and Chips I have ever had.
I also sampled Chef Fabrice Denis's Chicken Crepes, very fragrant and tasty with saut ed chicken, wild mushrooms, and shallots. What was that other familiarly fragrant ingredient? Chardonnay. These very light, and tender crepes are filled with bits of chicken simmered along with the wild mushrooms and minced shallots in a scrumptious, Chardonnay-based sauce. Divine. Finally, we tried a daily special: Crabmeat-Stuffed Sole. The fish was good, tender, and not - over-cooked, served with broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower and also couscous-the delicious couscous creating an especially nice touch, but in comparison with the Guinness Beef Stew, Shepherd's Pie, Fish and Chips, and Chicken Crepes, which were simply fantastic, the sole and crabmeat lacked flair.
I am planning to return to the White Horse Country Pub as soon as possible and I am looking forward to trying the French Onion Soup, something called Amazing White Horse Chicken Crunch ($6.75), the Country Cobb Salad ($9.75) with avocado, turkey, and blue cheese, and the Warm Goat Cheese Salad ($8) with baked Montrachet wrapped in puff pastry. A Topless Kobe Burger Salad ($12.50) also sounds good with an Akaushi Kobe patty resting atop warmed baby spinach and tossed with vinaigrette.
In fact, all of Chef Fabrice Denis's Burgers sound great, and I look forward to trying one. The Classic Pub Burger ($7.75), with or without cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, can also be prepared with Applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, saut ed wild mushrooms, or charred poblano chilies (add $1 for each). Meanwhile, the House Signature Burger ($11.75), said to be the White Horse's most excellent burger-extravagant, succulent, and juicy-is made from a blend of Black Angus sirloin, brisket, and short rib, and accompanied with Sage Derby Blue Cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, Romaine leaves, Heirloom tomatoes, and.a special seasoned sauce on a toasted buttered brioche. Doesn't that sound great? And a pint of domestic draft is $1 when served with a House Signature Burger at the bar. All Burgers come with a mix of Seasoned British Fries and a smattering of Sweet Potato Fries.
The desserts are made daily in house. The Banoffi Pie ($6), an English dessert and said to be "favored by the royals;' is a banana, toffee, cream pie "kind of thing" that is said to be delicious. Crepes Princesse was renamed Crepes Suzette by the Prince of Wales. This is a dessert to enjoy while dining out, just try Chef Denis's version, because crepes can take inexperienced cooks all day to prepare. We split an English Toffee Pecan Pie, which tasted great, but longed to try the Bourbon Bread Pudding, Royal Apple Bursa-Cinnamon-roasted apples wrapped in puff pastry and served with a rum caramel sauce and ice cream, Creme Brulee light vanilla custard with a crisp caramelized crust, fruit cobblers, Lemon Meringue Pie, Poires Belle Helene, ice creams, and sorbets.
The wines by the glass, which are Wine Spectator recommended, are not expensive, with red and white wines ranging from $5 to $7. I tried a New Zealand Chardonnay, which was not "oaky" and complimented the fish dishes. It may have been Flying Piano, but alas, I can't remember. Also available are Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios. Red wines by the glass include Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chiantis, and Merlots. A more extensive wine list by the bottle is also available, as well as a list of reserve wines. Draught Beers include Old Speckled Hen, Guinness, Bass, and Stella Artois at $4.50.
The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant is located on Rte 202 in Marbledale, CT, just beyond New Preston on the way to New Milford. If you are using a GPS, put in the address: 258 New Milford Turnpike, New Preston (Marbledale) 06777. It is located in the Township of Washington in western Connecticut. Open seven days for lunch and dinner from 11 to 10 pm, bar until closing. ***** Excellent