THE NEW TALE OF THE WHITE HORSE
We were thrilled to accept an invitation from The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant to come over for a preview peak at their newly expanded great room dining room. We planned our excursion with a reservation for dinner and a chance to chat with John Harris, the slim, mustachioed owner/ genie and impresario of the establishment.
Although, I had never visited The White Horse, I had certainly heard and read about it, thought I knew (sort of) where it was located, and that I would recognize the grand white horse sign from the pictures. To make certain that I knew where I was going, I turned over the navigating (and the driving) to my house guest and dinner companion for the evening to get us there - no fuss.
We left my house in Pine Plains- my friend firmly in charge at the wheel and with google maps. I was not paying any attention- busily browsing the material which I gleaned from The White Horse website so that I could be well informed for John Harris. To my horror, I looked up when my friend said, "We're here"- there was indeed a large white sign with a beast on it-it just wasn't our beast. My poor friend (who was probably not going to be a friend much longer) had put the "hart" before the "horse", mixing up White Horse and will be over an hour late for our date with John.
You cannot miss the White Horse( that is if you start out correctly) in Marbledale, CT with its prominent painted sign of the striking white horse. (Warning: you might, however, miss
Marbledale if you blink... The White Horse put Marbledale on the map-not visa versa.) We found John Harris inside, and he welcomed us in to his hospitable place overflowing with great vibrations, food, drink, and folk.
Although the new tale of The White Horse should properly begin with John's recent three-year project and its culmination in the new dining room, we think that we must start with The White Horse back tale: John had us here from the get-go when he said that buying up and old, dilapidated roadhouse and trying to turn it into a great restaurant- in the middle of the 2008 mortgage/ housing crisis- could have been the most stupid thing he had ever done.
Well stupid or not, but certainly against better advice, John buys the old roadhouse. Working collaboratively with his wife, Lisa, the pair bring their collective hospitality, design, and decorating talents to bear to create an English-style pub with warm, comfy, dining spaces, welcoming fireplaces, and cozy nooks and crannies.
While John works on the master plan design and surround, Lisa begins to assemble a treasure trove of interesting decorative artifacts and furniture that will stuff The White Horse's public rooms. John explains that he was forever sending checks to far afield auction houses and antique dealers to cover Lisa's fabulous finds. We get a mini-guided tour, which includes spotting antique maps, 16th-century tavern tables and pub booths, the original 1840 White Horse pub sign from London, a 12th-century Medieval Knight's horse harness pendant... and, Oh, over there, a framed fender guitar signed by the Rolling Stones in 1978, paired with the concert tickets. Some customers, John says, get very involved identifying the artifacts, following the descriptive printed list like a treasure hunt around his dining rooms; others think that the eclectic mash-up adds texture, vibrancy, and is just great fun... We agree.
The White Horse's menu and dining options are as interesting and wide-ranging as Lisa's treasure trove of artifacts. Traditional English pub comfort food( think Fish and Chips, Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, Bangers & Mash) combine with more sophisticated, classic, and international cuisines- chicken Tikka Masala, Ahi Tuna Tartare, Japanese Wagyu Kobe-style beef burgers, Moules dining experience. The menu itself, which John and Lisa wrote, and is about as long as your arm, is as fun to read as are the items to eat. Quirky little White Horse comments desrcibles the individual dishes( from John, we think, given his sense of humor) make standard fare more interesting; the menu itself is a bit like a treasure hunt, unexpected, intriguing options popping up amidst the classics. With this attention to all the dining detail, it is not wonder that The White Horse has won just about everything in the "Best" category... Best Burger, Best Brunch, Best Lunch, Best Pub, ect. ect.
The White Horse, John's almost bigger mistake in 2009, quickly becomes "the living room" for extended neighborhood, folks drawn to the warm pub atmosphere, cozy fireside dining, good food, and company. John is pleased to explain that his parking lot is most always overflowing with an unlikely mix of transport- the Bentley next to the farm pick-up, the polished Ferrari next to a muddy motorcycle. This great mix of people - over 120,000 of them last year- make The White Horse their living room-home away from home on a regular basis.
"Nothing succeeds like success.... but only sort of," says John. The White Horse's huge popularity provokes some resulting difficulties: waiting lines to get a fireside or patio table, limitations imposed by the size of the kitchen, inadequate space for significant private functions. John addresses these issues: he develops a three-year plan to acquire an additional fourteen acres to accommodate expanded riverside deck and patio dining, a great new kitchen, additional parking and storage, and, most important the brand new great room dining room- the part of the tale we had come to investigate and are now about to see.
With John as a proud "parent" and guide, we enter The White Horse's new room through a wonderful Gothic entrance door and hand-carved, sliding barn doors. Although still warm and welcoming, the new room has a more elegant, baronial feel to it with its beautiful hand- hewn beams crossing the hall, antique, wide plank oak floors, and dramatic 19th Century gas chandelier. The tables are all unique... one composed of an antique Indian door, others created for parquet flooring from an old Parisian chateau ballroom. Sporting prints, antique mirrors, and old lighting fixtures add interest, and warm light welcomes.
While all of this is to great effect, the show-stopper masterstroke in the room is the great fireplace topped with a large drowsy stone lion. Lisa found "Fluffy" (the quite improbable name of the 150-year-old-lion!) in the Borghese museum when traveling in Rome. She called John and said that they had to have it and that John better get ready to build it a new home in their new room. John did build it, and "Fluffy" now surveys his new home with is benign, guarding eye.
We love "Fluffy". We think the new great room is well, great. We love the extended patio and deck dining along the little river. We applaud "John the Genie" for upgrading, maintaining, and art directing his river frontage and making it so pretty and welcoming. I enjoyed my cocktail before dinner... it had a little duck floating in it- "Lucky Duck," one of The White Horse signatures. My almost "ex"-friend very much liked his Chicken Pot Pie, which came adorned with a very realistic, flakey pastry version of The White Horse, standing atop the crust. (I took the little pastry horse home as a souvenir of our delightful evening.)
Honestly, we just liked ever5tyhing and are quite certain that you will also. So, the best is ti trot on over- the sooner, the better, to take advantage of the lovely outside dining while you can... but then there is always "Fluffy's" fireside den if there is a bit of a chill... and enjoy the food, drink, surround, and company in fine White Horse style. And make sure to say "Cheers" to Fluffy for us.
The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant is located on route 202 in Marbledale, CT. You can easily spot The White Horse pub sign and the stone tower with The White Horse silhouette inlaid in a circle motif. For further information, call 860-868-1496 or visit the website, www.thewhitehorse.com.
Diana Niles King, a world traveler and observer of cultures and their cuisines, is a longtime resident of Pine Plains, along with her chickens, Lurcher, Norwegian Forest Cat, and beautiful new white horse... similar in style to the one that caught her eye in the story above.