FOOD FOR WHICH WE WOULD DRIVE MILES By Elizabeth B. Potter As our distribution range for The Country and Abroad magazine keeps growing so has our taste for regional cuisine in upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Today, there's a wealth of high-class restaurants creating (and gestating) in these hills, and I might add competing with the finer restaurants in New York City, Chicago and California. Upstate in the country, "high-class" means attractive, classy, casual, and comfy restaurants offering the finest local fare in the region, simple to complex, created from locally grown vegetables and other produce, as well as poultry, meat, and fish raised on local farms and in the immediate regional byways. The specialties we want to single out are made by talented chefs and restaurant owners, many who have left the big cities and who impart knowledge of the world's classic cuisines and are recreating dishes with contemporary innovations and surprises. In order to experience the many fine restaurants growing in our quad-state region but also to continue to re-feature our favorites from the past - to keep them in the forefront of our readership - we have decided to inaugurate a "Best Bites" column, in which we will single out a few of our favorite specialties - both classic and contemporary - from a couple of restaurants in each state, hoping to send you, our readership, out of your immediate region to drive, say 30 or 45 miles for the "Best Bites." The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant, Marbledale, CT
In the Spring of 2010, we tried lunch and then dinner at the White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant and thought it was Excellent - the food, the decor, the locale, the service, and yes, the cost. We have revisited this restaurant several times during the past year and it's become one of our special favorites, a place where you can enjoy really good food and "star" gaze at the same time. The Best Bites we would cite are: the French Onion Soup ($4.75), Superior Fish and Chips ($12.50); Steakhouse Shepherds Pie ($14.75), Chicken Crepes with Wild Mushroom Sauce ($12); and the House Signature Burger ($11.75). I have heard diners quibble about what makes a French Onion Soup authentic. French chef Fabrice Denis at the White Horse, the son of two Parisian chefs, has grown up with and serves the Parisian bistro version. I would say the White Horse French Onion Soup is the best around - and a meal unto itself - traditional and topped with a mound of melted Gruyere and a toasted crouton. And why is the Superior Fish and Chips superior ? Because most versions, whether British or American, are soggy or under-fried or over-fried. Chef Denis has learned how to prepare the best of the British and American classics, as well as French bistro specialties. His crunchy-crisp, batter-coated slices of fresh tender cod, served with English-style tartar sauce - are still the crunchiest around! - and accompanied by home- cooked seasoned British Fries and Sweet Potato Fries, traditional English malt vinegar or American ketchup or both. Also, a great favorite with kids, as are the Mac and Three Cheeses, Chicken Crunch and Chips, the semi-private seventeenth-century English pub booths, and the iconic 1920s motorcycle over the bar. The Steakhouse Shepherd's Pie is another British classic that I would drive miles for, here made with ground sirloin, carrots, peas, and onions in a rich brown sauce, topped with mashed potatoes, slowly baked, then lightly browned under a broiler. Also highly recommended are other English classics, particularly the Chicken Pot Pie and Beef Guinesss Stew. The Chicken Crepes, traditionally French, consist of tender bits of chicken, wild mushrooms, and shallots, slowly simmered in a scrumptious chardonnay-based white sauce - light and fragrant, and served with British Fries. My husband is the expert on hamburgers, but on a recent occasion I tried the White Horse Signature Burger without him being present. A blend of Black Angus sirloin, brisket, and short rib topped with bacon, caramelized onions, Sage Derby Blue Cheese Sauce, seared rare, and served with Romaine lettuce and sliced tomato on a toasted buttered brioche, I thought this burger was the best around - "succulent and juicy," as their menu promises. This hamburger was so large that I had it wrapped, reheating the remaining half when I got home and offering it to my husband, a complainer about local burgers, who loved it, even reheated ! - "Now that's a burger!" Better than PJ Clarke's and the late McBell's in Manhattan. The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant is located on Rte 202 in Marbledale, CT, a couple miles south of New Preston in the town of Washington, CT> For GPS users: 258 New Milford Turnpike, New Preston (Marbledale) 06777. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner 11 to 10pm, bar until closing. 860 868 1496, www.whitehorsecountrypub.com.