I love living in the Adirondacks. It's not like other places. For example, the majority of people in this country battle traffic on their way to work, on their way home from work, and then again when they venture out to play. If I were anywhere else but here and I wanted a meal out, I'd possibly be faced with the prospect of navigating through red lights and irate drivers.
My “ordeal” to eat out tonight involves a beautiful ride through the mountains, where the last golden rays of sunlight set the autumn leaves ablaze, and along Lincoln Pond lined with quiet cottages that until recently were bustling with summer folk.
Heading to the Deer's Head Inn in Elizabethtown, my wife and I managed not to see another car on the road until we got into town. In fact, the only thing we shared the road with were two whitetails that came out of a bog in a hurry without looking both ways first. Just to be simpatico with the rest of the driving nation, I shook my fist at them. I mean, it was rush hour after all.
The Deer's Head Inn, for those of you who don't know it, is a beloved landmark in Essex County. Its long history begins in 1808 and is an epic tale in the telling. Many of the residents in E-town are history buffs, and I will leave it to them to fill you in on all the twists and turns on how it came to be where it is today. Me, I'm hungry. Tonight my interest in history goes only as far back as my last meal there. Can the new owners hold a candle to the previous ones? It will be a tough trick to pull off, as E-towners have long memories and a fondness for the old Deer's Head (and for good food).
When you arrive at the Deer's Head Inn, you will appreciate the historic setting you are about to enter. The wraparound porch is set with tables for alfresco dining as long as the weather permits. When you enter the front door you are welcomed by the broad staircase with its original newel post, and also, in my case, Chelsea, our hostess and waitress for the evening.
We were escorted into the dining area and could see the first visible changes the new owners, Aaron Woolf and Rob DeMuro, had made. The floor plan had been opened up, new flooring had been laid down, and the light color scheme gave an airy feel to the room. One familiar face that still greets visitors is the namesake, the old trophy buck above the mantle.
Taking our seats, Chelsea gave us menus to look over and left us to peruse them. If you come to the Deer's Head Inn, don't forget your reading glasses. There are lots of choices to read through on the wine lists, the beer list, the cocktail list, the appetizer menu, and the main menu.
If you are squinting to read the 21 varieties of wine pictured in the photo, then I'm guessing you know more about the subject than me, but if you feel at sea in the face of this embarrassment of riches, then I will offer a small piece of advice to the novice. There are three choices here that are quite good and will cover most any meal you will order. For fish and seafood I would recommend the Falanghina, for white meat the Vermentino, and for red meat the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. All three of these are undervalued wines. That's a fancy way of saying nobody knows how very good they are, so they're cheap. Plus, it always sounds impressive when you tell your dinner companions about undervalued wines — feel free to use the spiel on any wine you order, I always do.
In the end we decided against wine in favor of a cocktail for me, and ice tea with fresh garden mint for my wife, which happens to be her standard of measure for judging a restaurant (a seemingly simple yet telling test of quality according to her).
The cocktail menu is a fun list of signature drinks, that, like most of the food here, are made from locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. I was sorely tempted by the “Courtney Fir” with its tequila, rosemary, and fir flavors, but opted for the New Russia Mule, mainly because the word play tickled me. Anyone visiting the area who has been through nearby New Russia with its sudden majestic views opening up as you drive down twisty roads will appreciate this memorable drink named in its honor.
The honey flavor of Vermont's Barr Hill gin is what sets this apart from the traditional Moscow Mule. Other than that it is a familiar favorite, served in a copper mug and, in this case, getting its gingery kick from Saranac Ginger Beer.
Our bartender, Leslie, was kept busy mixing cocktails as the orders came in. It was heartwarming to see so few beers served while we were there. This was a cocktail crowd, and they were not disappointed. When things got really busy co-owner Aaron Woolf lent a hand, suggesting choices of artisanal spirits to patrons from the impressive collection of liquors behind the bar, even bringing bottles table-side for inspection.
Oh, and that ice tea? The Missus said it was good, real good. High praise, indeed.
I'm not going to lie to you, it was a long hard decision making up our minds. After agonizing for some time I decided on the “1808 Grilled Burger” with locally raised ground beef, Dutch Knuckle cheese, locally grown tomatoes, onion straws, lettuce, and hand-cut french fried potatoes garnish.
Can I just take a moment for an aside to talk to you about cheeses? Whether you live here or are just visiting, whenever you see the phrase “Dutch Knuckle” just open your wallet and hand over your money. I guarantee you will not regret it. Sugar House Creamery is responsible for this world class alpine style cheese, and I hope to god they never run out. Would you believe there is another equally insanely good cheese made locally? Yes, it's true! I know, right? It's Asgaard Farm's Barkeater Buche, a soft goat cheese that has to be experienced to be believed. As far as I'm concerned, these two cheeses are proof that I've lived a good life some few reincarnations ago. OK, back to our regularly scheduled burger...
The quality of the beef was the star of this sandwich. The freshness of the ground was apparent in the texture, and the fat content was perfect for just the right amount of juiciness and mouth feel. The Dutch Knuckle, as always, raises anything it touches to a higher level. As large as the burger was, somehow it disappeared in short order.
My wife's choice was the semi-boneless Spatchcock chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and locally grown acorn squash. (“Spatchcock," can anyone say that word without snickering?) Anyway, the whole affair was cooked to perfection, with the vegetables attaining that level of yumminess that only long roasting can impart. The chicken was prepared skillfully, and while I don't have a problem with regular chicken, this dish certainly made it easy to enjoy the poultry without fuss.
We were too full to even consider the dessert choices, so full, in fact, that we couldn't even feel sorry about missing out on the raspberry cobbler. I think on our next visit we may make a meal of the cheese board and charcuterie board appetizers, to make sure there is room for sweets afterwards.
As we were finishing our meal, Mr. Woolf graciously came to our table to wish us well and ask how our food was. It was a fine meal all around and a pleasant touch to be sent on our way by a charming host.
If ever you are in the Elizabethtown area, you must stop into the Deer's Head Inn to experience it firsthand. The food and hospitality are worth the drive from anywhere.
Put these places on your ADK must-visit list!