November 2007 – Palmer House Café Tavern (dt)
5.50 - 7, 6, 6, 5.5, 5.5, 5.5, 5, 3.5
Has character? or is it quirky?
The restaurant, not us! The fearless band of eight headed into the early darkness that is late November westward, then north, then east, before parking on Rensselaerville’s Main Street and sliding up the alleyway to the Tavern part of Palmer House Café, whose main part we had frequented nearly five years ago as the Palmer House. (Since then, according to the Times Union, chef Bill Benson plies his career at the Crooked Lake House, while his wife runs the restaurant.)
We entered into what looks like someone’s house, turned left through a regular doorway into the Tavern, with its chair railing lined, forest-green painted walls. A twenty foot L-shaped bar breaks the larger room into two smaller parts, with the smaller part, where we found ourselves, a clumsy place to get into, with only a couple of feet to squeeze through, but very convenient for a larger table. It was one of the quietest settings we have been to, with our two sides of four mostly able to hear the length of the table. Four bare, small tables were placed side-by-side, topped by a coarse fabric placemat. The view from the north end looked toward the bar and other tables, a bit more interesting than the view from the south end which looked at a bare wall and an unfinished electric receptacle. A few bar residents sat ten feet away while the bartender Rochelle (sp?) was attempting to be two or three people.
We happened upon the scene with one waitstaff missing (who showed up after an hour) but Rochelle was trying to bartend and wait table by herself. Not enough menus meant we shared, and we read the specials board. The menu is a combination of creative local mixes, with some light fare and home cooking country comfort type foods, comprising a short list of choices that succeeded in covering a wide range. Adding to the mix were three announcements that items we had ordered were not available.
The busboy, under duress but with a cooperative smile, took our drink order of two bottles of Chianti Classico, two glasses of pinot grigio, and a diet soda. A basket of artisan bread, with two small bowls of butter, kept the early nibblers happy. Later, a basket of pumpkin biscuits and cheddar bread kept the feeling going.
Appetizers were ordered and arrived about twenty minutes later. The mesclun salad with gorgonzola and walnuts kept five of us happy, with a variety of texture and taste; Tom and Deb K had the mesclun with parmesan vinaigrette – ok but a little underwhelming. Tim ordered the warm pumpkin and pear bisque, and thought it good.
The entrees took nearly an hour after the arrival of appetizers, a wait of about fifteen minutes longer than we often see. Deb T and Tim had the pecan encrusted pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and vegetables (Deb savored every piece, Tim thought the crust was way too much); Deb K had the Portobello mushroom layered with polenta and topped with sauce (delicious); Don and Kriss had the chicken and biscuits, with chunks of chicken, light biscuits, peas in a cream sauce, sided with tasty root vegetables (Brussels sprouts too) (Don thought it good; Kriss thought not-up-to-par, with real chicken gravy missing); Chay had the Cajun meat loaf, with a topping of a zesty, but not hot, tomato-based mix (ok, not his usual order); and Judy ordered the blackened bluefish, which turned out to be more blackened than Judy wanted, anesthetizing any flavor of fish (she found the root vegetables excellent); Ken yielded the pork to someone else and instead ordered a medium-well strip steak, which he found moist and excellent. Those of us who had the root vegetable side thought they were excellent. And the mashed potatoes were deemed tasty but one order was decidedly cold.
The dessert list was also minimal but interesting. The third shortage of the night meant the existence of only one piece of chocolate cream pie, which was shared by Kriss and Deb K (very good); Don tried the pumpkin roulade (good, a bit more cream than expected); Deb T had the apple-cranberry tart (very good); Judy ordered the pecan bread pudding with caramel-banana sauce (good, but would have been better warmed); Ken and Tim sufficed with Frangelica; and Chay ordered a foul and undrinkable ounce of an ancient bottle of Sambuca that should have been replaced many cold nights earlier (not charged).
Service was a bit off-beat, as hinted at before. The space behind us (one side the exterior wall, the other side up against the bar edge) was tight enough that we offered to pass down the line anything that needed to be passed. Or, Rochelle would hand the plates over the bar to Deb K, Chay and Kriss who were the closest ones. And, in return, we would stack our own plates and set them to the bar. Very informal, but I think we were ok with it; others might have been offended.
The missing waitstaff arrived about mid-entrée consumption, which made Rochelle’s life less hectic. The pacing was a bit long, due more to a night short on waitstaff than to a deliberate plan, maybe. Rochelle was friendly, appreciative to our informality and acceptance of the reality; we are still country enough to be in the mood to enjoy it once in a while. She is to be commended for the adept juggling performance.
The room temperature was an issue, with the room being a few degrees below comfortable, before the electric portable heater was turned on, with Ken and Tim being the closest to the new warmth; Chay, who sat on the far side, had the additional factor of a cold window off his left shoulder and needed to don his jacket for warmth. Water was abundant, and Ken’s coffee was plentiful but grittier than he liked.
Prices for salads and desserts were within average range; however, the entrees were each several dollars less expensive than most places we try. Thus, a final tab of about $85, including food, drink, tax and tip, was one of our lightest tabs for a full range of a meal that we have seen in some time.
Earlier in the evening, we had convened at the Teator
house, and inspected and enjoyed Deb’s Christmas decorations. We caught up on
news, mostly about Thanksgiving, our offspring, Deb’s mom, and general welfare
The slightly-longer-than-needed itinerary took us out 145 to Fox Creek Road to CR 358 before settling in to R’ville. The way home was the more usual ride home, ....
So, night’s end showed another enjoyable dinner together. Also, the evening marked the fifth anniversary of DP8! Perhaps, it was fitting that a “bit of character” would show through all the way around.