The Tavern is rustic and hearty, with elegance

Author: By Mark Roland
Posted: Monday, February 22, 2010

    The temperature was south of 20 degrees the night my party of four pulled into the driveway of the Highlands Country Club for a celebration dinner. As we entered the restaurant, diners looked our way to see who was bringing the cold air into the cozy confines of the dining area, which featured three long tavern style tables plus our table for four, all accompanied by no-nonsense, well-used wooden chairs and adorned with white candles burning in candlesticks.

    After handing off our heavy coats, cornbread with apple butter appeared, and we dug right in. It was flatter than your typical style, with a crusting to the top, and did not suffer from the crumbliness of thicker cornbreads. Tastebuds engaged, we ordered apps, which used to be short for appetizers.

    The salads sounded delicious and highlighted local greens, so I asked our server what that might mean in the middle of February. The answer was spinach, spinach, or spinach, grown in a greenhouse on an adjacent property owned by the country club. I was eying an entrée special that featured spinach, so I choose the Shrimp Fagiole, a hearty mix of shrimp, sausage, and cannellini beans, seasoned with a touch of garlic and served on a thick slice of toasted Italian bread.

    Hearty is a good adjective for The Tavern food. Most of the starters could serve as a light meal in themselves, and the entrees were all generously portioned, though not gluttonously so. But that doesn’t mean that all subtlety and surprise goes out the window. My partner’s app of choice, The Tavern Soup, featured local Kabocha squash with a swirl of cream flavored with a note of maple. The other couple decided to share the Raclette, a wintertime fondue style dish of Swiss origin made from a cheese of the same name. Here it is served with chunks of toasted bread and an out-of the ordinary array of pickled veggies, including an assortment of radish varieties.

    Starters devoured, the entrees arrived in a flurry of quiet efficiency. Our table was surrounded by previously unnoticed staff to help our server present all the dishes at once, a small but not a frivolous touch, indicative of the perfectly modulated service —always attentive, never intrusive.

    The special of the evening, Italian-style local beef stew with creamy polenta and spinach, was placed in front of me. Arranged in a rectangular serving bowl with the three foods running vertically across, the colors formed the Il tricolore, the flag of Italy (though with the colors out of order. Tsk tsk.) The polenta was heavenly, the creamy texture still weighty enough, and with a welcome peppery back kick, while the beef was not overwhelmed by the tomato base and had that fall-off-the-bone consistency of a stew meat patiently cooked.

    One of my companions ordered the steak, which on this evening was rib eye. Cuts vary as the chef makes his way through a half a cow at a time over the course of a week or two. It was served with local root vegetables – the baby parsnips and carrots were the standouts. My partner Stephanie went with the lead-off entrée, pork confit, apparently a favorite among The Tavern regulars. This dish featured twice-fried potatoes, best described as well-done gourmet tater tots, only better—yum!

    Although the offered fare at The Tavern features plenty of meat, we were told the chef is highly accommodating and, in addition, features local ingredients whenever possible. So that if any of your party were vegetarian, he could, for example, prepare a pasta featuring the root vegetables.

By meals’ end we were thoroughly sated, but we had to sample a few desserts, which turned out to be the only slight disappointment of the evening. We shared the chocolate chip cookies and a slice of vanilla cheesecake. The cookies were no doubt right out of the oven, almost too hot to handle, but they had an aftertaste and did not appear to be homemade. The dessert menu features an extensive selection, however, including the fudge brownie sundae recommended by our server.

    Our server also told us the side dishes change seasonally, and spoke of a summer salad featuring heirloom tomatoes in yellow, green, and red, garnished only with a drizzle of olive oil. Summer will be here eventually, but in the meantime the Tavern offers a cozy late-winter setting and heartily satisfying cold weather fare. Dinner for four, including appetizers, four glasses of wine, two bottles of sparkling water and two desserts was $200.

The Tavern at Highlands Country Club

955 Rte. 9D, Garrison, (845) 424-3254

Entrees $20-$30

Categories: Restaurants

Tags: restaurants,dining,The Tavern

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