Our Gourmet: Country Tavern in Nashua is so familiar, yet so surprising
Funny how we all have the tendency to overlook good things that are right under our noses, like the kid who doesn't want to go to the top-notch college that's one town away or, in our case, not being very excited about going to a restaurant that's practically around the corner.
That's how I approached the Country Tavern, a restaurant not far from our home in a building that traces its history back more than 200 years. (They'll be happy to tell you about their resident ghost, Elizabeth.)
Several times over the years, The Dining Companion has suggested we visit the Country Tavern for a review, but I, being a neighbor's-grass-is-always-greener type, have always come up with another, more distant location instead. But at last, this time TDC got her way. And I am glad she did.
The restaurant is in a restored Cape-style house — one of the few remaining residential-style properties on this stretch of Amherst Street. Patrons enter in the back on the lower level and climb a flight of stairs to the hostess stand and dining areas. The main dining rooms are to the left, and are decorated true to the building's Colonial roots.
To the right is the barn-style bar, which includes an upstairs seating/dining loft. Both bar spaces include table seating and comfortable leather upholstered conversation areas. We sat in the main bar when we visited on a Saturday night (the hostess advised there was a large family group in the dining room, and we might have a quieter dinner that way).
The Country Tavern's menu is fairly short, and isn't particularly fancy. The appetizers are, for the most part, pub-fare standards like wings, potato skins, bruschetta and so on. We chose the Jonah Crab Cakes ($8.95) and the most intriguing item on the list, PB&J Wings ($9.75).
The wings, separated into drumettes and wingettes, were crisply fried and coated in a sauce made, the menu said, from jam and Thai peanut sauce. I was skeptical, but the reference to Thai convinced me to try it. To my taste, "PB&J" is an apt title. I was disappointed that the Thai flavor didn't come through until fairly late. We both liked the wings, but TDC more than I. After three or four I found the sauce a little cloying.
Our other appetizer, the crab cakes, were nothing special. The crabmeat in the cakes was of the flake variety and not much of a presence in the mix of breading, peppers and spices.
(While the apps were only average on this night, on a subsequent visit I tried one of the tavern's appetizer specials, Pulled Pork Eggrolls, and thought they were fantastic. So your experience may vary from ours.)
After the appetizers, I was feeling kind of smug that my reticence about our restaurant choice was justified. But then the entrees arrived, and I became a believer.
Again, the entree menu is fairly basic: fish, beef, chicken and pasta, with four or five entries in each category. But in the execution of those old standbys, the Country Tavern was far above average.
I ordered the Filet Migon ($20.95), a tender, melt in your mouth 7-ounce cut of of medium-rare deliciousness served with Bearnaise sauce. I ordered mashed potatoes and the veggie du jour, which was mashed sweet potatoes. (Had I known that, I might have opted for a different starch, but the two mashes were just fine together.)
TDC ordered Cedar Plank Salmon from the specials menu. It was a generous fillet of salmon, lightly glazed with maple syrup and roasted on a thin shingle of cedar. This was TDC's first experience with plank-cooked salmon, and she's ready to go back for more. But what she's really looking to go back for is the side dish: a fantastic pairing of roasted butternut squash and roasted beets. Two great tastes (among her favorites) that were deliciously prepared.
We both loved our entrees, and our desserts were almost as good. I ordered the Country Tavern Ice Cream Ball ($4.50), a decadent, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream concoction that's so big you shouldn't finish it but small enough that you can — and I did, except for some of the fudge topping.
TDC had the Kahlua Snowball Crepe ($5.50), a warm crepe filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with Kahlua and whipped cream. A wonderful — and much lighter dessert than mine. The only thing missing was the hot fudge topping — which she remedied with the excess from mine.
Having lived practically within walking distance of the Country Tavern for years, I can count on three fingers the number of times we've been there (now including twice in the last month.). Our recent visit — with great service, great entrees and reasonable prices ($88 for three courses for two plus a beer) — has convinced me that we need to change that pattern.