HERRINGS Like me, you may not have noticed that the Herrings Inn quietly became Little Sisters Inn last July.
You cant miss the big stone building with its stately wraparound porch in the little Jefferson County hamlet of Herrings population 129.
Once upon a time, the old rambling structure that now houses Little Sisters Inn was a stagecoach stop. As soon as you open the door to the barroom, you feel like youve taken a trip back in time.
We were enthusiastically greeted by Angie from behind the old-time bar. She was cordial and friendly.
It was just after 6, and wed just missed happy hour, when domestic beers are $2 and a glass of house wine is $3. So we decided to go for the high test.
The pour on a Glenfiddich scotch was a little stingy, and it disappeared quickly. So we ordered a second one and asked for a double. The second drink looked like the first one should have for a whisky on the rocks. But to our surprise, it cost $12. Big city prices in little ol Herrings!
There must have been a shift change, because Angie disappeared and Jeremy took over. He seemed to be new at the game and served a Sam Adams Boston Lager without taking the top off of the non-twist-top bottle. We made light of it and he removed the top. A lot of conversation from both sides of the bar made us feel welcomed.
Off to the dining room, a large area with high ceilings and old barnboard on the walls. Like the exterior, the interior hasnt changed much since the transition, if at all.
Kim Stiles, one of the sisters, started as our server. After taking drink and appetizer orders, she began waiting on other tables. Benjamin then appeared on the scene, our new waiter.
Benjamin is Kims nephew, the son of the other sister, Shelly Stevens. Benjamin usually does some of the cooking, he told us, but is occasionally called in to help wait tables.
Then, after taking our entrée orders, he disappeared and Shelly took over. Among the three of them, we learned a lot about their food service background and the hard work theyre putting into the place to make it succeed.
Finally, our appetizers arrived. It took longer than expected, we thought, considering there were only three or four tables occupied while we were there.
Beef skewers ($8) sounded interesting: Seared, marinated beef over Asian greens with crispy wontons and spicy Thai chili dressing.
They arrived without the Asian greens and crispy wontons. The cubes of beef, for being marinated, were a little tough. They were also overcooked for our liking, which probably contributed to the generally chewy texture. The Thai dressing was tasty and not overly hot.
Bruschetta ($7) was very close to its description of diced tomatoes and red onion along with fresh basil. Additional chopped basil garnished the dish, fresh from basil plants growing in small pots on the window sills. We could smell the basil even before the plate hit the table.
Unfortunately, the baguette crostini specified on the menu turned out to be some kind of untoasted white bread that became soggy from the tomato mixture on top.
Steamed clams ($9) were a little disappointing. They were the small Asian type that restaurants can buy frozen. The sauce of garlic, white wine, lemon, butter and herbs was nothing special could have used more zing. The sauce would have been acceptable had they used real domestic littlenecks, but the meat in the foreign clams was so minuscule, you hardly knew you were eating a clam.
Salads come with the dinners, and they were all the same (including the Caesar) a mix of iceberg and romaine along with shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, halved grape tomatoes and homemade croutons.
We enjoyed the homemade dressings: Thousand Islands, Asian-ginger and lemon-thyme. The lemon-thyme dressing was definitely different, very refreshing and very upfront with the flavor of thyme.
There was a 22-ounce cowboy steak available as a special for $35, but we stuck with the regular menu and ordered the Sisters steak ($18), a grilled Delmonico topped with Maytag blue cheese, served with a baked potato and seasonal vegetables.
Maytag blue is a highly touted, prestige cheese that we were familiar with. Several of us thought it was produced somewhere in Europe, but a quick smartphone Google search told us that its made right here in the U.S. of A. since 1941, in Newton, Iowa, former home of the Maytag appliance company.
We always like to see how informed our servers are, so after placing our order for the steak we asked, Where does the Maytag blue come from? Young Benjamin promptly responded, From Maines, one of our restaurant suppliers.
Back to the steak. We were disappointed with the final product. We were hoping for a juicy ribeye grilled to a perfect medium-rare, but the steak was smothered in way too much blue cheese so much that we had to scrape much of it off to get to the meat, which was more like medium-well than medium-rare.
Grilled chicken Marsala ($15) was a bit of a letdown. The Marsala cream sauce had a pasty taste to it, not vibrant with Marsala wine like we were expecting. It was served over angel hair pasta. The chicken was a bit overcooked for our liking.
When we ordered the Portobello Napoleon ($14) we were expecting a stack (which is what a Napoleon is) of mushrooms layered with spinach, tomato, roasted red pepper and mozzarella. It came from the kitchen as two mushroom caps topped with the other components, surrounded with a daub of tasty basil cream sauce and a blob of nothing-special marinara.
Uncle Garys lobster pasta ($16) was pretty good, a plateful of perfectly cooked penne tossed in a bland Alfredo sauce with a decent amount of lobster knuckle meat. Fresh broccoli spears were attractively piled in the center of the dish.
The white sauce would have benefitted from a touch of clam base or fish stock to make it a veloute and better complement the lobster.
Time for dessert, and Shelly nailed it. Shes proud of her desserts and deservedly so.
The ooey gooey was just that a personal-sized cinnamon bundt cake and vanilla ice cream with a wonderful warm caramel topping.
Strawberry cheesecake was everything a cheesecake should be, creamy and lush.
Coconut cream pie was perhaps our favorite. Shelly warned us that is wasnt very pretty, since the filling hadnt quite set yet, but the flaky pastry crust was overflowing with a tasty coconut custard and finished with a creamy topping.
Dinner for four consisting of three appetizers, four entrees and three desserts cost $110.99 before tip. Prices are right; portions are plentiful.
The entire staff was very friendly and accommodating. We got the feeling that the sisters, Kim and Shelly, are putting their hearts and souls on the line here to make the inn a successful venture.
While some of the service could best be described as organized chaos, it was genuine and sincere. Add a solid measure of finesse to the food and they may just have something special going on here.
Ive been doing a bit of traveling around the East Coast over the last few months, discovering some great restaurants that I think you should know about.
■ Jacks Oyster House, Albany: Celebrating 100 years in business, Jacks is the second-oldest continuously owned restaurant in the U.S. Freshly shucked oysters and clams on the half shell were served ice cold, as was an array of craft beers on tap. Their clam chowder is first-rate, and the day we were there, the lamb and barley soup was excellent.
■ Essex Inn, Essex: This 200-year-old inn was elegantly restored in 2011, offering casual fine dining and elegant overnight accommodations. Chef Josh Archers food is creative and accessible. His veal dArcher with artichokes and mushrooms in a lemon-white wine cream sauce is outstanding, as is his calves liver and onions with applewood-smoked bacon. An overnight stay in one of the beautifully appointed rooms is a must. www.essexinnessex.com
■ Violino Ristorante Italiano, Winchester, Va.: Just off Interstate 81 in northern Virginia, this charming downtown area with its outdoor mall is home to a very fine family-owned Italian restaurant. The veal saltimbocca is superb, as is the veal piccata. Just down the street, the accommodations at the George Washington Grand Hotel were exceptional. www.violinorestaurant.com
■ S.N.O.B., Charleston, S.C.: Downtown Charleston is a shooting gallery full of fine restaurants. Luckily we stumbled upon S.N.O.B. (which stands for Slightly North of Broad). Id go back in an instant for the tuna tartare with cucumber-tomato relish, the sautéed Carolina squab breast or the grilled Scottish salmon mushroom and spinach crepe. www.mavericksouthernkitchen.com
■ Pisces Rising, Mount Dora, Fla.: We enjoyed al fresco dining on the patio as the sun set over quaint Mount Dora, just off I-4 north of Orlando and a bit west of Daytona. Fresh Florida seafood is their specialty, combining the flavors of New Orleans and the Caribbean. The catch of the day, black grouper, was wonderful, but their shrimp and grits with bell peppers, onions and andouille sausage in a fantastic cream sauce was the best I have ever had. www.piscesrisingdining.com
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Sisters Inn
35802 Route 3
An old-time country inn serving food and libation in a rustic setting.
Hours: Lunch and dinner 11 a.m to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday
Dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Bar open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday