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January 2 - 9, 1998

[Food Reviews]

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Wayside Inn

Take in some history over a relaxed, authentic-colonial dinner

by Jim Johnson

Longfellow's Wayside Inn, Wayside Inn Road (off Route 20) Sudbury
(978) 443-1776, (800) 339-1776
Sun. noon-8 p.m.
Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m.
Major credit cards
Full bar
Not handicap accessible

In few restaurants in America can one sense our country's heritage as palpably as at Longfellow's Wayside Inn. The inn first served guests in the early 18th century, when most of the nation's founding fathers weren't yet children. Today, nearly 300 years and only eight innkeepers later, the Wayside Inn still offers meals and overnight lodging.

The Wayside started as How's Inn in 1716. In 1746, Colonel Ezekiel How renamed it "The Red Horse" and used it as the meeting place for the Sudbury farmers he led to Concord on April 19, 1775. After the publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn in 1863, the Inn became popularly known as the Wayside Inn. Today, as part of a nonprofit educational and charitable trust established by Henry Ford, it is both a working inn and a museum.

A man in the three-corner hat greeted us and pointed us down the hallway. We were early for a 5 p.m. Saturday reservation and decided to explore the old building. Our tour revealed that little had changed since Longfellow's time, when he described the "stairways worn, and crazy doors/And creaking and uneven floors/And chimneys huge, and tiled and tall." Upstairs, rooms had been restored in colonial style, including beds that typically held three or more strangers.

The night was frigid, and we headed to the bar to warm up by the fireplace. What looked like the original setting, the bar was outfitted with plank floors, plaster walls, tables decked with flickering candles, and pewter mugs hanging from the ceiling. Instead of ordering a rum-based coow woow, reputedly America's first mixed drink, we opted for a Cabernet Sauvignon of more recent vintage.

We were called to our table quite promptly, where a costumed server delivered a dish of cheddar dip and small trays of crackers and fresh vegetables. While my tablemate continued with wine, I switched to hot mulled cider, which served the setting and my still-low core temperature. As we studied the menu, we ordered clam chowder ($1.50) and lobster bisque ($1.50), and our server returned a few minutes later with our cups and a pile of raisin and corn muffins and steaming rolls. The bisque was thick, rich, and creamy with plenty of lobster flavor (and lobster bits) and the right touch of sherry. The chowder was just as good, a nice mix of cream and broth with a generous helping of firm potatoes and sweet clams.

We also ordered smoked peppered mackerel ($3.95) that offered a pungent interplay of smoke and black peppercorns. A creamy horseradish mustard sauce provided the perfect complement.

Entrees change frequently, and our choices included baked scrod ($16.95), baked salmon Dijonaise ($18.95), filet mignon in brandied mushroom sauce ($21.95), and boneless breast of chicken with cranberry walnut stuffing ($15.95). Prices aren't low, but they do include certain appetizers, a choice of three salads, a choice of two vegetables, and dessert.

Feeling the holiday spirit, I ordered roast goose ($16.95). My friend chose Block Island swordfish ($18.95).

For my salad, I was tempted to order the Jerusha Peach Mold, named for Jerusha How, known in the early 1800s as the "belle of Sudbury." Jerusha became engaged to an Englishman, who left her behind as he headed home to get his family's blessing. He never returned, and Jerusha lived out the remainder of her life at the inn, spending much of her time playing her beloved pianoforte. Local legend has it that her ghost still resides there, and guests have reportedly felt her presence, even hearing her play the pianoforte and smelling her perfume. A sad and wonderful story, but I ordered the garden salad.

The goose was a delight, tasting much like duck but not as greasy or gamy, with its rich flavor drawn out and balanced by a light glaze of tangerine sauce. Bits of apples and apricots gave natural sweetness to dense bread stuffing.

The swordfish, though billed as baked, must have been poached at some point to gain so much moist tenderness. It seemed fresh from Atlantic waters.

For vegetables, we enjoyed green peas served fresh and firm with a hint of mint, as well as butternut squash and potato each whipped to creamy perfection.

Desserts included grapenut pudding, Indian pudding, pecan pie, and deep-dish apple pie.

Our server strongly recommended the Indian pudding but graciously added that if I didn't like it, he'd bring me something else. Although he seemed somewhat aloof throughout our visit, the cause was more efficiency and perhaps a touch of colonial role-playing more than any rudeness. We decided he was great.

As was the Indian pudding, which consisted of cornmeal ground at the inn's nearby grist mill and just the right amount of molasses. The pecan pie would have made the Southern colonies jealous.

Our evening of history, relaxation, dining, and drink cost just under $60 for two.


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