Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Charm of Pubs in Old Homes

I usually make the Tewksbury Inn in Oldwick, NJ a waypoint during motorcycle season, where its pub and fine beers offer cooling respite from the beautiful but summer- sunny roads of Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
I visited the Inn, with its distinctly different dining and drinking areas formed by the layouts of such old houses, for dinner with friends during The Longest Winter this year. The Tewksbury Inn is an architecturally charming, neat and wonderful place to visit. That its beers and food are worth enjoying in such bygone ambience is icing on the cake.
But at that visit, I happened to sidle up to the ancient bar next to the Inn’s proprietor, Mark Marrazza, pointed out to me by a dining partner. With shyness not being my calling card, I complimented him on his beer selection as well as the ambience of this old pub.

One thing led to another, and he learned about my avocation. He suggested I visit another of his restaurants in Basking Ridge called the Ridge Tavern, as its general manager, Steve Prince was working hard to offer quality craft beer to his clientele.
Never one to turn down an invitation from an owner to visit his pub, I arranged with Steve to pay the Ridge Tavern a visit.

 Like its sister establishment in Oldwick, the Ridge Tavern sits on the corner of a main drag which no doubt at one time saw considerable horse-and-buggy traffic. Another former grand home, the view from the cozy, glassed in porch commands a fine view of S. Finley Ave, its shops and other fine homes.
The interior of the restaurant is divided into various dining rooms, because, well, that’s the way houses are built when the builders have no idea there will be a restaurant here someday. To the PubScout, however, such character is a plus. The bar area, with its flat screen TV’s and somewhat louder pub hubbub, is some distance from the cozy porch where we dined and drank. Steve Prince, busy as all get out this night, stopped by and allowed that he has his ever-changing beer lines cleaned faithfully every three weeks.

The missus ordered and enjoyed a Stella Artois, served correctly and picture-perfect in its own chalice; and I, anticipating a meat or game dish, opted for the dunkelweisse Doomsday from Evil Genius Brewing. It was good, and it went well with my delightful Meat Loaf and Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy, but the best was yet to come.
Generally speaking, The PubScout eschews desserts, opting instead for “liquid chocolate and coffee,” if you catch my drift. But something on the dessert menu cast a hypnotic spell, and with Wolaver’s Alta GraciaCoffee Porter on the beer menu, I gave in. The dessert was called, simply, Apple Crisp. But, far from simple, it came with homemade Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream, and in a portion large enough to share—thereby obviating the caloric guilt. The pairing with the coffee porter was absolutely perfect—so much so, that I took the liberty of advising Steve to have his servers suggest that beer whenever that dessert is ordered.

The PubScout and GM Steve Prince
The Ridge Tavern advertises itself as a casual establishment and it is, but on this night I was amazed at the number of families—especially those with children—in attendance. That might turn some geezers like me off, but the layout of the house and smart seating by the staff seemed to avoid the generational conflict.
Which is why old houses had different rooms in the first place—to provide sanctuary from each other.
The Ridge Tavern will definitely be put on the Spring/Summer Motorcycle itinerary as a pub stop.

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