WEST GALWAY — A lovingly restored 19th-century hotel and stagecoach stop is home to Doreen and James Palmateer’s Top Notch Tavern, a 2.0 version of the original, which was opened there in 1968 by his grandparents.
Top Notch, legendary for prime rib, steaks and hearty comfort food, has modest roots. Doreen started out with a bar and small kitchen that gradually expanded over the years. There are two dining rooms now, a large bar and patio.
Top Notch Tavern
WHERE: 712 County Road 132, West Galway, 843-2333, www.topnotchtavern.com
WHEN: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 3 p.m. to 8p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $74.24, before tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards Master Card, Visa, Discover, American Express. Children’s menu. Reservations recommended for weekends and holidays.
The original wood floors and exposed beams, with wood-burning fireplaces in three rooms are complemented by the straightforward country and seasonal decor. “Blue Skies,” by Ella Fitzgerald, played on the original jukebox.
Top Notch has kept to the script with an uncomplicated menu of beef and original entrees like chicken and biscuits ($19), roast turkey or beef ($19 and $20, respectively) and porterhouse pork chop ($21) in addition to pasta and seafood, and lighter fare such as salads, burgers and sandwiches. Hand-formed burgers run $11 or $12 and include fries and choice of salad.
My friend Virginia and I detected a whiff of wood smoke in the toasty and welcoming dining room as the server led us to a table by the stone fireplace. We settled in with wine and menus and a small loaf of fresh-baked bread.
The friendly, efficient server brought us each a complimentary order of peel-and-eat shrimp with zesty cocktail sauce and lemon wedge. Sunday to Thursday it comes gratis with an entree. It was a generous and welcoming way to start. Seasoned broth lent flavor to the good-sized shrimp.
We shared an order of corn fritters ($8), perhaps a bit oily but delicious, served with real maple syrup and a honey-mustard dip Virginia called tangy and sweet.
In addition to sides, dinners include the extensive salad bar, one of the nicest I’ve seen in a while. Two kinds of mixed greens are accompanied by several prepared salads, a panoply of fresh vegetables and dressings, toppings and cheese. We especially liked the pasta salad and impeccably trimmed vegetables.
Virginia was delighted with the old-fashioned ham steak dinner ($19). The large slice of lean grilled ham tasted a bit smoky and came draped over a gravy-drenched pile of rosemary-seasoned dressing and smashed red potatoes. She couldn’t finish the large serving but said she still could have eaten more of the wonderful chunky homemade applesauce.
The 11-ounce slab of boneless prime rib ($29) was good quality, speckled with bits of fat that kept it moist even though it was cooked more than the medium-rare I requested. It too had a bit of wood-smoked flavor.
The creamy smashed potatoes included chunks and skin and the mix of squash, carrot, and red pepper were dusted with lots of grated cheese. It was all delicious, though perhaps the mixed vegetables didn’t benefit from the generous puddle of au jus quite as much as the potatoes did.
Any quibbles died away in face of the friendliness of service, the comfort of the room, and the good taste of the food. Rarely has ambiance added quite so much to a meal.
They must be cooking all day at Top Notch. All of the desserts are homemade and we were hard-pressed to choose one, finally settling on the portable carrot cake ($7) and pumpkin pie. The server offered to bring them in their take-out boxes and we gratefully accepted.
“You wouldn’t know it was carrot cake,” said Virginia, who agreed that lots and lots of chopped walnuts and cream cheese frosting made their cake a hit. Top Notch gets points for a tasty pie crust and delicious pumpkin pie ($7).
The tab for our pleasant dinner came to $74.24 without wine and before tip. We were sorry to leave our cozy spot by the blazing fire, so perfect for a fall evening.
“Come back and visit us again soon,” said the server, nicely wrapping up our enjoyable visit.