CHARLTON — The Charlton Tavern is much more than just a tavern in this small Saratoga County town.
Once a stagecoach stop, the Tavern dates to 1787 and it is a key fixture in the Charlton historical district. William Maloney bought the building in 1969, eventually turning it into the tavern. He died in December 2009, then the tavern burned to the ground in a spectacular fire a few days later, taking a neighboring house with it.
His son Michael rebuilt within a year with support from the community, and the Tavern returned to its beloved place as the gathering spot in Charlton.
Husband Eric and I went to see it for ourselves. We were charmed by its authenticity and friendly atmosphere, and enjoyed a very good meal.
The Tavern was bustling on a Sunday evening, with most tables full before 6 o’clock. Now redesigned for ease of flow, the building has one open dining room with fireplaces at each end.
The exterior siding isn’t wood, but the interior is: ceiling, beams, bar and floor. There are Irish flags and Guinness vintage beer serving trays, but not so much memorabilia as to be trite.
We got a seat near the bar, in front of a cozy gas fire and sipped drinks, a dry martini up with a twist for Eric, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for me. Wine prices aren’t listed on the menu, but they are reasonable. My generous-sized glass of good quality wine was $8.
You can have pub fare at the Tavern: a sandwich platter or salad, or you can enjoy a pleasant dinner that includes very good salad and bread, in addition to choice of potato or rice and vegetable of the day.
Chicken entrees include a stack of scallopini, layered with Parmesan-encrusted eggplant, mozzarella and roasted red peppers in a tomato cream sauce ($19.95); and shrimp and chicken tossed with penne in a vodka sauce ($21.95). There are also various steaks like the 8-ounce filet ($32.95), or grilled top sirloin served with prosciutto-wrapped shrimp ($32.95). The entrees all look good and, remember, everything’s included.
Our salads were right out, and they featured several varieties of baby lettuce and excellent homemade dressings. “Nice,” said Eric. Tasty, I thought.
We loved the bread. It comes in a paper-lined plastic basket, but the moist-crumbed, crisp-crusted loaf wouldn’t be out of place in a fine restaurant.
Eric ordered the Chicken a la Charlton ($19.95), scallops of tender white meat chicken, smoked ham and roasted red peppers in a creamy sherry butter sauce.
“This is pretty darned good,” he said, noting the abundance of Gruyere cheese used to finish the dish.
“The rice is obviously homemade,” added Eric, who pointed out the chopped carrot and celery in the white rice, while cleaning his plate.
I’d asked for a suggestion, and when the server said the baked haddock ($20.95) was “fantastic,” then I knew what to get. The fish was flaky and tender, the breading browned and quite tasty, and it was presented handsomely with lemon garnish. I would have liked a bit of sauce, but it was very good.
The garlicky smashed red potatoes, with a rosemary sprig, were delicious, rich and full of flavor.
We both liked the day’s side of vegetables, a mix of fresh carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and green and yellow squash, served with plenty of butter. It’s hard to cook them all to the same doneness, and while the cauliflower was a bit hard, the squash melted in the mouth.
There’s a handsome dessert menu with seductive photos within. Skip them, and flip to the back page, where you’ll find the homemade chocolate mousse, bread pudding and pies from Smith’s orchard.
We cannot overstate the wonderfulness of the house-made chocolate mousse ($6.25), and if you like chocolate, this is a treat. Eric dove in, barely paused to let me taste it, and soon enough was at the bottom of the bowl. It was chocolaty, with semi-sweet flavor, with just the right body, the real deal. They get big points for it.
To me, pie in Saratoga means Smith’s orchards, with their myriad of local fruit double-crust pies. I had a slice of raspberry peach ($6.95), served with whipped topping and drizzled with vanilla-flavored sauce, the peaches stained red from the berries. If you make pie, you can respect Smith’s.
We were attended to capably and noted that the large party near our table had their dinners delivered all together — difficult to pull off in a small restaurant, and though it took several staff to accomplish, they did it smoothly. Each plate looked perfect, hot from the kitchen and wonderful.
The tab for our food came to $54.10 before tax and tip.
Dinner at the Charlton Tavern was a pleasant experience. With its charming interior, friendly service and very good food, we thought it was much more than a tavern, too.
The Charlton Tavern
WHERE: 745 Charlton Road, Charlton, 518-399-9951, www.charltontavern.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $54.10 for food, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: ADA compliant. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Reservations accepted.