Where can you find both ramps and fiddleheads on the same menu?
Head southwest on I-88, then south on Route 30 to Middleburgh, look for 104 Wells Ave. just off the main drag, scout around for a parking place (groused Johnny P: “There is nothing but narrow streets and NO PARKING signs all over town!”) and settle in for a gentle evening of culinary delights at The Hen & The Hound Bistro.
Except for the alliteration, I haven’t a clue about the connection of “hen” and “hound.”
The restaurant appears to be a smallish house with an addition on the left, a ramp and a touch of landscaping in front with limited parking in the rear.
The entrance doubles as a small dining room with high-topped tables and opens into a small bar area with an appropriately sized bar. I peeked into three other dining rooms, each with four tables, and an even smaller fifth room with a single, larger table for a private party.
“Small” may describe the description of the rooms, but is replaced by “large” when one begins to speak of food and service.
Dinnermate had perused the online menu and referred to it as “pretentious.” I suggested he withhold his judgment until we experience the bistro. Halfway through the meal (and without provocation), he admitted that his prejudgment was way off base — as he released his belt a notch.
Like New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, I try to measure what a restaurant produces against what it promises. According to its website, The Hen & the Hound is a “family-owned neighborhood bistro, serving up craft beer, worldly wines and local farm-fresh favorites … known for thoughtful and creative cooking rooted in the region’s ingredients and traditions.”
While I cannot comment on the beer, wine and traditions without more research, I can attest to The Hen & the Hound’s farm-fresh products and ingredients, thoughtfulness and creative cooking.
The décor was low-key — such as the scarcely noticeable embossed pattern on the cream-colored walls and gray-green wainscoting of our small dining room — but the high quality and originality of the cuisine was exceptional.
For example: Both the risotto of the day and the spring pesto pasta ($15/$20 for the small/large plate) featured Schoharie Valley fiddleheads. But the base of the pesto was local ramps instead of the usual basil or other leafy green herb or vegetable. Both risotto and cavatelli pasta dishes employed Pecorino romano for flavor, though the risotto (with crushed pistachios and asparagus) was considerably more salty than the pasta dish garnished with crushed cashews.
I never got past the specials for the day. When I suggested to competent server Chelsea that I wanted to order almost everything on the special menu, she looked at me wide-eyed as if I were joking.
I wasn’t. (Reader take note: We ordered one appetizer, five small plates, two dinners and a single dessert. We did it for your sake — our tab far exceeded what we would normally eat for dinner.)
Appetizers were fun: a taco of the day (BBQ pulled pork with pico-de-gallo, sriracha aioli on a flour tortilla for $3); beer-battered cod sliders ($12 for two, with chipotle aioli, baby arugula and pickled onions); black truffle burrata mozzarella (my favorite of the four — eggplant caponata, grilled bread, Italian salsa verde, $12); and crispy artichokes ($10, rice flour-dredged, fried oil-cured artichoke hearts, sunflower lemon aioli, baby arugula and sunflower seed dukkah (Egyptian spice/nut blend)). All were unusual; all were outstanding.
Our entrees gilded the proverbial lilies. John P’s Ultimate Meatloaf ($21), the only entrée not ordered from the day’s list of specials, should have had the words “deviously rich” attached to its description. The two large slices of bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed, maple-glazed meatloaf included buttered, locally sourced potatoes and sautéed asparagus.
My surf-n’-turf ($28) featured a petite, coffee-crusted Highland Hollow 60-day dry-aged strip steak with three perfectly seasoned and grilled large shrimp, local smashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and a round of bleu cheese butter. The meat was lean, tender, flavorful and perfectly grilled to the requested medium rare.
Desserts change daily. The one that caught our eye was a traditional flourless chocolate cake. The small wedge provided enough intensely chocolatety sweetness to end our memorable meal.
Chelsea, our gracious server, provided an appropriate balance of service and private conversation time. I found her willingness to describe the various dishes before ordering and again as the food was being served especially helpful because of the variety of unique ingredients.
Ramps are wild onions that grow in our area. Fiddleheads are examples of the Fibonacci spiral and appear before the fern frond unfurls. Both are spring phenomena and are savored sauteed in butter.
The Hen & The Hound Bistro
WHERE: 104 Wells Ave., Middleburgh, NY 12122,
(518) 702-4388, www.henandhoundbistro.com
WHEN: Mon.-Tues. closed; Wed.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. lunch, 4-10 p.m. dinner; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.;
Sun. brunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 4-8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $134 (over-ordering for two — $70 would be
a better estimate) without tax and tip.
MORE INFO: Accessible, small parking area behind building, all major credit cards, noise level permits conversation, takeout, catering, children’s menu, vegan and gluten-free items.