Massachusetts Restaurant Reviews
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Rating: 5 / 5
I love history, genealogy and historic restaurants, so I really love the idea of the Publick House in Sturbridge. The inn has been around since 1771, so you can imagine that John Adams and Ben Franklin might have stopped by here as they came and went during that era. You think about all the cool things that must have happened in these rooms throughout the ages.
There are two main dining rooms here. I've eaten in both several times. The downstairs, pubby one is Ebeneezer's Tavern. The upstairs one is called the Publick House Restaurant and is reviewed separately.
While Ebeneezer's is listed as a tavern, it is also in many ways the more formal, quiet area. Yes, there is a small bar with two TVs. However, there are also cozy little tables with candles on them. Many of the chairs are high backed fabric chairs perfect for keeping out a draft. Our trip in Aug 2005 was for our 10th anniversary, so I'll write this one up. However, I've been here MANY times so I'll also add in notes from other trips before and after that one, to add more information.
We got there about 8:30pm on a Tuesday, and were pretty much the only people in the restaurant until at the end of our meal when some people showed up just for drinks. Other times I've been here there were more people, so it really does depend on when you go. I'll comment that even when we came here for Father's Day in 2006 the place was not full. They don't take reservations here, so it's good that you can always get a table.
I always love the hefty wood tables, the pottery on the shelves, the colonial style lamps and the cool chairs. The ceiling has wood beams in it. On the downside, the windows are a bit drafty, so even in August it can be cool - I had to pull my chair back a little to escape the draft.
We ran into some problems with the menu. It really wasn't very extensive - just a few sandwiches and a few main dishes. I went with the veal, although I asked for extra asparagus instead of the potatoes because of my low carb diet. Bob went with the chicken pot pie. The wine list was very short and very odd. Every wine was 3 times or more its real price, much higher than the 2 times normally found in restaurants. Also, all wines were pretty much between $20 and $30. Really bad wines were listed at $20, and they didn't really go over $38. So your choices were really bad wines marked way up, or medoicre wines marked up. We ordered a bottle of 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape wine.
First, she came back asking which Chateau wine we wanted, pointing at the two Californian wines with Chateau in their names. No no, I said, the Chateauneuf du Pape and pointed it out to her. Off she went again. We got some fresh bread which was quite tasty - a variety of bread types including very yummy sticky buns. Then came the bottle. Instead of a 2001, it was a 2003. I realize 2 years may not sound like alot, but the whole reason we would have paid for the 2001 Chateauneuf was to get a wine that was ready to drink. The 2003 isn't ready to drink yet, and would taste that way. It's like paying extra money to get a well ripened tomato to eat - and being given a hard green one instead. You should get a discount to eat that, never mind have to pay more for it.
So we asked her for the 2001 Rhone instead. She comes back with a 2003 Rhone. Apparently they ran out of the 2001s and just got in 2003s instead and didn't bother to update the menu. What happened to the 2002s? And shouldn't they maybe have gotten in other 2001s instead of bringing in wines that weren't ready to drink yet? The wine list was so limited that given our meal choices there really weren't other things we were willing to get. The 3 pinot noir on the menu were all bargain-basement-not-good ones. The chianti was similarly a bargain basement one. I really hate to be a "wine snob" but we were willing to pay a 3x markup to drink something "nice" never mind something "really good". We were down to having to choose something "pretty awful" to have wine at all, and this was our 10th anniversary.
We settled on the Rosemount Cab-Shiraz which is a house wine casual wine, and they pulled it off a shelf behind the bar. Since storing a wine at room temperature is a sure fire way to harm it, we were interested in seeing how it would taste. It was pretty bad. But since the staff was all trying to help out at this point, we said it was OK and went on with the meal.
I'll interject a note here from other meals - that sometimes you don't get the bread at all, depending on their bakery cycle. So you either luck out and get delicious fresh bread - or you're starving until they bring out the salads.
The salad was fine, although a bit on the plain side. I've found that on all visits and just don't expect much from the salad course. On to the main dish. Mine still came with potatoes even though I'd asked not to have any. As it turns out, they charged me extra for the asparagus side instead of substituting. It was a shame because I ended up having to just let the potatoes (sweet potatoes actually) sit on the plate uneaten. The asparagus was yummy though, as was the meat. Bob's chicken pot pie was SUPER hot and good, although of course this is a "comfort food" so it was on the plain side. I've had the salmon on other visits, and it was quite nice. I have to comment that the asparagus is really luck of the draw. Sometimes it is thin and nice. Sometimes it is VERY thick and quite stalky. I realize that there are seasons for foods - but if the only asparagus they can find is nasty, it would make more sense to simply not have it on the menu and have something else instead.
On to dessert, I went for the Indian Pudding, another traditional fare, along with their singature coffee with a secret mixture of alcohols. The coffee was interesting with a sweet/spicy flavor to it. The pudding was also quite tasty, a delicious but simple mix of corn and molasses. They have a few ports on the menu which are good, and other desserts we have tried have also been tasty. We really haven't gone wrong with any desserts here.
In general the service was great! The staff really did want to help us out. But the prices were just incredibly high. This is of course a Tourist Trap, located primely in Sturbridge. They were serving local, traditional foods and wanted items that would appeal to just about everyone who walked in from all around the world. I don't mind that at all, and those breads were great! But with the wine list prices being so high, you'd think we could get a wine of decent quality. I'd have happily paid more for a good bottle! I didn't even have that choice. We did in general enjoy our meals.
So I'm torn on this one. I've obviously eaten here several times so I like the ambiance, and I like the traditional foods. I like the freshness of the ingredients. It's a perfect place to meet up with family and friends and spend several hours in quiet discussion. Compared with upstairs, it is actually quiet enough here to sit back and relax. I just wish the prices were not on the gouging level - and that especially the wine list was more complete and had less astronomical prices. If they could drop the prices just a bit, I'd probably stop visiting all other Sturbridge restaurants and just come here, because of that sit-back-and-talk-for-hours atmosphere.
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