JOHNSTOWN The Union Hall Inn is an imposing old building dating to the late 1700s, and if you judged it by its appearance, you might expect its specialty to be traditional comfort food like Yankee pot roast.
You can certainly find comfort food here, but the menu is an eclectic mix of vibrant contemporary cuisine and old favorites, and it changes with the seasons.
Perhaps a tradition rooted somewhere in its long history — Union Hall was built by a former French Army officer who served under Louis XVI — the inn offers all comers some warm corn fritters drizzled with maple syrup. (If corn fritters aren’t your idea of a palate cleanser, you can opt for sorbet instead.)
You can order a shrimp cocktail for $10 from the appetizers menu, but there’s also Crispy Pancetta and Roasted Onion Bruschetta (also $10) and Wasabi Encrusted Ahi Tuna with Asian vinaigrette-dressed greens, pickled ginger and Asian slaw ($12).
Union Hall Inn
WHERE: 2 Union Place, Johns-town; 762-3210; www.unionhallinnrestaurant.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday for lunch; 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday for dinner
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted
The decor of the old house is charming. Its original center hall layout has been preserved, with a bar occupying the former sitting room on the right and tables for diners in the parlor on the left, as well as in adjoining rooms.
Our hostess for the evening turned out to be pastry chef Megan Saltsman, who runs the restaurant with her father. It was at the inn that she met her future husband, who was the head chef. Both she and her husband are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. He has moved to an executive chef position at Sam’s Seafood and Steak House in Johnstown.
I wanted to try the soup of the day — lamb and barley — and Beverly was intrigued by one of the salad offerings, Adirondack Apple, which featured mixed greens tossed with apple cider vinaigrette and topped with apple slices, cinnamon spiced walnuts, onions and crumbled Gorgonzola. It was a good choice, a lovely melding of flavors and textures.
Savory lamb soup
The soup was a savory adventure — lots of carrots and rich lamb morsels in a brown broth with barley. Besides the chef’s daily creation, the standard soups on the menu are Butternut Squash Bisque and Baked French Onion Gratin.
Before our soup and salad arrived, we were treated to warm slices of spicy pumpkin bread with butter for spreading. It was an appealing and appropriate appetizer for the colonial atmosphere.
By the time the entrées arrived, our pumpkin bread had been eaten and was replaced by a basket of rolls with more butter.
One of the specials on the night we visited was a nostalgic dish that tempted Beverly, who’s not often lured by red meat. It was a big Delmonico steak ($28) with a house glaze, and it arrived cooked to a perfect medium rare with a lovely, light charcoal crust. It was accompanied by whipped potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
I chose my entrée from the pasta menu called Shrimp Mac and Cheese ($14). This wasn’t something out of a blue box, but mac and cheese for grownups consisting of farfalle (or penne) pasta with shrimp in a creamy Parmesan sauce and baked with an herb bread crumb gratinée topping. The rich cheese sauce immediately got my attention and the shrimp took the dish to another dimension. (Half of it came home with me for another meal).
The dessert choices were an imaginative array and they included a sampler consisting of three of the items for $10, which we thought was a wonderful idea.
Our choices with our coffee were a flourless chocolate cake, which arrived with raspberries alongside and a ganache atop, a crême brûlée and an apple crumb confection. The cake, which was almost a fudge in consistency, was a joy on the tongue, the depth of its rich chocolate flavor enhanced by the sweet-tartness of the berries. The brûlée was exactly what it should be: velvety yellow sweet custard beneath a panel of golden crystalized sugar. Comparatively, the apple dish was a tad mundane, but two out of three is a good thing.
The service was friendly and efficient, and between our hostess and our server, we got answers to all our questions. Our tab for dinner with appetizers, dessert and coffees came to $84.74 with tax and tip.
We’re looking forward to returning to the Union Hall Inn to try some of their other dishes — like the Cornmeal-Encrusted Oysters served over sauteed spinach and finished with a lemon Pernod cream sauce ($2.25 each), the Lobster Ravioli ($15), and the Coffee-Encrusted Venison Medallions served with whipped potatoes, seasonal veggies and finished with a sherry hunters sauce ($28).
The restaurant also offers some interesting choices for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays — like Crab Cakes with rice pilaf and vegetables served with lemon dill aioli ($12) or a Cuban, a sandwich on toasted artisan bread of smoked pork, cured ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles ($8).
I lived for a number of years in a house like the Union Hall Inn so our recent visit there was a little like a homecoming. To add to the illusion, there was a family party under way in an adjoining dining room where a group of 10 or so sang “Happy Birthday” to the guest of honor before the candles were blown out on a big chocolate cake. The bubble burst for me, though, when nobody passed any birthday cake our way.