CAMBRIDGE We arrived late for our reservation at the Cambridge Hotel to find almost all the parking spaces taken. “It’s packed,” said husband Eric. Did we lose our table? We’d expected it to be busy since the Gordon Ramsay makeover, but it only took opening the menu to see why it was crowded at 5:30.
“Ten dollar Early Bird Specials!” I said. And very good prime rib, to boot. Forget Ramsay’s “Hotel Hell,” this is news.
For the few of you who might have missed it, TV chef and personality Gordon Ramsay descended on the Cambridge Hotel in January for a makeover that will be the focus of a coming episode.
How are they doing now that the crew is gone? The answer is that they are doing well and that the food is very good. The dining room and tavern have been updated with paint and new furniture, and the menu focuses more on locally sourced ingredients and casual selections.
Cambridge Hotel & Restaurant
WHERE: 4 W. Main St., Cambridge. Phone 677-5626. www.cambridgehotel.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
HOW MUCH: $70.62
MORE INFO: Credit cards — MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Diners Club. Children’s menu available.
We were there in 2000, when Eric was doing the writing. “It has a completely different feel,” he said, looking around the main dining room. Then, we’d sat in the front, where the tavern is now, and it felt very formal.
We didn’t mind the wait at the hostess stand once we found that our table was still available. We had a table in the middle of the room, next to the baby grand piano. Our server identified himself right away and left us with menus as he headed off to get our drinks.
He was friendly and eager, but he couldn’t tell us exactly what a poutine was, and there was the slightest pause before he got out “gnocchi,” although he pronounced it correctly. I liked that he told us that “for another dollar, you can get the better wine.” The service isn’t seamless yet, but certainly is good.
Prime rib is a Saturday Early Bird staple. Cambridge Hotel offers a “chef’s cut” of prime rib on Saturdays after 6 p.m. at $18.95 for a bigger serving.
Check out their smart, streamlined menu on their website. You’ll find a few appetizers and salads (big enough to share), and eight entrees, plus specials, all with provenance. You can get a good-looking burger with a mound of cottage fries for $12 or a 12-ounce New York strip steak for $25. There’s fish and chips, chicken pot pie, and mac and cheese, not what we expected. They’ve scaled back on the fine dining with a focus on more comfort food. Read: affordable.
The Cambridge Hotel breadbasket offers up thin slices of substantial whole-grain bread from the nearby Round House Bakery.
Eric started with salt cod fritters ($9), four golf ball-sized crispy fried spheres served with creme fraiche and tartar sauce. The cod flavor was right up front, with creamy potato rounding it out. The sauce really added flavor, said Eric.
The menu says Cambridge Hotel’s chicken wings ($9) are famous, so I had to have them. It’s the most attractive presentation I’ve seen, the wings neatly piled with perfectly matched slices of carrot and celery flanking a cup of thick bleu cheese. They’re upscale wings — spicy, not hot, crispy and lightly sauced. The hot sauce flavor comes out only after you’ve tasted the spices, adding another dimension. They come nine to a serving, and with the vegetables it makes a meal. We enjoyed a few but left room for dinner.
Eric loves prime rib and he’d hit pay dirt with the Early Bird special. The slice of medium rare (as requested) beef was a reasonable size, like we’d serve at home, with roasted sliced potatoes and mixed vegetables that featured green squash and carrots. Potatoes were slightly crispy outside and soft and moist within.
“The meat is really tender,” said Eric. Flavor was delicious, too. He ate all but a few slices of squash, and confessed he was glad it wasn’t a bigger piece of meat. “I would have eaten it all,” he said.
I had the roasted half-chicken ($18), a free-range, correct bird from Sheldon Farms served over browned-butter seasoned mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed greens. The skin was lovely, and the white meat moist and tender, especially when sopped in the maple-flavored jus. I thought I had eaten spinach, and was shocked to find later that the greens were kale, because I usually absolutely hate it. Cambridge Hotel gets points for getting it by me.
There was no doubt as to what we would have for dessert, the Cambridge Hotel being the home of pie a la mode, according to them and Wikipedia, too. We shared a slice ($9), with a very tasty, flaky crust and cinnamon-scented apples. Not too much spice, Mom says: It should be about the apples, and Cambridge Hotel knows this. The modest scoop of vanilla ice cream was Battenkill Creamery’s, smooth and creamy, topped with a bit of caramel. Eric loves ice cream with anything. If pie a la mode didn’t exist, he’d invent it.
The tab for a satisfying dinner, with tax and tip but without the two glasses of wine came to $70.62. You may remember that I said earlier prices were reasonable, so don’t be put off by our total. We had three courses and took home leftovers, the better to sample the menu.
Until, and if ever, the Battenkill rail line right outside the front door is restored, the Cambridge Hotel will be a destination restaurant. Factor in the price of gas, and the Cambridge Hotel is still worth the trip. And give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get there.