SCHOHARIE The Apple Barrel Country Store, which is just a short distance off I-88 on Highway 30A in Schoharie, is a typical tourist stop in some ways with its gift shop full of local art and kitschy souvenirs to mark one’s visit to the farm country that was scarred so profoundly a year ago by Tropical Storm Irene.
What lifts it from ho-hum is its little cafe with its imaginative and comforting “applecentric” entrées for lunch — and dinner on weekends — including wonderful pies with crusts so flaky that you’re convinced lard just has to be involved. (The pies do not originate on the premises but are wisely imported from Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop in Charlton. Frankly, now that Grandma’s hung up her apron for good, where are you going to find better pies than Smith’s?)
Apple Barrel Country Store
WHERE: 115 Route 30A, Schoharie; 295-7179, www.applebarrelcountrystore.com
WHEN: Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every day; dinner 5:30-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
OTHER INFO: Handicapped accessible; major credit cards accepted
Beverly and I have had the Apple Barrel on our “to do” list for a long time and, just the other day friend Karen asked if we’d tried the food there and gave it high marks. Over the Labor Day weekend, we decided to see for ourselves.
The café features a couple of housemade soups each day, along with chef’s specials for lunch. We started with soup — the Corn Chowder for Beverly and the Tuscan Summer Vegetable Sausage in a tomato basil broth for me. The small version, for $3.98, is a good-sized bowl of soup. I can’t imagine what you get if you order the large, which is $4.98. Both soups were clearly housemade and quite satisfying. They arrived hot from the kitchen, as they should, and were accompanied by oyster crackers. (I’m never quite sure what makes a vegetable soup “Tuscan,” but I suppose the tomato basil base and the sausage are clues).
I thought the chef’s specials sounded imaginative and enticing. There was, for example, a Vegetable Napoleon ($8.99), described as breaded zucchini layered with grilled summer squash, fresh mozzarella, Bermuda onion and tomato, all served on a bed of greens and topped with cucumber pesto. Endless Summer Pork ($8.99) was a sliced pork loin sandwich served open face on ciabatta with sautéed peaches and topped with a Melba sauce. It was accompanied by a housemade potato salad.
Beverly went for one of these $8.99 specials, the Fiesta Fish Taco, which was a lovely white fish with fire roasted corn salsa, lettuce and cusabi sauce, accompanied by coleslaw and the house’s own potato chips. The combination in the wrap worked well, and the Apple Barrel’s potato chips are a treat.
I was tempted by an item on the regular menu, the Edelweiss ($8.99), which is a sandwich on ciabatta bread featuring sliced knockwurst, red cabbage, slices of apples and cheese. It was a wonderful melding of flavors and textures, and I’d definitely order it again.
The Apple Barrel’s website recommends the Gobbler’s Valley turkey sandwich, the fabulous Harvest Bounty veggie panini or the Hot Holstein roast beef wrap from the luncheon menu.
MENU ON FACEBOOK
The dinner menu is a la carte and changes weekly. You can find it on the Apple Barrel’s Facebook page or you telephone for it. The most recent menu offered appetizers for $6.99 that included assorted potstickers with dipping sauces, duck drummettes with a spicy Asian sauce and Eastern Shore Crab Cake in Spicy Tomato Cream.
Soup, at $5.99, was Gloucester Seafood Chowder featuring oysters and scallops, salad (also $5.99) was fresh peaches over mixed greens with a sour cream vanilla dressing and entrées, all $18.99, were Coq au Vin over Dutch Flat Noodles with brandied Sugar Valley carrots, a marinated New York Choice Strip Steak smothered in caramelized onions and mushrooms, broccoli casserole and red bliss potato, a Panko-Breaded Fish Fillet topped with creamed crab sauce and accompanied by fire-roasted black bean corn salsa and rice, and a Roasted Pork Loin stuffed with peaches, pear and cranberries and served with broccoli casserole and red bliss potato.
A word about the café’s decor: It’s cheery and bright with window valances that match the tablecloths, views on three sides, and there’s a patio with many hanging pots of flowers, if you prefer to eat outside.
Our server, Hannah, was friendly and helpful. We asked for a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert “with two forks,” and she returned with the pie neatly sliced in half and on two plates with whipped cream.
We had unsweetened iced tea with lemon slices with our meal ($1.75) and I had coffee ($1.50) with the pie. Our tab, with tax and tip, came to $44.20.
The Apple Barrel Country Store is owned and operated by Sue and Bob Loden, and one of his paintings — a fantasy woodland scene — adorns one wall of the cafe. The country store part of the Apple Barrel offers home and garden accoutrements, as well as collectibles, jewelry, furniture, candles, specialty foods, candles and some clothing. (They were having a sale on perennials, which didn’t escape our notice, and we purchased a few on our way out for our home garden.)