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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tally-ho!

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s restaurant review took me to upstate NY’s eastern edge, not far from Vermont, where an excellent tavern lurks.

                                                                  
             

YES, THERE’S A MAN OF KENT, says owner John Bombard, who started the restaurant in 1988, but whose journey from his native county (it’s southeast of London) included stints as a seaman, a shepherd, a miner and even a model. John Stoate sold the business to Bombard seven years ago, but is still a presence at the tavern.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
And it took a sense of adventure to open back then on a middle-of-nowhere stretch of Route 7 between Troy and Bennington, but a quarter-century later, that decision is vindicated by the long line that often stretches out the Man of Kent’s door.

“You were lucky today,” said Julie, the pleasant young woman who seated my wife and me during our recent weekend visit. “Most days like this there can be up to an hour’s wait.”

The tavern takes the guise of a blue one-story house fronted by a parking lot in which cars and motorcycles commingle. A large sign in front recalls an English countryside pub. So does the inside. The ceiling is obscured by beer towels, gimme caps, pennants and football club banners. The bar stretches almost from front to back, and a few tables are scattered beside it. Our pleasant surprise was the back deck, also with tables, and that’s where Julie was happy to place us.

Man of Kent happens to be in the midst of the 900-acre Tibbits (or Tibbetts; there’s disagreement) State Forest, through which flows Shingle Hollow Creek, which makes for a pleasant vista from the deck—although considerable erosion from Hurricane Sandy is evident when you look more closely. But, where indoors is hubbub and camaraderie, a patio seat has the illusion of seclusion.

The menu is deceptive. Burgers, wraps and sandwiches dominate the list, with a couple of fish-and-fries combos as well. But there’s a daily specials add-in that reflects another aspect of this kitchen. When we visited, it included mussels and bratwurst cooked in lager ($14), mussels as part of a stew that also included clams, shrimp, scallops and calamari ($18), stuffed sole with spinach and feta ($16) and salmon Oscar served with a crabcake ($23).

“We’re getting fresh seafood throughout the week,” says Bombard, “and we’re slowly changing the menu to include it, along with some different steak dishes and other things. People are more knowledgeable about food these days, and I want the menu to take advantage of that.”

Other specials: a mozzarella-tomato-basil platter with olives ($10), NY strip steak topped with mushrooms and melted brie ($25), mac and cheese with diced tomatoes ($6) and a Cobb salad available with veggies only ($10) or topped with chicken, shrimp, salmon, steak or tuna ($12.50-$19).

Were I doing my job thoughtfully, I would have reported on one of these dishes for you. But we’d been driving for quite a while, and I felt a tremendous need for a beer and a burger. The Susan equivalent of that feeling translated to iced tea and a chicken sandwich.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Before you zero in on that burger yourself, check out the other hot sandwiches. The West Kent sports salami, ham and provolone on Rock Hill bread. (“We were one of Rock Hill’s first clients,” Bombard explains.) The East Kent substitutes grilled turkey for the ham. (“We prepare our own deli meats,” he adds.) They’re $9.50 each. A Man of Kent Special is a grilled ham and cheese with sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions ($9). The Kentish ploughman’s lunch gives you a hunk apiece of French bread and cheddar cheese, with pickles and pickles onions ($7.50). The Sussex, the Wessex, the Essex and the Middlesex offer variations on a grilled cheddar-with-tomato sandwich, adding turkey or bacon or chicken breast ($7-$9.50).

Did someone say chicken breast? The Middlesex ($9.50) also puts slices of portobello mushroom on the sandwich, which is grilled between slices of Rock Hill farmhouse to a nice golden finish and served with a pickle slice and potato chips. Although I would think the addition of Russian dressing would profane the mixture, Susan’s request for an on-the-side serving was greeted with nary a wince.

A half-pound of burger is a formidable item, and the Man of Kent version ($9) adds cheese (of course) and the familiar trio of sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions. I asked for it to be cooked medium-rare (for how else can you enjoy it?) and was pleased to see a layer of juice absorbed into the bottom of the hard roll on which it was presented. A superior assembly, and variations abound, with bacon a frequent factor.

Sixteen beers are on tap, ranging from the mundane (PBR) to the well-chosen local (three Brown’s brews) to several imports and even a cider. I claimed a Fuller’s ESB ($6 for 20 oz.) that took the edge off all that driving. Anything you’re familiar with is among the 130 bottled varieties, along with well-chosen others. Ales hail from Belgium, the U.K., Italy and the U.S.; there’s a Baltika Porter from Russia, Red Stripe from Jamaica, Czechoslovakia’s Pilsner Urquell and much more. There’s even a wine list.

Bombard went to school in Vermont, where he got interested in the bar business. He worked at Kevin’s at Mike’s Place in North Bennington, where he soon became general manager; he spent time in the kitchen of Albany’s long-gone Ristorante di Mona Lisa, and so combined the two when he took over Man of Kent. “I was a customer here for nine years before buying the place,” he says. “When John Stoate decided to sell, I was ready to buy.” And, as you’ll see next time you’re tooling along that stretch of Route 7, it remains an oasis.

Man of Kent Tavern, 4452 Route 7, Hoosick Falls, 686-9917, manofkenttavern.com. Serving 11-10 Mon-Thu, 11-11 Fri, 11-10 Sat, noon-10 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 28 August 2014

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