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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stone Beginnings

From Deep in the Vault Dept.: From my inaugural year as Metroland’s restaurant reviewer, here’s my first stop at The Stone Ends, a place that flourished for a while under a variety of owners and chefs before slipping into a succession of less-ambitious guises, and then going dark. Which is a shame: it’s a quirky, charming place, which I also visited in 1989, 1991 and 2000.


THANKS TO 30 YEARS in the same location, Ralph Junco’s Stone Ends restaurant has achieved something available to none of the culinary youngsters: it has the redolence of a place where a lot of good food has been prepared, that “grandmother’s kitchen” kind of aroma.

Chef Roger Herweth. Photo by Drew Kinum
Lousy photocopy by me.
Which instantly brings me back to my own cooking days at a Connecticut restaurant with an even longer history but much the same scent - a nice Proustian assciation. Plus, there was Coleman Hawkins on the PA, his classic “Body and Soul” recording. Nice.

A trip to the Stone Ends is a trip back in time, of sorts – to a restaurant era that featured a large, meaty menu and perhaps a cocktail pianist; a product of the 1950s. Like a vintage car, it has stood a test of time to come back in style. This is a restaurant with fins, and proud of it.

Yes, the walls at either end of the large dining room are of mortared stone; the floor is flagstone, too. The ranch-style interior features orange lanterns, a decorating touch from another era. The carts and copper chafing dishes aren’t just, antiques - they’re treasures.

But something that’s very new about the place is the man in the kitchen. Executive chef Roger Herwerth has been there about six months, a graduate of the food-service program of SUNY at Cobleskill. He has taken the classic ‘50s menu and brought it into the ‘80s without resorting to nachos and fried potato skins: he emphasizes freshness and quality products.

A tour of the meal my wife and I enjoyed tells the whole story. We were started off with a warm-up appetizer (it was served to everyone) of curried chicken salad with walnuts with a generous assortment of crackers. A smooth, tangy way to start a meal, putting us right in a wine-ordering mood.

There is a good list at the restaurant, reasonably priced. We chose a year old Beaujolais Villages.

The Stone Ends uses a Captain-Waiter system for service, the only truly effective method of running a floor. Our Captain was Vincent Junco, brother of the owner, and he had quiet flair for smooth service.

From an auxiliary roster of daily specials I chose an appetizer of oysters in a cucumber sauce. These were breaded and quickly fried: placed back in the shell on a dollop of the spicy sauce with a sprinkling of caviar. The oysters were hot and moist, with a flavor strong enough to complement the other ingredients.

Cream of summer vegetable was the catch-all soup, and Susan, a severe soup critic, found in it an appealing combination of flavors. (It is ladled tableside, a nice, old-fashioned touch.)
Also prepared tableside is the Caesar salad. Vincent worked at a service cart appointed with small dishes of the various necessities (garlic, anchovies, worcestershire sauce, oil & vinegar, etc.), mixed into a dressing and tossed with crisp Romaine and croutons. The bib-shaped plates are a novel service touch, too.

But the entrees stole the show. Preparation of Susan’s Veal Calvados began just after the salads were served, because it was Vincent’s show all the way. Beginning with two floured cutlets of veal, he sauteed them in a copper chafing dish and flamed it with a shot of Calvados brandy. Then came dressings of sliced mushrooms, sliced apples, minced shallots, chopped parsley, and a dusting of herbs. Then he added heavy cream and a ladle of sauce Espagnol (brown sauce) and left it to simmer.

A unique intermezzo in the form of corn fritters was served next, thick with maple syrup, and then my poached Norwegian salmon arrived, and it was the star of a star-studded show. Only a very fresh slice of fish has the creamy texture this filet had, and it was served atop a pungent Bearnaise sauce.

The family-style vegetable selection included carrots and broccoli florets, still crisp, and a dish of sliced zucchini. Susan’s veal was served with a rice pilaf; I got a side dish of creamed potatoes.

“They let me try what I want,” chef Herwerth later explained. “So I put together a menu that’s about 30 percent shorter than the one they used to have, and I’ve been doing a lot of catering, too.” His work is evident: any menu profits from regular updates, but the formula that made the Stone Ends a success for so many years hasn’t been tampered with.

We finished a very filling dinner with chocolate mousse and peach Melba, and enjoyed coffee and tea service from copper pots left at the table. It tempts you to linger.

The Stone Ends
• Route 9W, Glenmont. 465-xxxx. Full bar, banquet facilities, and catering available. Dinner 5-10 Monday-Saturday. Reservations suggested. All major credit cards.

Metroland Magazine, 21 August 1986

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