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Thursday, March 26, 2015

No Bull

Restaurants in Review Dept.: The Bull’s Head Inn closed in the middle of 2012 and changed hands the following January. The new owners are busily restoring the place – it’s said to be oldest building in Cobleskill – and you can follow their progress on their Facebook page. But here’s my review from 2010.


YOU CAN GET TO COBLESKILL QUICKLY via I-88, or you can wander out along Route 7. The former offers a panorama of beautiful Schoharie County farmland; the latter is a close-up reminder that farms and farmer aren’t necessarily faring too well these days. Cobleskill itself is a small, agriculturally oriented city with a similarly inclined SUNY campus.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The village center hangs onto the old-world charm of historic buildings, many of them kept well maintained, but the outskirts have been blighted by several stretches of low-rent strip-mall stores, where Dollar General becomes the default department store.

The Bull’s Head Inn sits at a busy intersection in the nicer, dare I even say quainter part of the village, a turn-of-the-19th-century building bought at foreclosure two years ago and refurbished into charming shape. It’s the oldest building in the village, and has been some kind of gathering place for much of its 200-year history.

It’s right next to the town’s movie theater, a single-screen reminder of the old days. The Bull’s Head dining room opened late in 2008; after still more renovation, the Cellar Tavern (downstairs) opened.

Most significant, as far as the menu if concerned, was owner Tony Giammattei’s decision to hire chef Rick Vincent, bringing yet another history into the place.

Vincent ran the Brookside Inn in Duanesburg for many years, where he was known for his German cuisine – “So we put his German items on the menu here,” Giammattei explains. “And it’s been very popular.

‘I grew up in Germany,” he adds, speaking with the trace of an accent. “But I’m half German, half Italian.” He left in 1990, selling everything to come here and start afresh. He started a local catering business in 2006, working fairs and festivals, and it soon became popular enough to warrant the need for a commercial kitchen to service the bigger parties he was booking. That’s how he discovered the Bull’s Head Inn.

Don’t look for too many surprises in the menu line-up – except for the German fare, of course. The appetizers list is dominated by such reliables as shrimp cocktail ($10) and crab cakes ($10), with mozzarella wedges ($9), fried calamari ($9) and French onion soup ($6) rounding it out. But there’s also escargot ($10), served over angel hair pasta, a novel touch, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen frog’s legs featured ($10).

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
A tube apiece of grilled knockwurst and weisswurst are the stars of a $9 appetizer platter served over sauerkraut with a side of spicy mustard. This gave us a welcome entry to our revised dining strategy, and the wursts – obtained from Schenectady’s White Eagle – certainly are attractive examples of these classic items.

The duo of crab cakes was far more crab-intense than any others I’ve sampled recently, and the topping – a tomato cream with a little kick to it – was an unexpected accompaniment.

I found the restaurant through an online search for a steakhouse, and had no other expectation until I read the menu. That we didn’t sample the filet mignon ($25) or strip steak ($27) only reflects how schnitzel crazy a few minutes of menu study drove us. We also passed up pecan chicken ($18) and chicken Oscar ($20), and we gave the go-by to Tuscan-style red snapper ($19, with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and garlic) and panko-breaded haddock with lemon cream ($18).

That’s because there’s a page that starts with sauerbraten ($18), describing a classic preparation of long-marinated beef served with a gingersnap sauce.

Followed by several different schnitzels. Some with pork, like the mushroom-topped jager schnitzel ($18), the sour cream-and-mushroom-topped rahm schnitzel ($19) and the ham-and-cheese enhanced kase schnitzel ($18). One with chicken ($18).

And the house speciality: Wiener schnitzel ($10), done the fancy way with breaded veal cutlets, served with lemon wedges. That’s the one we ordered, and just a couple of bites were enough to prove it was a faithfully executed preparation. Sides of roasted potatoes and tangy red cabbage gave it even more Germanic credibility.

Kassler Rippchen ($18) is another take on pork. Here the chops are smoked, then grilled, and finished with a compote of caramelized onion and apple slices.

Antiques and found objects decorate the dining room walls, and the room itself boasts wide plank flooring and old-fashioned tables and chairs, enough to give you a 19th-century feel. Service is prompt and efficient. And talented: our waitress, Alex, revealed that it was her first day on the job, but made up for any lack of experience with a keen, intelligent manner.

The menu is different downstairs, where a more casual spirit prevails. Burgers are popular, and there are plenty available in the $7-$9 range, alongside soup, salad, other sandwiches and a few fancier entrées.

And speaking of casual spirits. The Inn has a long history of ghost sightings, too. The website notes that “guests have reported seeing a woman in period dress wandering through the building, strange lights and shadows have appeared and unconnected crank-handle phones ring mysteriously.”

We saw no such apparitions, I have to confess, but I seem to chase away even the most persistent and legendary of ghosts. You’ll have to let me know if your experience is different.

The Bull’s Head Inn, 105 Park Place, Cobleskill, Serving Tue-Sat from 5 PM, Sun from 4 PM. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 8 April 2010

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