On a balmy day in autumn, we had just completed our pumpkin and corn stalk shopping, and found ourselves in Cobleskill hungry and ready to relax. A small park refreshed our Cairn terrier Maggie, and across the street was a restaurant I had visited years ago — Bull’s Head Inn — still boasting “good food” and “sturdy drink” above the pillared porch running the length of the front.
It was Sunday and both lunch and dinner were being served. On the left side of the building, a small dining room was separated by a large oak-framed fireplace from the small bar area. Acting as hostess, Emily led us to another dining area on the opposite side of the restaurant.
We were instantly impressed by the elegance of the room. The willow green wainscoting gave way to cream-colored walls with the rear space imprinted with a pattern that resembled the lace of the window curtains. Patterned swags of the same soothing colors were draped above each window, giving the room a soft colonial ambiance.
Old and repurposed wood dominated the room: tables, the bar, the hand-hewn posts and beams of the ceiling, the massive oak cooler that had been fashioned from the oak treads of the tavern downstairs. Each table was modestly decorated with a doily, a few artificial fall leaves and an orange glass vase. We presented our drink orders to server Jeff and studied the menu.
Ah, the menu. While the categories were the usual, the offerings within each category certainly were not. We both eyed the Wild Mushroom Polenta ($8) and ordered it to share. Described in the menu as “grilled polenta with a hearty ragout of crimini, white, shiitake and oyster mushrooms topped with parmesan cheese and balsamic reduction,” the polenta arrived looking like a triangle of smooth yellow pound cake topped and nearly surrounded by sliced mushrooms in various shades of brown. The flavor of the mushroom stew initially surprised me — tart from the balsamic reduction with an almost barbecue-y tomato taste — but the surprise quickly evolved into a taste thrill.
John chose the French Onion Soup ($6), consisting of caramelized onions in a sherry beef broth with a large garlic crouton and Swiss cheese. I opted for the innkeeper’s choice of soup for the day (red pepper bisque for $4 and $6), but received instead the fisherman’s chowder ($5 and $8). I was not disappointed. The variety of seafood was nicely balanced with potatoes, other vegetables and tomatoes, and finished with a touch of cream. Server Jeff apologized for the mix-up and assured me the price would be the same as the daily soup choice. His professional demeanor was consistent throughout the dinner, and we appreciated his attentiveness.
The IPA Fish N’ Chips ($15) was John’s entrée — cod filet in light, crispy beer batter accompanied by hand-cut house fries, apple fennel slaw and tartar sauce. We both admitted that the fried fish was quite possibly the best we had ever eaten.
I opted for what I thought was the most unusual entrée on the menu: the Hunter’s Selection ($32). And what a wonderful and bountiful selection it was! Two links of char-grilled venison sausage sliced into approximately 1-inch diagonal pieces. A boneless pan-seared duck breast and braised rabbit completed with demi glaze rounded out the trio of meats. Excellent scalloped potatoes and a crisp tender combination of broccoli and cauliflower complimented the entrée. The potent spiciness of the venison was balanced by the mild duck and rabbit-autumnal game in perfect concert.
Even the “ordinary” entrées listed appeared to be extraordinary. For example, chicken pot pie ($9) was topped with smoked paprika and a thyme crust. Sliders were made from jumbo crab meat cakes on a mini brioche roll topped with crispy onions and chipotle remoulade ($14.50).
I always save room for dessert. Even if it means taking home some of my meal. This dining experience was no exception.
Five desserts, all in the $6-$9 range, were offered. From the 1802 Oven-Fired Pudding Enough for Two to Carrot Cake, Creative Brulees, Mocha Mousse Tower and S’mores, Bull’s Head Inn boasted a short but sweet list. The purist in me generally prefers a vanilla brulee, but I took a giant leap and ordered the current offering: Double Chocolate Espresso to share with John. We did not complain. Though the caramel crust of sugar glass was daunting, we delighted in having to make three or four attempts to breach it. The silky custard it protected was a melt-in-your-mouth affair. Divine.
The next time we visit the Bull’s Head Inn, I will choose the Mediterranean Pasta ($17.50), the Bruleed Salmon ($20.50), the Bone-in Pork Shank ($27) or the Sweet and Smoky Short Ribs ($24). A next time is guaranteed, since the popular tavern in the cellar is expected to be renovated and open by spring.
The inn is the oldest building in Cobleskill. According to an article in The Gazette dated June 22, 2015, “The building was built in 1802 by Seth Wakeman, one of the master builders behind the Beekman Mansion in Sharon Springs, also built in 1802, which has come to fame as the home of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, reality TV cooking stars and founders of the popular lifestyle brand Beekman 1802.”
Bull’s Head Inn
WHERE: 105 Park Place, Cobleskill, 234-1802
WHEN: Mon.-Closed; Tue.-Thur. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 12 p.m.-8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $73 with two coffees but without an alcoholic beverage, tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking on street, all major credit cards accepted, background music permits conversation, private dining room, daily specials