You could stand on a corner and look around until a restaurant sign draws you in. But we've got a better idea. Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:
Long before I moved to Basking Ridge, Sunday brunch at the Olde Mill Inn, with the historic Grain House Restaurant on the same property, was a treat I looked forward to whether living in nearby Morris County, or further away. It certainly was worth a trip on special occasions, or just as a chance to get together with a special group of family and friends.
Now that I live in town, it's been quite a while since I've been to brunch at the Grain House. There are lots of reasons, one of which is that I simply don't want to eat that much food anymore.
And after all, sometimes Saturday is more convenient and less harried than Sunday morning.
Even so, I missed the restaurant's atmosphere—the graciousness and chance to be in one of the area's best-preserved historic buildings. The Grain House dates back to the 18th century, and it's always fun to poke around and take a peek into its quirky and intriquing nooks, hearths and collection of dining rooms in the 200-year-old-plus building.
Then, recently, I learned that the restaurant has a Saturday brunch. It's not technically a full brunch spread like Sunday's [$27 per person, or $12 for children ages 4 to 12]. Instead, it's a less expensive à la carte offering, with the regular lunch menu available during the same hours.
The brunch and lunch service begins at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. A restaurant employee told me the leisurely Saturday meal continues until about 4:30 or 5 p.m.
When the Grain House started its Saturday brunch about two years ago, Executive Chef and Culinary Director Walter Leffler wanted to create some "breakfast excitement" by offering à la carte items that would not be found on traditional breakfast menus, said Sheila Palka, marketing director for the Olde Mill Inn & Grain House.
She said the chef's philosophy in starting Saturday brunch was, "to entertain the palette without denting the wallet." Leffler is planning new and exciting items on the brunch menu as it changes with the local growing season, she said.
I didn't know any of that when I showed up with my son to celebrate the start of his weeklong vacation from school. The Saturday brunch was something I'd been talking about for a while, and had half-planned with a number of different people, so I decided that it was time to just do it.
We showed up at about 1 p.m. on Saturday and had no trouble being seated immediately, right next to the fireplace [with a fire] in the main dining room.
Our congenial waitress took our orders quickly, starting with drinks. I asked for coffee, specifying that I'd like mine decaffeinated, but spiked with a little regular. The waitress evidentally heard me ask for "spiked," but not regular, coffee. With a smile, she suggested Grand Marnier—it's nice to know there are still places to go to celebrate that certain Somerset Hills style!
We also were served immediately with a Saturday brunch specialty—a bread basket full of small freshly baked items. The mini-cinnamon scones and little powdered donuts [without holes] didn't last very long.
Although I'd settled for nonalcoholic coffee, I did decide to try the shrimp and asparagus omelet, partially because I wanted to find out what "lobster home fries" were all about. [The meal was one of the more expensive brunch items on the menu at $15].
Other selections include a breakfast quesadilla [$13] and a thin crab cake with organic eggs which, according to the menu, is topped by lightly spiced pecan Hollandaise sauce, also at $13. The menu also includes variations on omelets, paninis and French toast.
My son decided he didn't want brunch after all, and ordered a large Kobe beef burger [$13] topped with cheddar cheese, and served with French fries, topped by onion rings, on the side. He later pronounced it was one of the best burgers he's had.
As for my omelet, it was stuffed with provolone cheese, and a generous number of large shrimp and fresh asparagus. Enjoyable—and it was bigger than I could finish, so I brought some home.
I discovered that the lobster home fries were simply home fries mixed with chunks of lobster. I personally think the mixture called out for some other ingredient or ingredients, be it peppers or fresh tomato or something else, to add a little more zip.
Another note—maybe it was because I ordered decaf, but the coffee tasted pretty much as I'd remembered it from the 80s. And, overall, coffee has improved much since that era!
But it was great to be back at the restaurant, which was populated on Saturday with what appeared to a mix of older regulars, and also larger groups of people who appeared to be celebrating a birthday or other milestone. One party had rented and decorated a room for a private party.
Our bill came to just over $33, far less expensive than it would have been if I'd shared brunch with two or more people. I also enjoyed the less formal atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon. And although I probably would only come for Sunday brunch on a special occasion, I left feeling that Saturday brunch at the Grain House had helped make my day a little more special anyway.
The Grain House Restaurant also serves a full lunch and dinner menu.
Decor: Classic Colonial Somerset Hills historic inn, and a good part of the reason you're here.
Service: Gracious, not rushed.
Drinks: Alcoholic and non-alcoholic, with a full bar at the Coppertop Pub, which is housed within the Grain House building.