The Menus of Madison County: The Horned Dorset Inn

Few restaurants are able to transport the diner completely to another world; the Horned Dorset Inn (2000 State Route 8, Leonardsville, NY) offers such a transcendant experience. I stepped through the front door and found myself to be in what looked like an old library, weathered books still displayed in dark wood cases. Soft lighting adorned the dining room, with candles accenting each intimate table. A guitarist was gently strumming on a small landing – what a novel idea: background music that actually stayed in the background without overwhelming dinner conversation. After traveling along precarious cattle-studded country roads to get there, the Horned Dorset certainly was a sight for sore eyes.

Moments after we were seated, a waiter in a white shirt and black bowtie delivered “warm cheese spread” and crackers. I couldn’t tell you what exactly was in this delectable hors d’oeuvre besides some luscious combination of cheeses and perhaps breadcrumbs, but it threatened to ruin my appetite for what was to be a veritable feast.

Still menuless, our conversation danced between the cheese spread and the décor (apparently a horned dorset is a sheep) and I began to wonder if we had been forgotten. Eventually, one of the suited waiters came over and began to list the night’s choices in an almost melodious tone. The only other time I braved a restaurant without printed menus was on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, a true mecca of Italian cuisine where you are more or less told what you will be eating for the night. This solely verbal recitation is somewhat nerve-wracking, as you are left repeating the choices so as not to forget anything while trying not to obsess over what the damage will be for the meal.

The three of us opted for a round of appetizers to share. My dining companions could not resist the mussels in a creamy broth and country p??té with capers, mustard and horseradish sauce. I settled on fresh salmon with crab mousse in a lemony sauce. The appetizers were all delicious; each was generously portioned and could have been a nice lunch. The p??té was particularly delectable.

With my stomach already nearing defeat, there was still a salad and main course to go. All three of us chose the spinach salad to follow the appetizers and all agreed this was a bit of an unnecessary disappointment. The salad consisted of spinach, hardboiled eggs, red onions and oily croutons tossed in a strong balsamic vinaigrette. I have tasted this run-of-the mill combination at countless restaurants and was rather disappointed to encounter something so ordinary at such an extraordinary restaurant. However, we got over it quickly and eagerly anticipated the entrées.

Our main courses arrived in a blaze of glory: my companions both opted for the veal loin with mushroom mousse and avocado and roasted duck with a fragrant cinnamon and nutmeg accented sauce. I chose lamb chops in a mushroom and thyme sauce. All meals were exquisite, more than compensating for the pedestrian salads, and, as one of my cohorts noted, each respective piece of meat was cooked to perfection. Continuing our rollercoaster meal, our sweet ending turned sour as a trio of sorbets and ice creams for dessert (kiwi and mango sorbet and apple cider ice cream) turned out to be uninspired.

When the check arrived, we were shocked at both the total and the time. Our meal had lasted three and a half hours and cost as much as I spend on food in a month. Thankfully, I wasn’t footing the bill and didn’t have anywhere else to be. After a long week, the Horned Dorset provided an indulgent and leisurely dinner, leaving me without an ounce of stress left. The next time Daddy Warbucks comes to visit (or the grandparents), head on over to the Horned Dorset. Otherwise, this restaurant is probably out of the realm of a feasible college budget.

Contact Jen Lauro at [email protected]