Sometimes, the second course is best. In 2009, when we reviewed the Iron Horse Inn, it had been trying to regain its footing. Glendale resident Robin Thomas had purchased the gracious 19th century inn in early 2008 after a protracted decline from its prominence as a destination dining spot. She relieved the more formal downstairs dining room of its brothel red walls, going with warm copper, and renovated the large upstairs tavern in clubby olives (goodbye plaid carpeting!) and comfortable upholstered chairs. Chef Stefan Marcus developed an ambitious menu—too ambitious, as it turned out, as well as overpriced, overwrought, and poorly executed. Our most memorable dish? Garlic mashed potatoes. For all its charm, the Iron Horse Inn was in danger of derailing again.
Enter Chef Jackson Rouse. Or more accurately, re-enter. Rouse (above) had been executive chef from 1998 to 2004. Back then, I found his cooking beautiful to behold, if overly complicated, occasionally resulting in dishes with too many competing ingredients. Rouse spent the next five years as executive chef of Murphin Ridge Inn in Adams County, focusing his menu on seasonal, locally grown food, much of it sourced from the surrounding Amish community or harvested from his own garden. He’s done well by the restraint.
Returning earlier this year, Rouse quietly reengineered the menu, making it more accessible with small and large plates rooted in Mediterranean, French, and regional southern cuisines. Dishes have much more clarity of flavor than during his first tour of duty, though they traverse from exceptional to underwhelming. Simple, classic gougéres (French cheese puffs) are the best of the best—warm, crisp exterior yielding to soft interior; sharp, herby, and slightly salty with a peppery tomato jam for dipping. Order them with a bowl of Rouse’s velutinous tomato soup—an elegant nugget of housemade ricotta at its center, hearty in full-on tomato flavor. The combination is a palate party.
Local love abounds throughout the menu: in the greens for the house salad, dressed in tomato sherry vinaigrette; in the housemade condiments (a nod to Rouse’s Amish influences); in an egg for the steakhouse style wedge salad; in the sesame buns made by Giminetti Baking Company for the burgers (salmon, Black Angus beef, and a fetching smoky chickpea veggie). In the disappointment department, lifeless asparagus accompanied a decent New York strip steak, ratatouille succumbed to an overdose of smoked paprika, and the pedigrees for shrimp and grits (Laughing Bird and Weisenberger, respectively) did little to elevate the flavor of the dish. Despite the misses, this menu is a much better fit, and Rouse has put the Iron Horse back on track.
Iron Horse Inn
40 Village Square, Glendale
Lunch and dinner Tues–Fri, dinner Sat
Originally published in the December 2010 issue.