A somewhat forgotten fixture in New Hope, chef and owner Pete Gialias refreshes The Logan Inn with a bold and superbly executed menu. The trouble with calling any town home, even an eclectic place like New Hope, is that, inevitably, certain people and places become fixtures in your mind, and not necessarily in a good way. They've been there for as long as you can recall, so, in your mind, they'll always be there. In time, they become part of the background. And then, invisible altogether.
The Logan Inn was such a place to me.
Before moving to New Hope about five years ago, I enjoyed lunches on the inn's spacious patio on a somewhat regular basis during the summer months and I sipped happy hour beers at least as often at the outside bar, an ideal perch for people watching along New Hope's busiest avenue.
Since, however, I've walked past often, though rarely ventured in. I can't explain why, at least within reason. In my mind, it was a strange dichotomy: The Logan Inn was a New Hope fixture. It was also tourist trap.
And then, in early March, I received an email, outlining plans to celebrate my brother's birthday. We were going to dine at the Logan Inn, by his choice.
Second impression trumps first
Before we got as far as ordering appetizers, I lost myself in the size and diversity of the menu. Usually a recipe for disaster, I thought. Try to please everyone and you end up pleasing no one. But it did seem to excite the diners at our table who ranged from unapologetic carnivores to health-conscious seafood-lovers.
The herb goat cheese tart, an apparent holdover from the winter menu and the least expensive of the appetizers, provided a promising start. (Less than a week into spring, we seemed to have been furnished with a hybrid of the winter and spring/summer dinner menus.) The presentation was surprisingly beautiful in its intricacy. The pastry was delicate and flaky, an appropriate platform for a light-tasting combination of ingredients tomato, asparagus and caramelized onions right through to the goat cheese.
The duck spring roll, served with Ponzu and Thai sauces, was the least appealing dish I tasted during the course of the dinner. I'm relatively adverse to all things fried I know, I'm not American and the spring roll did not provide me with any reason to change my mind. The pungent duck came off in the otherwise traditional spring roll as every bit as oily and heavy as the tart was light and fresh.
A Logan Inn mainstay, the snapper turtle soup is worthy of ordering even in the dead heat of summer. Chockfull of little chewy pieces of turtle, the buttery-smooth broth was so airy, the little cup of sherry that accompanied the bowl was needed, I thought, to literally ground the flavors.
The wine list, too, is immense at over 100 different types, domestic and international, reasonably priced to expensive, from Hardy's Nottage Hill (Australia) pinot noir ($36) to Chateau Margaux (France) Premier Grand Cru Classe ($350), most available by the bottle or the glass.
Focused on the food
Owner and chef Pete Gialias, who also owns The Clinton House in Clinton, NJ, bought The Logan Inn in April 2007 and has since applied his signature to the storied establishment it is one of the five oldest, continuously-run inns in the country in the form of a simplified, focused attention on the food, in spite of initial impressions to the contrary left by the massive menu.
This movement became evident the moment the appetizers landed on the table. The sophisticated presentations almost presented an odd juxtaposition to the setting. Our table was located in a large room that most closely resembled a ski lodge through its exposed beams and giant, wood-burning fireplace. It felt very much separate from the Colonial-era lobby we entered through and the dark, tavern-like bar we could see through the doorway, and almost sterile by contrast.
Careful attention, however, was paid to shaping each dish as a unique entity. It was obvious in the presentation and, thankfully, in the taste, in almost all cases, which nullified any drawbacks created by the setting. Even as smoke from the fireplace gradually filled the top tier of the dining room and the heat emanating from it sent the temperature spiraling upward during the course of the dinner.
Forget rhyme and reason
The Szechwan tuna sesame encrusted tuna served with julienned vegetables, toasted noodles and Szechwan sauce perfectly illustrates just how far-reaching the menu is, especially among the entrees, and yet somehow still manages to come through on an almost impossible promise. The tuna was cooked rare, cut into several slices and laid atop an ample bed of seasoned vegetables and noodles, every element of which was the right amount of crispness and softness.
It was puzzling to believe that it came out of the same kitchen as the all-American grilled 16-ounce New York strip steak, served, of course, with onion rings and a baked potato. And that's not a knock on either dish, because the steak was every bit as satisfying as the tuna. Cooked to a perfectly pink medium rare, the meat was moist and tender with a hint of char on the crust. Rather, if one failed, you could at least say the kitchen was better suited for the cuisine of the other. But with both succeeding, what did that mean? I thought this was the age of niche restaurants. Claim your area of expertise and do not stray. But the Logan Inn's and Gialias's ambitions are as grand as the 350-seat restaurant itself.
Following suit, the Maryland crab cakes were closer to fists than patties in size, and they were full of chunks of fresh crab that were moist inside, a golden crisp on the outside and perfectly seasoned.
In the end, the most apt description for the experience is: A reawakening, of sorts. Much is as I remember it the furnishings, the attentive service, the snapper turtle soup but some is different, including, perhaps, the most integral component: the food. I would never have described the pervious forms as substandard. Uninventive would be more accurate. I long thought that the food was a secondary concern at The Logan Inn. You go there for the atmosphere and to people watch. Now, however, the food is the foremost reason for being there.
The Logan Inn, 10 West Ferry Street, New Hope. Lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; dinner, starting at 5 p.m., daily; brunch, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; late-night menu available daily in the tavern. Reservations recommended. All major credit cards accepted. Onsite parking available. 215-862-2300; www.loganinn.com.