Funky Fine Dining
Long a beer lovers’ mecca, the Country Inn is now
worth the trip for its classic cuisine
By Alex Silberman
Is the Country Inn a roadhouse or a restaurant, a pub or a watering hole? Is it a beer hall or a bistro? Is it the quirkiest food and beverage dispenser you’ve ever come across, or just another Catskill mirage?
For 30 years, the answers to these questions have been as hazy as the windings of Ulster County Route 2. That’s how most people get to the Country Inn, turning off Route 209 south of Stone Ridge and snaking seven or so miles up Kripplebush Road to the place referred to on the map as Krumville.
Back in 1976, transplanted New Yorker Larry Erenberg opened the original Country Inn in what had once been a boarding house and tavern. Well off the beaten path, it nevertheless became a favored hangout for locals and, over time, a destination drawing beer lovers from far and wide to sample some 500 different brews.
Erenberg served up the sort of fare — burgers and sandwiches — that complemented a
healthy thirst. But, as a writer put it in the trade journal Night Club & Bar Magazine, “No one comes to the Country Inn for fine dining.” That, decidedly, is no longer the case.
When Erenberg hung up his steins and Peter Rinaudo bought the Country Inn in 2003, the mammoth beer selection and much of the atmosphere stayed in place. You still pass the starkly lit poolroom to enter the bar; the famous wall of beer labels is still up; and in the L-shaped dining area there remains an array of animal skulls and horns that wouldn’t be out of place in a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Mismatched chairs surround plain wooden tables that the willing staff rearrange to suit whatever group arrives. And the diners are motley, too, with cowboy-hatted young men playing pool, families with babies, and sleek weekenders in head-to-toe black making up the lively mix.
Rinaudo pulls the brews behind the small bar, providing a welcome and emanating good cheer. In the kitchen, the chefs — his stepdaughter, Jessica Fraser, and Spencer Mass (who happens to be an M.D.) — use fine, local ingredients to prepare the elements of an intelligent and highly satisfying menu.
The fall menu, which we sampled, was heavily influenced by southern French and Mediterranean cuisine, along with some hearty standbys like steak frites. There’s a small, well-chosen selection of modestly priced red and white wines, both domestic and international ($20â€“$28 a bottle), but it was impossible to pass up the beers. Every Belgian Trappist beer is available, including Chimay Triple Ale on tap. (The Westvleteren Trappist beer is so rare, Rinaudo says people come from all over to taste it.) They also offer organic and local beers, including on-tap brews made by Albany’s C.H. Evans Brewery.
The dinner menu is divided into Small Plates and Starters, and Large Plates and EntrÃ©es, and servings are generous enough that a small plate of New Zealand lamb chops ($12.95) could satisfy anyone with a light appetite. A starter of thick split pea soup ($3.95 per bowl) was nicely textured and had the classic smoky tinge of ham hock as well as liberal chunks of ham. A heaping bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels with chorizo and onion ($8.95) snapped everyone’s taste buds to attention, its aroma as piquant as the flavors. The tender mussels were perfectly steamed, and the spicy chorizo made a pleasing contrast. Escargot with garlic and Pernod ($6.95) had just the right proportion of Pernod to set off, rather than overpower, the succulent snails.
The place was packed the night we went, and things were moving slowly, so we shared an order of hand-cut French fries ($3.95) to stave off the pangs while we awaited our entrÃ©es. You can often judge a kitchen by the quality of its fries, and this one passed with flying colors.
Perhaps it was the chill of the night that inclined us all toward the heartier main courses. Normandy Peqin duck breast with wild mushrooms ($19.95) served over French lentils was sublime. The pink medallions of pan-seared Stone Church Farm duck (prepared exactly as requested) glowed in a deeply colored and richly flavored ragout of assorted wild mushrooms that went perfectly with the lentils.
The Moroccan Lamb Tagine with couscous ($17.95), on the other hand, was a bright medley of autumn vegetables, golden couscous, and sauced chunks of lamb. The house-made harissa, the traditional fiery Moroccan condiment, came in a small bowl on the side to let us kick up the heat as far as we dared.
The classic cassoulet ($17.95) was a standout. The white beans had just enough tooth, and all the meats — pork sausage, duck confit, braised pork shoulder — were done to their individual turns and provided the pleasurable interplay of textures to be found in this dish at its best.
Probably because of our earlier indulgence with the French fries, our attentions had faded a little by dessert, so we shared a generous portion of the excellent, moist bread pudding ($5.95). Other desserts on hand are Belgium pot of chocolate ($6.95) and crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e ($5.95).
In keeping with the Country Inn’s lack of pretension, a pub menu offering such casual fare as fish and chips and hamburgers is available for those in the mood for lighter or more informal dining. Oh yes, these quirky folk take no reservations and accept no checks or credit cards.
The Country Inn is located at 1380 County Rd. 2, Krumville (approx. 7 miles off Route 209). Dinner is served 5-9 p.m. Wed.-Thur.; until 10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; and 4-9 p.m. Sun. The pub menu is served starting at 1 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 845-657-8956. The restaurant closes for the month of January.