We had no power. No light. No heat. No running water. It was Day 2 of the Ice Storm of 2014. Most of our efforts had been focused on getting warm, finding a place to shower and getting an internet connection so that we could work.
Imagine our delight, then, to find ourselves sitting in a warm, cozy inn, sipping bourbon and dining on savory, seasonal food. No, we hadn’t abandoned the dogs and fled to a B&B. We were sitting in the dining room at the Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm, quite pleased with ourselves. We were enjoying Bucks County’s newest “best kept secret.”
Mention the Inn at Barley Sheaf to a local and there is usually a pause. “Yeah…we were at a party there once. Nice place.” Then the conversation moves on. In fact, if you drive from Doylestown to New Hope on 202, you’ve passed it many times. The sign stands at the entrance of a long driveway, lined with trees. But what’s at the end of that driveway?
What you may not know are the changes that have been taking place at the Inn. A new chef, Joshua Homacki, arrived in May 2013. In November 2013, new owners, Mark and Deena Frank, took over this beautiful property once owned by the playwright and director George Kaufman. The Franks are locals too, from Wrightstown Township. Owning an inn is something they’ve always wanted to do and they have some great plans in store.
It’s still a fine inn, a member of the Select Registry of Distinguished Inns of North America, with 16 luxury suites, old world architecture, an event space in the restored barn, swimming pool, walking paths and an outdoor patio overlooking the verdant grounds.
Of course, as we looked out from the cozy dining room, most of that was covered in six inches of snow and ice. No problem. We were sitting comfortably, surrounded by large windows and soft lighting, in a dining area with only 40 or so seats. The open kitchen let us watch Homacki and his assistant prepare, while the soft sounds of cooking and sweet aromas primed our appetites.
It’s that intimacy and warmth that you feel throughout the inn, from the moment you walk in – greeted by Mona Crisp-Gallo, the front desk manager and employee at the inn for over ten years – to the living room, furnished with comfortable, period sofas and chairs. That’s where we began the evening, sipping our drinks. Although we had a reservation, there was no pressure to go into the dining room. The unspoken message was, relax, take your time, and when you’re ready, come in.
It’s the setting that attracted Homacki in the first place. “I want to create an experience, something really special, and I want people to feel comfortable,” says Homacki. “Our goal isn’t to turn tables.” That tone was echoed by Mark Frank also. “We want the inn to be high-end but warm and comfortable,” he explains. “We want to take something that has been well run and taken care of, and accentuate it.”
A big part of that plan is introducing Homacki’s culinary skills to Bucks County. His style is creative, yet approachable, focusing on seasonal flavors and local sourcing. Homacki is an Upper Bucks County native, beginning his culinary career over 13 years ago in area kitchens. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, he gained experience at some of the region’s best restaurants, working as Chef de Partie at Chifa/Garces Restaurant Group, executive chef at Snackbar and Chef de Partie at Lacroix, as well as the Freight House in Doylestown.
Our meal began with a house-made bacon olive bread, served with olive oil and roasted black garlic. Choosing our courses was challenging. Go for the Cauliflower Soup, with charred leek oil and Marcona almonds? Or maybe the Horseradish Gnocchi, served with a short rib, Swiss chard and Manchego cheese? My husband, Mark, went for the latter. It had two of his favorites – gnocchi and ribs – so what could be wrong? It melted on the tongue.
I chose the North Atlantic octopus, charred and accompanied by house-made chorizo, chickpeas and mint, reminiscent of Moroccan flavors. A few weeks ago, the octopus was served with a sweet potato puree and white balsamic pickled apples. That’s what Homacki will do. Stay with the main star, but change the supporting cast to fit the season and availability of product.
For the entrée, I got the Lancaster County Ribeye, cooked perfectly at medium rare, and not fatty like most ribeyes. The portion was perfect too. Too often folks think they’re not getting a deal if the steak doesn’t fall off the sides of the dish. But more and more, I want balance and “just enough.” I don’t want to feel stuffed by the end of the meal. A bacon potato terrine and a wild mushroom ragu was served with the steak. The terrine had been cut from the pan, but served on its side, a unique and eye-catching presentation. It was subtle, with the potato just firm enough.
For his entrée, Mark chose the Long Island Duck Breast, served with maple chipotle grits and red wine poached quince. Once again, the duck was perfectly done – medium rare (as ordered), moist, not fatty and nicely browned.
If you are detecting a pattern here, you’re right. Savory, earthy, winter flavors – but not too heavy. The touches are subtle, often just hinting at this or that, and often with a counterpoint. Like the chocolate pudding cake we had for dessert, served with almond ice cream, caramel and sprinkled with fresh thyme. The thyme took me by surprise, but it worked very well.
We were quite content at this point. But then the final touch arrived in the shape of sweets made by Homacki. A cinnamon marshmallow, a strawberry jell, an intense chocolate truffle and a light, salted caramel appeared to finish the meal.
The other entrees offered included Lancaster County Free Range Chicken Breast, Barnegat Light Scallops and a Monk Fish Loin. A Winter Vegetable Salad was also on the menu as a first course, consisting of an assortment of seasonal raw, pickled and cooked fruits and vegetables. For dessert we could have also chosen a Butterscotch Pudding, with whipped crème fraiche and pine nuts, a Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Mousse (why didn’t I get that??) with banana chips crumbled on top, and a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, served with Meyer lemon curd and candied lemon yogurt.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 pm, and a Sunday brunch is served from 9 am to 1 pm. Bring your own bottle too. Start with a little chatting and sipping in the living room, and then be prepared for a special meal, slow, comfortable and delicious.
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