by guest blogger, Erica Chayes,
When a landmark like the Stockton Inn begins to shift in new directions, it’s easy for us locals to push away the winds of change. After all, we’re only human.
But I must remind you, my fellow bon vivants, that change brings new flavors. Was it not a change of pace that inspired Dorothy Parker, George Kaufman and other members of the Algonquin Round Table to venture to our neck of the woods for taste making and a little R & R? Change is a wonderful thing, should you choose to embrace it.
And proprietor Mitch Millett and his nephew, executive chef Heath Millett, embrace change. In fact, they’re pros at the art of reinvention. As Bucks County locals who recently returned to their roots, they’re working to preserve the Stockton Inn’s history and make it a prominent fine dining destination.
Chef Millett is both bold and meticulous in his approach to running the kitchen and revitalizing the Inn. From a family who always encouraged responsibility and hard work, Chef Millet was introduced to commercial kitchens as a 12-year-old dishwasher. By eighteen, he was teaching culinary school and by twenty-one he had become the owner of his first restaurant in Olympia, Washington. He brings his expertise in American-fusion fare to the Inn but is also crafting the menus to be colonially inspired (General George would be most pleased).
When not teaching his staff how to delicately shuck a Nauti Pilgrim, Chef Millet can be found bounding through the Inn’s corridors or crouched beside a table regaling customers with tales of the Inn’s history. He is disarming, standing at 6’3” with a peppery mane and a Stones t-shirt peaking out from under his button down. Yet his luminescent sienna eyes show an intensity that attests to his fervor for the culinary arts.
The Stockton Inn’s sprawling layout supplies a variety of atmospheres for all to enjoy and the Millets plan to nourish the distinct character of each. The Dog and Deer Tavern, a favorite among locals, travelers, workers and writers for over 300 years, now has its own tavern fare. Accompanying craft ales and smoky scotches is an assortment of dishes that will please pub-goers and epicures alike. The shepherd’s pie is served in a cast-iron crock and leaves the wonderfully grassy after-taste of lamb on your palate between cozy bites of mash. If you crave a cooler dish on one of these balmy days, enjoy a chopped cobb salad or the lobster rolls—generous mouthfuls of lobster meat chilled and stuffed into soft, sliced bread beside a pile of herb-dusted fries.
The Mural Dining Rooms, Glass Room, and Garden Patio offer a higher-end menu to compliment their sumptuous spaces. Begin your experience with the escargot vol au vent, delicately placed in a puff pastry shell with melted butter, blue cheese and mushrooms. This dish is an art piece unto itself. The sun-dried tomato, spinach and artichoke dip is decadent yet light and shareable when scooped onto house-made pita chips. Entrées range from trout flambé to pork tenderloin with lobster whipped potatoes and morel cream sauce. The Chilean sea bass is pan-seared in fine herbs with a balsamic cream sauce, basil whipped potatoes and oven dried tomatoes. The diver scallops are fresh and tender, seared to perfection until they’re slightly crisp on top. They are served over a fine herb risotto cake with grilled green and white asparagus and beurre blanc. [To see the Inn’s menus, click here.]
To celebrate the summer season, the Millets have opened a raw bar beside the waterfall in the upper garden bar. Thursday through Sunday, it is the place to cool off and wind down with a relaxing cocktail, a light nosh, and a bit of live piano. There is a selection of oysters to choose from and some, like the Well Fleets, have proven to change oyster-wary orderers into oyster-enthusiasts. There are also specials such as the tuna tartar, which bursts tenderly on your taste buds with unforgettable flavors.
Soon to open is a café in the Fox Room Lounge. For all of us caffeine-fiends living in Stockton, a coffeehouse open early every morning is a godsend. Although the Stockton Market has a great coffeehouse Friday through Sunday, during the week our only choices are to drive to Rojos in Lambertville, or sit with the gentlemanly regulars around the small, casual tables at the Stockton Food Store. Soon, we’ll have our own weekday spot to sate our craving for cappuccinos and strong brew.
The Fox Room’s rich history and furnishings will inspire artists, poets and thinkers alike to work, draw, sip and relax. In addition to bright ideas and plush leather sofas, Chef Millet is developing Stockton Inn’s own coffee blend, with beans from fair trade growers in Guatemala, Colombia and Kenya. There will be a made-to-order menu of fine patisserie and light accompaniments too.
The Millets strive to preserve the Inn’s artistic presence in a place where so many talented individuals have met their muses. Chef Millet is steadfast in keeping things local, fair and homegrown. He wants the Inn to be an integral part of the town itself, complimenting Stockton’s existing businesses and providing high quality goods where they are needed.
The first airs of change breezing through Bridge Street carry the pleasurable scent of food being prepared by Chef Millet and his staff in the Inn’s kitchen. On weekend evenings before dinner, a plate of oysters on ice and a frosty Yards Saison will beckon you to a calming new experience in the familiar garden. Soon there will be an upscale coffee house. The Millets are changing some things, but they understand how the Stockton Inn has been treasured for over three hundred years and are devoting their energy to make it last for 300 more.
The Stockton Inn
1 Main Street
HOURS: Open daily at 11:30 am, except on Sundays when brunch begins at 9:30 am. Weekend reservations strongly recommended, or call ahead to avoid waiting.