Eben Copple loves food. And whisky. And, come to think of it, wine, beer and interesting cocktails. He loves the tastes and the possibilities. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise, Eben being the chef of the Yardley Inn since July 2007, where he’s been updating the menu with local food and innovative dishes, as well as putting on special beer, wine and whisky pairing dinners.
It was at one of these dinners that I was fortunate to be a guest of the Yardley Inn – their 4th Annual Scotch Dinner on January 16th. Even though I was fighting a cold, nothing would have stopped me from attending. I love single malt scotch. It was also my first such dinner at the Yardley Inn, and I now know it won’t be my last.
The Yardley Inn is warm in many ways. Low ceilings, wood posts, beams and paneling, and soft ambient light all contribute to a cozy feeling. As we were led to our table, the effect was heightened by the glittering glasses of golden scotch placed at each setting. Five in all (oh joy!) ranging from the Highland’s Dalwhinnie, the Speyside’s Cragganmore, Oban, from the West Highlands, the Isle of Skye’s Talisker, and lastly the wonderfully smoky, peaty Lagavulin. All perfect for a cold winter’s eve.
Equally lovely was the menu that Chef Eben had created to go with each of the scotches. I asked him how he develops each course to make sure that it matches the qualities of the whisky. “I start with the beverage – always,” he says. For the scotch dinner, he began by tasting each whisky, then taking notes on the flavors and thoughts that came to him. “Sometimes I have an immediate idea of the food. For instance, when I tasted the Cragganmore, I thought ‘toast’.” The result? “Angels and Devils on Horseback” – bacon wrapped scallops and dates on a toast puree. To go with the light, floral Dalwhinnie, he served smoked anchovies on a toasted brioche with orange-walnut marmalade, which accented the citrus tones in the whisky. This is fun, I thought.
Oban, another favorite, brings more sea into the mix. Sitting on the coast in the West Highlands of Scotland, this distillery produces a great coastal malt, perfect for “beginners,” Chef Eben explained. Paired with a delicious, crunchy black pudding on chestnut puree and accented with chopped persimmon, the whisky worked nicely. Talisker has more smoke and peat, and is also the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. It’s “peppery kick-back” went very well with Lancashire Hotpot – a mixture of lamb, smoked oysters and potatoes, with a garnish of pickled beets. And what of Lagavulin, that smoky, peaty 16 year old, made for cold winter nights? It was the chosen “escort” for dessert – Earl Grey Chocolate sitting atop a toffee bar, graced with a small basil leaf and orange zest tendrils. All lovely, but the basil with the chocolate was a delight I hadn’t expected.
Another delight was Chef Eben’s warm, jovial and informative guidance throughout the evening. As he introduced each course, he stood swirling the appropriate whisky in hand as he gave its background. Even though I am a scotch aficionado, and have tasted and savored each of the single malts presented, I learned much that night. We got to “visit” five different regions in Scotland and compare their whiskeys side-by-side. Worth the price of admission itself, considering any of these scotches in a bar cost $12 and upwards per glass. The entire evening was $95 per person, if you are wondering. And it always takes place the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day, so mark your calendar for next year. And, no, I did not wake up with a hangover. If anything, it probably helped my cold.
Later that week I had the opportunity to sit down with Chef Eben. I had heard he was doing interesting things at the Yardley Inn, including sourcing from local farms. Ever since coming to Bucks from several high profile New York City restaurants, he’s been working with owner Bob Freed and general manager Michelle Mohollen to craft a new vision for the Yardley Inn. As always, it’s a balancing act. Keeping the regulars happy while introducing new ideas.
“I’m lucky that the owners believe in the same things that I do: using local sources and providing the highest quality ingredients – without soaking the customer,” Eben says. The result is a diverse menu, mixing old favorites and contemporary American cuisine with a Bucks County twist. “I want it to be Delaware Valley food,” he explains. “Everything on the menu is informed by the history and foods of this area from the Lenape, to Pennsylvania German, melded into something current and cool.” That includes “getting back to the land” and sourcing his ingredients as much as possible from farms in the Delaware Valley. Like the hog he bought from Snipes Farm last year, or the produce he gets from Shady Brook Farm, or the wheels of 2+year old cheeses he buys from Ely’s in nearby Washington Crossing.
So, stay tuned. Interesting things continue to happen at the Yardley Inn with Chef Eben at the helm. Coming up on February 10th is another special dinner. This one focuses on Philadelphia’s Yards Brewery. I’ll give you a teaser of the five- course menu: Roasted pompano, onion broth, and crouton with a Philly Pale Ale; pheasant, rye, caraway, and honey with Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale; and malt cake, burnt marshmallows and toasted malt ice cream with Chocolate-vanilla love stout (for the entire menu, cost and reservations, see their website).
The Inn also offers several dining and drink specials all week long, like the “Dine Early Pay Less” deal, which includes three courses for $19.95, every day from 4:30 to 6:15 pm (and all night Tuesdays). Or drop by any afternoon for the “5 for $5 at 5:00 pm” special. Five different drinks, $5 each, from 5 – 7 pm in their cozy bar.
And look out. Chef Eben’s newest passion is cocktails. Fun, interesting and innovative. I can’t wait.
The Yardley Inn
East Afton and Delaware Avenues
82 East Afton Avenue
Yardley, PA 19067
For the story behind-the-scenes, from inside the kitchen, be sure to read Colin Marsh’s great post about the whisky dinner. Colin writes about food for the Bucks Local News in their section, The Good Life.