The Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret Is ‘Wonderful’
All images by Julie Bidwell
★★½ [Very Good-Superior] Editor's note: This restaurant review also appears in the September Connecticut Magazine.
Visit a vineyard. Taste the wine. Stay for dinner. Now and on into autumn, when the grapes are harvested and the Connecticut hills turn red and gold, is the perfect time. The Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill Vineyard is the perfect place. With the star of its wine list an award-winning white called Ballet of Angels, how could it not be enchanting?
When we arrived in late afternoon, golden sunlight and deep purple shadows striped rows of leafy vines covering a gentle hill that could have been in Napa or Sonoma—or Tuscany. We parked in a field, paused to admire a weathered split-rail fence, its zigzag pattern as iconic as Connecticut’s fieldstone walls, and then following a series of “Entrance” signs, found ourselves facing a huge barn door that slid open to reveal a candlelit reception room with a reservation desk, a library table set with antique silver, and a corner staircase.
Reservations, especially in leaf season, must be made weeks in advance but the warm welcome we received was worth the effort. A pretty, chatty young woman led us up steep narrow stairs to the Fireside Tavern, well-named for the huge central hearth and chimney which dominate the room. Wide floorboards, sloping eves and ladder-back chairs evoked a Colonial farmhouse . . . but wait, that mural on the wall, misty and mysterious. A chateau in the Loire valley? A castle in the Barolo hills?Maybe, but one thing was quickly becoming clear: Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill Vineyard is no ordinary restaurant. It feels more like having dinner at a friend’s house, if the house happens to be in a vineyard and the friend happens to be a very good cook. As our meal unfolded, we felt more and more at home.
The menu was short, carefully curated and as local as it is possible to be. Herbs, vegetables and the edible flowers that adorned many of the dishes we ordered came from a kitchen garden a few steps away. Our entrées—beef, lamb and chicken—were grilled over apple and cherrywood from trees cleared on the property. Real wax candles flickered and there was a handcrafted quality to the entire experience. Straightforward excellence was the aim, not “wow” appeal or infinite variety, but with five appetizers and seven entrées offered, we found much to like. Delicately smoked river trout, for example, was the best I’ve had in a long time. Splashed with a house-made vinaigrette and served with fresh asparagus and Yukon gold potatoes, it would be called a “small plate” in trendier venues but Sharpe Hill just tells it like it is. Smoked salmon, too, was top of the line, served with lemon and marinated capers (below). Insalata caprese also owed its appeal to the high quality of its ingredients—ripe, juicy heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and luscious mozzarella di Bufala.But an appetizer called simply “Fruit and Cheese Plate” (above) trumped them all. Worth a trip from anywhere (and Sharpe Hill is pretty far from everywhere), it included tart, crumbly goat cheese, mild-as-May Jarlsberg, triple cream Brie, Double Gloucester Stilton, and—hold your hat—blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, date and prune snippets, green apple slices, walnuts and fig jam, all attractively mounded on a shallow plate and topped with a bright orange nasturtium blossom.
Our entrées were less showy but equally delicious. Two prime six-ounce loin lamb chops were marvelously tender, wood-grilled medium-rare as ordered and accented with a sprig of rosemary from the garden. The salmon (below) was wild, wood-grilled and served with fresh dill and, surprisingly, a touch of honey.Herbs de Provence, lemon thyme and imported lingonberry preserves did what they could to glamourize a rather mundane entrée of organic boneless breast of chicken that our diet-conscious friend had ordered. On the other hand, a beautifully marbled boneless rib eye (nostalgically dubbed Delmonico steak) with a five-pepper rub was 14 ounces of heaven.
At this point, I must backtrack a bit to report an unfortunate misstep. Our entrées arrived while we were still enjoying our appetizers and beginning to explore the cheese plate. There was no room on the table for more plates. We preferred not to tackle two courses at the same time. Consternation all around. Apologizing profusely, our servers took our entrées away, only to bring them back a few minutes later because “the chef said” they could not be held longer without ruination. We soldiered on without further comment because I was incognito as I always am when I am reviewing—just another guest.
As a restaurant critic, however, I pull no punches. I hate having to relate a mistake like this one, which could be a one-time aberration, judging by everything else. And the “everything else” at Sharpe Hill Vineyard was pretty wonderful in an out-of-the-ordinary way. Desserts, especially, departed from the countrified fruit pies and cobblers one might expect in favor of a splurge surge: Princess Louise cake, a multi-layered white cake with raspberries and buttercream named for Queen Victoria’s daughter, would do royalty proud. People order it for birthday parties. Key lime pie with a tasty cookie crust was tart, tangy and fresh tasting. But the pièce de résistance was an eyecatching, mouthwatering chocolate creation called Moon Mountain torte made with chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream, white chocolate chunks, milk chocolate chunks, hazelnuts and dark chocolate ganache.
We left with bottles: Ballet of Angels (of course), semi-dry, fruit forward, a mix of Vignoles and nine other varietals; an elegant Bordeau-style Cabernet Franc; and my favorite, a Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay made entirely from grapes grown at Sharpe Hill Vineyard (Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne), fermented and aged in French and American oak barrels. À votre santé.
The Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill Vineyard
108 Wade Rd., Pomfret, (860) 974-3549, sharpehill.com
Friday: Dinner at 6:30 or 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: Lunch at 12, 12:30 or 3:30 p.m. Price range: appetizers $15 to $24; entrées $26 to $35; desserts $10. Limited wheelchair access on first floor. Major credit cards.
(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)