THE SCHOOLHOUSE AT CANNONDALE
This restaurant is indeed located in a small schoolhouse from the late 1800’s tucked in the corner of Cannondale “Village,” a compilation of buildings that reminded me of similar “villages” in Vermont or upstate New York. You know the ones I mean with an antique shop, a ladies clothing store or two with the token fudge/ice cream parlor thrown in.
In fairness, two of the stores in this “village” were empty, the third about to relocate. Soon perhaps the Schoolhouse would be by itself. This is a good thing only because if nothing else, the Schoolhouse needs to be elevated, not literally of course, but elevated in terms of putting out the word that this is one restaurant worthy of the drive. (From New York City, Wilton is not particularly difficult to get to, it just takes so damn long with the inevitable traffic and construction on I-95.)
Lunch at the Schoolhouse is only served on Fridays and Saturdays and in the summer you can sit outside on the patio and get a glimpse of the Norwalk River that runs alongside the property. When we arrived the patio was packed and even with a reservation we had to wait for a table. This gave us a chance to see what other people were eating. For some reason, the Kobe burger was a big seller that day. I’m not a burger snob but truth be told, I could eat a burger anywhere and in my mind what was on the rest of the menu was far more interesting.
Be forewarned: Chef Tim LaBant makes a point on his website that the menu listed is a sample only and that they are much too “busy” to update the website daily, preferring to spend their time cooking rather than typing. This is a valid remark but not one I think appropriate in the current recession-plagued environment where many a restaurant has crumbled for lack of customers. Since Lynn and I eat nearly everything, I wasn’t too concerned. I was bothered however that at least three covers left after looking at the menu and at least one person at every table that day had ordered the burger!
Let’s talk about the food. Yes, the menu is limited but limited only in choices not in presentation or the high level of cooking talent. The two appetizers that day included a gazpacho soup or a small cheese plate. Lynn and I decided to split the cheese plate (at the nearly unheard of NYC price of $6.00) and had a generous chunk of a sheeps milk cheese from Woodcock Farm paired with delicious pieces of grilled bread.
Since we both wanted the same entrée (grilled scallops), I persuaded Lynn we would split the scallops then move on to the fried squid dish I was also curious about. Four large grilled scallops arrived on top of chunks of bacon, kale and black quinoa. It may have been the best scallop dish I’ve ever had. The squid, fried in what I believe was a dusting of cornmeal, was tossed with cubes of fresh watermelon, lime and a few greens.
The wine list was small but fairly reasonable and since it’s nearly always cheaper for us to get a bottle than order wine by the glass, we had a great bottle of Gewürztraminer for $35.00.
Chef LaBant states on his website his insistence on purveying not only high quality foods from around the nation but also sourcing local products. Perhaps I took this statement a bit too literally, imagining his kitchen team knocking on surrounding barn doors to buy a chicken, some eggs or vegetables from a friendly farmer. Imagine my disappointment when a Baldor Foods truck pulled up to make a delivery of fresh corn and other vegetables. (In fairness, I also saw Chef LaBant walk past our table halfway through our meal carrying a small watermelon.)
First course, second course, dessert? Of course! Choices included a carrot cake or a peach melba thing. Since most of the other tables around us were consuming the peach, we went with the carrot. Out from the kitchen came a thin slice of carrot cake lying on its side and paired with apricots, pistachio ice cream and a smear of truffled honey. Dessert was a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Now if we could only find a hotel nearby so we could go back for dinner and not have to worry about a 2+ hour drive back home.