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Old Guard House Inn
953 Youngsford Road
Gladwyne, Pennsylvania
(610) 649-9708
www.guardhouseinn.com

A Main Line landmark for over a quarter of a century, the Old Guard House Inn is a good, solid restaurant serving up proprietor Albert Breuers' good, solid German-accented continental fare to an equally good, solid blue-blooded, blue-blazer constituency. The operative word here is "Good." At times, admittedly, the cuisine does border on the "Very good"; but, with all due respect, it hardly deserves the "Excellent" rating bestowed by restaurant critic Craig LaBan in the Philadelphia Inquirer (11/2/03).

The setting -- a profusion of dimly lit rustic log-enveloped dining rooms replete with cozy, diminutive bar -- is, of course, incredibly inviting. But there are other factors at work... The service, which, in my experience, is merely adequate, tends to lag as the evening progresses and servers are pressed to the max. The wine list is also something of a letdown, containing, oddly enough, precious few German vintages -- one of your best bets is the 2001 Pierre Sparr Riesling Reserve from the Alsatian region of France ($40.00).

The food, though, tells the real story. It would never be accused of being particularly innovative... but then you don't expect it to be. This is hale and hearty, prodigiously portioned, cast your cholesteric and caloric fate to the wind kind of grub. However, even judged by this more modest standard, while not exactly disappointing, the cuisine is commensurate with neither Mr. LaBan's heavy hype nor the establishment's heady tariffs...

Take the Wiener schnitzel ($28.00), for instance. Given the fact that Mr. Breuers descends from a long line of Dusseldorf restaurateurs, you would expect this classic representative of Germany cookery to shine. But while the veal itself is perfectly tender, it suffers from a nearly lethal overdose of lemon butter as well as the smothering embrace of a heavy, soggy breading. The accompanying spaetzle is under seasoned and the red cabbage lacks the proper sweet/tart piquant punch.

Dover sole ($34.00) has been known to suffer the deleterious effects of jet lag... and, perhaps, this is part of the problem here. The flesh, rather than exhibiting a firm and silky texture, is decidedly rubbery. And the hefty price tag -- the most expensive item on the printed menu -- makes this presentation, apart from the excellent au gratin potatoes, a doubly difficult pill to swallow.

Obversely, I did enjoy the sautéed calf's liver ($24.00) -- thick slabs embellished with a zesty red wine reduction, bacon, and tiara of crispy red onions -- aided and abetted by mounds of green beans and whipped potatoes. Not terribly subtle but quite satisfying. Once again, however, the verdict is a resounding "good" rather than "exceptional." And, at these prices and in this setting, "exceptional" is precisely what one has every right to expect.

Like the entrées, starters have their ups and downs. The Prince Edward Island mussels ($9.00) are impeccably fresh and plump and steamed in an excellent chardonnay broth awash with garlic, fresh chopped tomatoes, and julienne vegetables. But the intriguingly presented chopped B.L.T. salad ($7.25) -- tossed with Russian dressing, formed into a disc, and topped with bacon -- is, despite the fanfare, no more than ordinary.

The lobster bisque ($8.00), though, is far from commonplace. A striking white bowl arrives with a morsel of lobster and flaky pastry crouton at the centrum; the mellifluously rich apple-laced broth is then administered by the server. The special vegetable Napoleon ($9.00) -- grilled vegetables layered with slices of Jersey tomato and finished with a tomato vinaigrette -- on the other hand, leaves a great deal to be desired. One expects a freshly assembled amalgam rife with counterpoints of colors, tastes, and textures. What materializes, however, is a dark and brooding tart-like wedge surrounded by tired greens and crinkle cut slices of carrot. Not the kitchen's finest hour.

Desserts ($7.00), courtesy of pastry chef Michele Glancey, add a welcome elegant consummating touch to the proceedings. The lemon crème tart with fresh berries is a sumptuously tangy revelation. Also highly recommended are "Inge's Famous Bread Pudding" with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce and the pecan pie à la mode with bourbon sauce.

Given the quality/price/portion ratio -- and the other dining possibilities lurking in the area -- I would be happy to return to the Old Guard House Inn at a moment's notice... if someone else were picking up the tab.

April 2005
The Artful Diner

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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