Old Guard House
953 Youngsford Road
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
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
The Artful Diner
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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