New Jersey Restaurant Review
The Stockton Inn
1 Main Street
Stockton, Hunterdon County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
Since this review was written, ownership of this restaurant has changed hands and recent reviews have been very favorable. The Artful Diner will return for an update in the near future.
"There's a small hotel with a wishing well..." or so the old Rodgers and Hart ditty goes. But just in case the lyrics from the Broadway show On Your Toes are a bit before your time, they are conveniently printed on the back of the menu... along with a list of luminaries who have rested their weary bones and thrown on the feedbag here. That, however, was then. This is now... And glowing reviews not withstanding, should you consider yourself a sophisticated diner, a visit to this highly publicized eatery is destined to be a disappointing experience -- for several not insignificant reasons.
The major drawing card at The Stockton Inn is, of course, the lovely tri-level brick patio replete with terraced gardens, waterfalls, and a plethoric variety of hanging plants. It is difficult to imagine a more idyllic scene for alfresco dining. And there is no question that owner Jack Boehlert, who purchased the property in 1998, considers this area of the restaurant his labor of love. That's the good news.
Now for the bad... Upon arrival, as is often our custom, my wife and I repaired to the bar to enjoy a preprandial libation. The bartender on duty one evening was hardly the establishment's ambassador of goodwill. She was both bold and boisterous, and appeared to spend the majority of her time chewing the fat with the locals -- other patrons seemed to be something of a bother. But that is only half the story. The bar area itself is... well, yes... filthy. There is simply no other word to describe it. The floor is awash with crumbs and other objects of debris -- and it is not yet six o'clock in the evening. Tables and chairs feel decidedly tacky, as do the windowsills and the bar. And we're not talking a little accumulated dust here; this is ground in crud that has been years in the making. Trust me, had we not made arrangements to meet friends, we would undoubtedly have hit the happy trails right there and then.
And what is true of the bar is true of several other dining areas and the restrooms as well. The entire restaurant is obviously long overdue for a major league scrubbing. Occasional faux pas -- less than sterling service or an entrée that is not quite up to snuff on a given evening, for instance -- may be winked at... but lack of cleanliness is utterly indefensible. If the public precincts are considerably less than sparkling, one can only imagine the horrors that may lurk in the bowels of the kitchen.
If you should opt to dine indoors, the "Glass Room," which overlooks the terrace, is certainly preferable... and also appears to have the most going for it hygienically. The floor is flagstone and slate, plants abound, and tables are set with crisp white tablecloths and napkins.
Given the aforementioned deficiencies, your palate is poised to be shot down in flames. But a pleasant surprise awaits. While Chef Robert Koenig's menu is rather compact and not terribly exciting, the two or three nightly additions manage to liven things up a bit. In this regard, a special of chilled asparagus ($6.95) makes a first-rate starter. Tender spears are encircled by strips of roasted red pepper, set atop slices of meaty yellow beefsteak tomatoes, and finished with a perky Dijon vinaigrette. The pâté ($6.95) varies from evening to evening, and it is always worth a look-see. On one visit we sampled the ostrich; embellished with black currants, it was both wonderfully moist and intensely flavorful.
The cold poached shrimp ($10.95) are also worth considering. A bit pricey, perhaps, but the accompanying smoked jalepeño lime mayonnaise makes the added expenditure worthwhile. The special soup ($5.25), composed of white beans, ham and sausage, is robust and satisfying (but, undoubtedly, would be more suitable to somewhat cooler weather), although it lacks sufficient pizzazz to make it truly memorable.
When it comes to entrées, the daily specials tend to be the standouts. The pan-seared yellowfin tuna ($22.95), for example, comes precisely as ordered (medium rare), and is spruced up with an exotic papaya coulis and mango salsa. Very tasty. The roast loin of pork stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and garlic ($19.95) is another winner. Thick, succulent slices are placed atop a gargantuan mound of homey garlic mashed potatoes and finished with a stick-to-your-ribs onion sauce.
Items from the set menu, however, tend to be something of a hit or miss proposition. The sautéed mahi-mahi ($22.95) looked a bit tired and listless; not even the sun-dried tomato and macadamia nut pesto could coax it out of its doldrums. And the salmon ($19.95), while properly prepared, is sabotaged by an overly enthusiastic dose of blackberry vinaigrette. On the other hand, the chicken medallions ($19.95) and the grilled filet mignon jazzed up with a roasted shallot/zinfandel sauce and sour cream & chive mashed potatoes ($26.95) are right on the money.
A high point among the desserts is the special "Strawberry Pavlova" ($5.25), crisp baked meringue topped with strawberries, whipped cream and strawberry sauce. The Key lime pie ($5.25) is pleasantly tart and precisely the right color. Also recommended are the blueberry cheesecake ($5.50) and crème caramel ($5.25). The espresso ($1.95) and cappuccino ($3.25) are also quite excellent.
The bottom line...? You could most assuredly do far worse than dining at The Stockton Inn, especially during the warmer weather when you may enjoy your meal outdoors on the picturesque patio; on the other hand, you could also, in my opinion, do infinitely better. For while Mr. Koenig's American cuisine does have its moments, the overall quality is certainly not sufficient to compensate for the restaurant's other shortcomings. Portions, of course, are exceedingly bountiful. And I strongly suspect that this is a management decision, specifically designed to appeal to members of the "Clean Plate Club," the gastronomic tourists who pack the place in droves. In point of fact, one would not be at all surprised to see a tour bus come tooling up the drive.
Factor in a strictly amateurish approach to service, patrons with an assortment of rambunctious progeny in tow, the fact that a couple could easily drop a C-note for the privilege of chowing down here... and you have more than sufficient grounds to consider dining elsewhere.
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Fri, 4:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 3:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 11:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Recomended, especially on weekends
Handicapped Accessible: Yes