Nothing beats dinner in the cozy dining room of a restaurant located in an historic house when the weather turns cold. As I waited for my step-dad outside the Iron Horse Inn, the smell of a fire burning in a distant fireplace and melted candle wax stirred up images of Christmas dinners and drinks by the fire in northern Ohio.
In no time these aromatic memories got my stomach growling and saliva flowing, but as I peeked in the windows from the front porch of the inn, I felt a bit like a street urchin (and looked the part that night, unfortunately). The Iron Horseâ€™s dĂ©cor was much more upscale than I was expecting, with gold autumn tones, white linen tablecloths and several servers dressed much nicer than I was. When I saw a family of four dressed in jeans I felt a little better, until I realized they were eating upstairs at the more casual venue, Brackerâ€™s Tavern, which Iron Horse Executive Chef Stefan Marcus describes as an upscale supper club offering burgers, sandwiches and entrĂ©es like Buffalo Chicken Penne ($12.75) and Gourmet Meatloaf ($14.50).
The building that houses Brackers and the Iron Horse sits right next to a railroad track, and when the railroad was under construction in the 1840s a labor camp existed along the right-of-away that housed the workers. In 1851, a group of people purchased the 600-acre plot of farmland and began constructing what would later become Glendale. The building that houses the two restaurants was built between 1853 and 1856 and was originally known as Bracker Tavern.
When we were seated in the Iron Horseâ€™s more formal dining room, my step-dad and I found our host and server to be friendly and mostly efficient, but there was something that seemed too rehearsed, if you know what I mean. When the server cracked a joke I felt like it came from an arsenal of quips heâ€™d be using successfully for years â€” but that he no longer believed in his material.
The Iron Horse was designed for romantic destination dining, according to Chef Marcus, and the New American menu pulls ingredients and dishes from various regions of the country. I had been eyeing the Napa Valley Spring Rolls ($9), but when they werenâ€™t included on the list of items the server recommended I abandoned them. While the Jumbo Blue Crab Cakes ($14) were on that list, I think Iâ€™ve finally grown tired of crab cakes so I went for the Dour County Cod Cakes ($11), a very homey, pan-fried dish of fresh Atlantic cod and garlic mashed potatoes served with a side of ruby red beets and a homemade tartar sauce that Chef Marcus on follow up described as white remoulade.
My step-dad picked the Roasted Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda Bisques ($5), which was also a good choice. The smoky flavor was much lighter than I had expected and it made a good accompaniment for the Napa Valley Merlot ($7) my step-dad had ordered.
For dinner we had the Herb Crusted Lamb Chops ($34) with a thyme merlot butter and garlic mashed potatoes and the Roasted Garlic and Pepper Crusted Halibut ($25) with gorgonzola mashed potatoes and a grilled shrimp taco. I was pretty excited about my halibut â€” the shrimp taco sounded like an exotic touch. Unfortunately, the dish was only half successful. The garlicky halibut was fantastic, but the taco was more of a sad little garnish than anything else. But the real problem was that underneath the taco my potatoes were cold.
My step-dadâ€™s entrĂ©e was only partially successful as well. His potatoes were as cold as mine, and while he had asked for his lamb chops well done, only the first of three were. And while he was happier with the chop that was not cooked to order, I was disturbed by the varying degrees of doneness presented on the same plate.
One of the most bizarre parts of the evening came as we were finishing our dinners. The owner entered from the kitchen with an adorable young girl in a chef hat. The owner checked in on our dining experience and we chatted with the girl for a few minutes, then they moved on through the rooms to check with the other diners. Not long after, they circled back around and the owner asked about our dinner again â€” completely forgetting she had been there the first time. A major fine-dining faux pas, but it certainly provided our table with a good laugh!
We decided to get dessert, since the Iron Horseâ€™s are all made in-house, and chose a tiramisu ($8 with coconut milk, toasted coconut and homemade de leche cake. The Asian twist on this Italian classic sounded intriguing, but the cake, which tasted dry, disappointed me. Still, the presentation â€” two mini desserts in espresso cups â€” was interesting and the pastry cream had a nice flavor.
All in all, the Iron Horse still has some work to do before theyâ€™ll hit the bar they are aiming for. Theyâ€™ve rehearsed their lines and their parts well; maybe they just need a bit more practice.
IRON HORSE INN
Go: 40 Village Square, Glendale
Hours: Iron Horse: 5-11 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday; Brackerâ€™s: lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner: 5-11 p.m.
EntrĂ©e Prices: Iron Horse: $17-44; Brackerâ€™s $9.75-$18.25
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, chicken, seafood
Accessibility: Fully accessible