I recently took a trip back in time and memory to the Brandywine Inn in Monroe. I visited what is a wispy shadow of the way things once were and are seldom so again -- a restaurant that's about passion and food and service and dedication and dreams. In this age of fast food junk and Friedapplebeedays; when food is prepared off-site, and the owner is further off-site; when about the only passion is in the soap opera lives of the lusty servers; when service and dedication are archaic ideals left over from a past century; when dreams have been forgotten altogether, replaced by fiscal necessities -- far above this miserable morass of mendacity shines a lonely, lovely restaurant, tired and proud, in the heart of tired and proud Monroe.
The entrance to the unassuming, circa 1850s building is in the back, up some pretty stone steps and past an outdoor patio. I was immediately filled with a sense of timelessness as we strolled down the corridor toward smiling Doris Bernas, waiting to greet us. The building was originally built as a hotel and tavern, serving stagecoach travelers at the midway point between Cincinnati and Dayton. It was converted into apartments and a shop along the way, but for some time it's been serving again as a tavern with Doris and her husband, George, as the owner/operators. She asked if we had a reservation and showed us to our table in a simple dining room, subdued but cheerful.
A number of years ago, Doris and George and a friend, Steve Morgan, had the idea, quoting the menu, "to create a haven for people who" -- like them -- "enjoyed fine dining in the European tradition in which dining constituted the event of the evening." What does this mean, you might ask? Mostly it's paying attention to details and not rushing things -- it means courtesy and respect, and it means simplicity and elegance.
These are the things restaurants can offer us, but rarely do.
In Europe a vast majority of restaurants are family-run affairs which have followed the same traditions and served high quality, ever-changing food to the same clientele for generations. The concept of "ever-changing" is key because new trends, new products, new chefs and new technologies and resources propel change, even when things seem the same. The Brandywine Inn is very much in this tradition, as was the sumptuous Mary Jo's Cuisine in Oxford. In truth, the two shared a friendly rivalry and a mutual admiration.
My problem, friends, is that it is very difficult to actually review the menu course-by-course, because there's no guarantee your options will be the same. I'll tell you what I had; you'll have to surmise from that. Perfect round dinner rolls were the first thing on my table, besides the sweet, salted butter already in place. They were steaming as we opened them, yeasty and, well, sexy. From this you can be sure that anything baked here is expertly executed and made with passion. The salad and appetizer came on the same plate. Twin phyllo pastries, one with a savory herbed beef tenderloin, the other with creamed shrimp, crab and scallops, adjoined a simple salad perfectly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. This simplicity was all that was needed was on the plate: The phyllos were flaky and tender (no easy feat), and the stuffings were subtle and savory.
My entrée was Stuffed Chicken Breast; my wife had the Special Filet Mignon. From these two, one could say that the kitchen has its feet in the countryside of France with a fine grasp of sauces and techniques not truly understood in the cooking-school factories of the U.S. The chicken had an almond crust and was stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and cheese (that would translate so beautifully into French) and the filet came with a rich demiglace with mushrooms. Accompaniments were carrots and turnips with butter and fresh mashed garlic potatoes with olive oil (I could taste it).
Our meals were prix fixe ($16.95); there is an à la carte menu as well. Our desserts were the Chocolate Mousse, which came with the dinner, and the Chocolate Temptation ($4.95 a la carte). The mousse was simple and elegant and outshined the flashy chocolate cake with its ganache and berry sauce.
As we were leaving, Doris let us in on a secret that sums up the passion behind this treasure of a restaurant: The tables are solid walnut, pieced together from trees felled and milled by her husband, specifically for these dining rooms. The process took more than three years. This is the kind of restaurant you deserve. Pamper yourself. Respect yourself. Go to the Brandywine Inn. It will not disappoint. ©
Go: 204 South Main St., Monroe
Call: 513-779-4747 (days), 513-539-8911 (evening)
Hours: 6-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Reservations preferred.
Payment: Cash only
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood items available
Accessibility: Wheelchair access with help