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The General Sutter Inn
14 East Main Street
Lititz, Pennsylvania
(717) 626-2115

When my wife and I decided to spend an afternoon in Lititz, Pennsylvania -- and knew that we would undoubtedly be in need of physical sustenance at the conclusion of our sojourn -- we consulted various Internet sites to sort out the gastronomic possibilities. Prominently featured was the General Sutter Inn, gushingly portrayed by the "Phantom Diner" of Central PA magazine: "The inn itself, located right on the town square, has been around since 1764. It has gone through several reincarnations and is now -- and this might surprise old-time regional locals -- a hotbed of haute cuisine... I know, hard to believe, But, trust me (bolding and italics mine), finding this place (or rediscovering it) is like finding a gem in a pile of broken glass. You don't expect it, but it shines nonetheless." Etc., etc., ad infinitum... ad nauseam.

TRUST ME... as someone who has dined at the aforementioned establishment -- and lived to tell the tale -- I must confess that even if this mysterious muncher isn't terribly adept at the fine art of restaurant criticism, I must award him/her high marks for literary embellishment. I mention this bit of peristaltic prolegomenon to make it absolutely clear that any correlation between PD's glowing remarks and our actual dining experience must be considered purely coincidental.

So let me preface my remarks about the cuisine by stating that if my wife had paid a visit to the ladies'restroom prior to dinner instead of after, she undoubtedly would have prevailed upon me to seek an immediate change of venue (I should add that the men's restroom wasn't all that spiffy either). And while the state of the facilities is not necessarily an indication of the quality of the food, when an area of a hotel/restaurant open to diners and guests is in such a deplorably filthy condition, one can only speculate as to what unmitigated horrors may lurk behind the closed doors of the kitchen.

But the bill of fare itself raises a red flag... It is entirely too ambitious and convoluted for its own good. Evidently the chef never met a comestible he didn't like: from escargot to frog's legs to boar and rabbit sausages to buffalo tenderloin to elk medallions. There is simply too much happening here... on the menu and, as it turned out, on the plate as well.

We sampled a special appetizer, grilled shrimp wrapped in pancetta embellished with mango vinaigrette ($9.00). The pancetta was quite excellent, but the crustaceans were slightly gritty and failed to deliver that decisive "crunchiness" characteristic of specimens in a pristine state of health. The mango vinaigrette was simply an ill-conceived Epicurean oddity that added nothing to the overall presentation.

Entrées tend to be copious of countenance but lacking in finesse. The "Pennsylvania Trout Presention" ($17.00), for example, was a beautiful specimen, moist and flaky, but the fish's delicate natural attributes were completely obviated by an overbearing scallop-tomato beurre blanc and mountain of rosemary-infused mashed potatoes. The pan-seared wild salmon filet ($18.50) was also perfectly prepared but drowned beneath a slightly congealed tomato-herb bullion sauce and set on an incredibly bland-leading-the-bland seabed of black and white orzo.

With the exception of the aforementioned shrimp, the quality of ingredients doesn't seem to be a major issue; how these various components do or do not meld together into a seamless gastronomic gestalt, on the other hand, tends to be problematic. The General Sutter needs to decorticate and fine-tune its overly enterprising menu -- at this juncture, the kitchen is simply not up to the arduous task of turning out haute cuisine on a consistently consequential level -- and turn its attention to those important little details that make for a truly fine dining experience... like the complimentary salad, for example, which is nothing but a nondescript tangle of generic greenery and standard issue dressings, or the service, which is neither polished nor professional.

Should a pilgrimage to this charming, historical community be in the offing, a visit to the General Sutter Inn should not necessarily be dismissed out of hand. The bar area is quite cozy and there is a lovely patio where you may dine al fresco during the warm weather. If you do decide to pay a call here, my advice would be to assiduously avoid the more esoteric items and stick with the straightforward (and less expensive) "Tavern Menu" (ale-battered fish & chips, tenderloin steak wrap, crab cake sandwich, half-pound burger, etc.), which provides an infinitely greater possibility for dining satisfaction.

July 2004

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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