405 South Main Street
Jim and Lisa McCoy's Mercersburg Inn is the perfect spot for a gastronomically-inspired romantic weekend getaway. And the moment you catch a glimpse of the stately brick mansion, you realize that a wonderful experience is in store. Constructed in 1910 as a private home for Harry Byron and his family, this lovely old inn boasts a slate roof, Indiana limestone sills, copper spouting, decorative tile, white oak and inlaid flooring, double curving wrought iron balustrades, and rich mahogany and chestnut paneling. You may spend a night or two in one of the beautifully appointed, individually decorated guestrooms and enjoy a full complimentary breakfast on the sun-filled porch the following morning(s). But on to matters culinary...
Dinner is served Thursday - Sunday in Byron's Dining Room; and, in a section of the Commonwealth that may only charitably be termed a culinary wasteland, Chef Dan Nowalk does an incredible job of thoroughly beguiling the palates of visitors and locals alike. Although Mr. Nowalk has no formal culinary education, he has moved up through the ranks of various restaurants, apprenticing under a number of classically trained chefs.
The chef's polenta ($8.00), for example, is a superlative effort. It is marvelously creamy, adorned with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese, and finished with a brown butter sauce. The blending of colors, tastes, and textures is just right. The crab cake ($8.00) is another winner in the appetizer department. No filler here. It's all sweet, succulent jumbo lump crabmeat sautéed to a golden brown and surrounded by dabs of irresistible chive aïoli.
And for the more adventuresome of palate, there is also the escargots sautéed with heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and fresh basil and served up in puff pastry ($11.00).
His cuisine may most adequately be described as "creative comfort" fare. He utilizes a minimum of ingredients, fuses them into a seductive gastronomic gestalt, and then adds a suitable sauce and one or two other complementary accoutrements. Mr. Nowalk makes all his own stocks and sauces, grows heirloom tomatoes and herbs in the Inn's backyard garden, and prowls local produce markets for inspiration. The results are profound in their apparent simplicity.
Greenery is also a viable possibility among the starters. The classic Caesar ($7.00) boasts pristinely fresh, crisp leaves and a light but engaging dressing. And the salad of mixed baby greens ($8.00) also has a great deal to offer. Dried cranberries, walnuts, and dabs of goat cheese provide the pizzazz, while a spirited herb vinaigrette furnishes the perfect finishing touch.
The char-grilled filet of beef ($37.00) is another absolute must. Pillowed on an addictive mound of garlic mashed potatoes, the flesh is velvety of countenance and bursting with flavor, aided and abetted by a provocative truffle-shiitake mushroom butter and sauce Madeira. Confirmed carnivores take note.
Other excellent possibilities include a filet of red snapper ($28.00) and confitof duckling ($28.00). The former is poached and set on a seabed of saffron risotto; the latter consists of succulent slices consummated with a seductively subtle caramelized orange sauce.
Desserts ($7.00) are all made in house. The chocolate truffle cake with ganache is a decadent delight, and the tiramisu is nothing short of benchmark. Whatever your preference, however, be sure to wash it down with a potent jolt of Nespresso espresso ($5.00) or cappuccino ($6.00).
The wine list here is compact and marries quite well with the cuisine. Top-notch selections include the eminently quaffable 2005 George Dubouef Pouilly Fuisse ($40.00) and ever-reliable 2003 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay ($30.00). In the red wine department the heady 2005 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00) is an excellent choice& ditto the 2004 Saintsbury Pinot Noir ($59.00).
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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