It seems only yesterday that I ran across chef Tim Inman wearing hip boots and knee-deep in dust and construction debris as he began the build out of his new Stonehorse Cafe.
That was in a spot in Stonehorse shopping center (now the Consortium) where The Hen Bistro resides today. Two years later he moved to Utica Square shopping center and in June will enter his 15th year in business.
In addition to the restaurant, Stonehorse also has an attached retail market that carries a wide assortment of quality take-home items including meats, seafood, produce, soups, breads and heat-and-serve dishes, to name a few.
“The time has gone by in a flash,” Inman said recently as he took a short break from cooking for a late lunch crowd that filled the sidewalk tables and much of the casually elegant dining room. “The only reason we’ve lasted this long and had some success is the quality of people who work here.”
Among those Inman singled out were Kevin Snell, “who is in charge when I’m not in the kitchen”; William Davis, a 22-year-old chef out of a French culinary school in New York; Amelia Eesley, who manages the front of the house; and market manager Emily Kelley, a 10-year employee.
We recently slipped in for dinner and sat at a two-top table that overlooked the sidewalk diners.
We shared an organic field greens salad ($6) and the soup of the day, French onion ($6), while we waited on our entrees of pistachio-crusted halibut ($35) and grilled Long Island duck breast ($24).
The soup came out piping hot. It was thick and cheesy with a slight hint of salt to help carry the flavor. The salad was fresh and crisp and topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette.
The halibut was perfectly cooked, flaky and flavorful. It was surrounded by rock shrimp, cherry tomatoes and leeks in a chardonnay-based sauce.
I asked for the duck to be cooked medium, and it arrived medium-rare to rare. In this case I was glad for the apparent mistake because the cooks got it right. The meat was tender and delicious. This dish also had a sizable amount of shrimp served with it, as well as small balls of duck sausage that had a mild touch of fennel or anise.
I could have made a dinner out of the shrimp and sausage alone.
We also shared an order of onion rings ($7.50). These were big, fat ones, not normally my favorite, but they were crunchy and held together well. The onion tends to slide out of the breading with lower-quality rings.
Desserts typically are a treat at Stonehorse, but we were stuffed and had a plane to catch the next morning, so it wouldn’t have been feasible to take one home with us.
Stonehorse has full bar service, including a thoughtful wine list that pairs well with the dozen appetizers, dozen entrees and an assortment of wood-fired pizzas.
Our server, Beth, was professional and efficient.
The dining room, situated on two levels, holds 117 but feels cozier than that and can be pretty loud when near capacity.
Inman said one of the best parts about moving to Utica Square was working with the late Walt Helmerich, founder of the shopping center.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to have worked the lease with him,” said Inman, who paused and added with a grin: “He was very clear about it. He said if we didn’t hold up our end we would be out of here in no time.
“But you know, everything he said I should expect to happen came true. It was a true pleasure to have known him.”
It probably is safe to say that Helmerich would agree that Stonehorse Cafe has lived up to its end of the deal.
Scott Cherry 918-581-8463