Fall is right around the corner, and it’s time to think about leaf-peeping and hiking. A perfect spot for this is in Concord, a quiet town 30 minutes northwest of Boston by car, and easily accessible by commuter rail. Here you’ll find Walden Pond, and nearby Concord Center has great independent stores for books, toys, clothing and imported cheese along Main and Walden Streets. When you’ve worked up an appetite, the place to eat -- and stay for the weekend -- is the Colonial Inn.
The Merchants Row dining room is a beautiful place to dine. For a more casual dining experience on the patio or in the bar area, the Liberty’s gastropub may be for you, although the menu is a bit more abbreviated than Merchants. ‘The Tap Room, once a "mens only" bar, is a cozy spot with wooden ceiling beams and a TV for sports. The Village Forge Tavern, a storeroom for supplies during the Revolutionary War, features live local music.
“We are the largest restaurant in the area,” said Jurgen Demisch, president of the Merry Hill Corporation, which has been running the Colonial Inn for 25 years. “Our goal is to offer a regular restaurant and a special occasion restaurant.”
One of the few independently owned such establishments, the Colonial Inn building dates to 1716. The building was once home to Henry David Thoreau, who turned it into an inn called the Thoreau House; it became the Colonial in around 1900, and a family ran it for 45 years before Demisch took it over. If you haven’t been here for a while, you’ll notice that the dark curtains have been taken down, and the formal dining room has brightened considerably. The “historic” part of the inn’s brand has also been toned down. They want this to be a community resource more than a tourist attraction.
Merchants and Liberty “have been reinventing themselves aggressively earlier this year, and several years before that,” Demisch said. “It’s not the same Colonial Inn anymore. We recognize that the restaurant business is changing. Like other restaurants, we really have to fight very hard for each customer, to keep our market share. The world we’re in is different than 10 years ago. We have to come up with something new.”
And so they are introducing a menu that’s both traditional and creative, with fresh seafood, specials like special nights for $1 oysters, lobster specials and Tuesday Trivia. Their new chef, Cassandra Pianowski, comes from a background of cooking for area country clubs, so she understands her customer base. They are foodies.
And the group they invited to try a sampler menu were too. We were all swooning.
The passed appetizers included Johnny Cakes studded with lump crabmeat and a sweet chili aioli sauce; bacon bites smoked on-premises with Coca Cola and maple syrup; and deviled eggs with crab, caramelized onions or pimento cheese. These were served with wines from Westport River Wineries for an added local twist.
For the first course, we enjoyed an appetizer of Peruvian shrimp ceviche, with lime juice, avocado, grilled corn, tortilla chips and purple cabbage slaw. For a starter, potato gnocchi in a sweet corn veloute, grilled corn kernels, applewood bacon and asparagus.
the intermezzo, or palate cleanser, was a passion fruit sorbet. The fourth course of seafood featured plump Meyer lemon diver scallops, with cherry balsamic, parsnips and beets, and pomegranate salmon with mascarapone polenta, pomegranate and orange fennel salad.
The fifth course was braised short ribs braised in the house-made root beer, along with horseradish mashed potato and carrots. The steak frites came with arugula and truffle parmesan.
Last but not least, a dessert sampler was stout chocolate cake, which was rich but not too sweet; a blondie sundae atop salted caramel ice cream topped with Cracker Jacks, which I inhaled; and a strawberry shortie on a delightfully savory bisquit with crystalized basil.
To our delight, the chef enjoys adding her own touches to comfort food dishes. She said her goal is to incorporate in-season produce from area farmers, such as Macone and Verrill farms in Concord, as well as area wineries and breweries, to create a distinct, seasonal New England flavor.
With the fall, $1 Oysters and Lobster night on Tuesday and Wednesday will continue, while a menu change is in the works for fall dining.
Merchant’s Row at The Concord Colonial Inn
48 Monument Square, Concord MA
Open daily for breakfast from 7AM – 11AM; lunch from 11AM – 3:30PM; and dinner from 5PM – 9PM.
For more information about the menu and to make reservations link here.