Ask southern Rhode Islanders where they take out-of-town visitors who want old-fashioned New England dishes in an old-fashioned setting, and nine times out of 10, they will say: Shelter Harbor Inn.
|Shelter Harbor Inn | 10 Wagner Rd, Westerly | Mon-Sat, 7:30 am-10 pm; Sun, 7:30 am-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access[bathrooms not accessible] | 401.322.8883|
That’s because certain parts of the menu have stayed consistent for the past 30 years, and we’ve been part of that fan base for 20 of them. Though many things about the inn (with 24 rooms) have been refurbished, as befits its location in a 19th-century farmhouse, it’s a place you can count on for finnan haddie and Indian pudding among its winter items.
Chef Ed Gencarelli, a J&W grad, has been with the inn for 15 years, and though he has held on to some customer favorites and regional classics, he likes to liven things up with nouvelle panache, such as lamb shanks with homemade spaetzle, or salmon that’s crusted with coriander and cumin. Acquaintances sitting nearby very much enjoyed that lamb shank as well as a Shelter Harbor staple: braised calf liver with a caramelized onion demi-glaze.
We ended up choosing several signature Shelter Harbor dishes, beginning with the lobster bisque ($8). We both remembered liking this soup on previous visits, but I detected a mustiness that prevented me from finishing it. Bill helped out on that score and thought it was just a strong herb.
He was right, though neither of us guessed that it was thyme. When a similar taste appeared in my rice pilaf and was just as unappealing to me, I concluded that the cook may have used powdered thyme, which would come across as very strong and very different from a sprinkle of dried thyme leaves.
Our second appetizer was much more successful: Rhode Island oysters, baked in their shells with spinach and leeks ($10). They were sprinkled with grated smoked Gouda and nicely browned. The earthiness of the veggies complemented the briny oysters in a memorable combination.
For our entrées, we had been looking forward to two of our best Shelter Harbor memories: finnan haddie ($21) and hazelnut-crusted chicken ($20). Finnan haddie is smoked, salted haddock, usually prepared in a cream sauce and served with mashed potatoes.
In this version, the creamed finnan haddie was placed in a casserole, and the mashed potatoes piped over it, before the whole was baked in the oven. A nice presentation, it was as tasty as we both remembered.
Meanwhile, I wondered why the two chicken fillets were topped with canned mandarin oranges, and I couldn’t detect any orange flavor in the sauce, as described. This is an entrée that’s been on the menu for most of the time we’ve been coming to Shelter Harbor, and the blending of hazelnuts on the crust of the chicken with the orange and Frangelico in the cream sauce has always been very appealing.
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