Boar's Head journal: A vist to the Old Mill Room

It's been a few years, but Dish recently had a chance to visit the Old Mill Room at the Boar's Head Inn. Last time we checked in, over five years ago, then executive chef Doug Knopp was ahead of the curve on sourcing local food. In fact, back then the Old Mill Room was a boon to local producers, as Knopp basically bought everything they offered him. Of course, there wasn't the abundance of local produce there is now, and much of the local food that Knopp served could only supplement the rest of the menu.

Today, local vendors are a mainstay of the Old Mill Room menu under new executive chef Bill Justus. Indeed, the chef works regularly with 13 local vendors, including Polyface Farms, AMFOG farms, Piney River Organics, and Cherry Glen Farm (home of delicious goat cheese, among other things). Justus arrived last year after a two-year stint at the renowned Callaway Gardens Resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Before that, he was the executive chef of the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a sprawling 665 guest-room convention center with four restaurants.

The night we visited, however, chef de cuisine Francisco Ayala was in charge, and it looks like Justus has taught him well.

The decor of the the Old Mill Room hasn't changed much, and the tavern-style low ceilings and dark beams feels a little dated, but according to Boar's Head spokesperson Pat Burnette that's going to be changing soon. A "soft" renovation will begin in a couple of weeks, she says, meaning the room will have new curtains, cushions, and paint. Meanwhile, guest room renovations will begin December 1.

"It's time for it," says Burnette.

Hopefully, the renovations will be done by Thanksgiving, the time of the year that the Boar's Head really shines. In addition to all-out Thanksgiving dinner offerings, the Boar's Head has held its 5-K "Turkey Trot" race on Thanksgiving Day for the last 30 years! Last year, 1400 people participated in the event, which this year will help raise money for the new Battle Building Children's Hospital going up on West Main Street.

Unfortunately, Burnette says, the restaurant is already sold out for Thanksgiving dinner, and the Turkey Trot has already reached its 1400 participant limit, signs of how popular those two events are. But, hey, if you hurry, you might be able to get a table for the Boar's Head Christmas Eve dinner! And don't forget– the Boar's Head lunch buffet, brunch, and casual Bistro menu are well-kept secrets.

As for the eating part, well, you're not going to get young downtown hipsters serving you nouvelle cuisine on square plates, but you will get waiter Tony Orsi, a 39-year-old Italian-born veteran of the New York restaurant biz, who, when you hand him the decision about what to eat, grabs your menus with confidence and tells you to sit back and relax.

First up from chef Ayala, sashimi tuna on a seaweed salad with an exquisite tempura mittake mushroom from AM FOG Farms. Oh, almost forgot, before that we had a bit of warm spiced cider from Showalters Orchard and Green House, and that was so good we asked Justus for the recipe. (It's at the bottom of this column.)

Next up was a lobster bisque to die for, mostly because it had real big chucks of actual lobster in it! And, of course, there's the Old Mill Room's signature peanut soup– spicy and peanut-buttery!

Add a garlic and thyme-infused veal chop with red cabbage, a mustard speatzle, and those thin green beans, or a lightly crusted sea bass with smoked tomatoes and a red pepper compote, and throw in a elaborate dessert from pastry chef Xavier Baudinet– all served under Orsi's direction– and you too might stumble out into the lovely landscaping behind the Boar's Head on a moonlit night feeling happy, full, and pampered.

Burnette says the kitchen will soon be serving something uniquely suited to the Boar's Head– wild boar! Stay tuned.

Boar's Head Cider
½ gallon Showalters apple cider
2  cinnamon sticks
6  whole cloves
Peel from one orange
One cup maple syrup.
In a sauce pot, mix all ingredients, bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and serve.