The White Horse Tavern

Type of Post: 
What's on my Mind?

The White Horse Tavern

26 Marlborough Street, Newport, Rhode Island

As the hostess turned on her heel, there was rigid set to her shoulders that ought to have warned me I was in the wrong place.  The small parking lot in the White Horse Tavern in the historic district of Newport was full, and I’d inquired whether leaving my car in the church lot next door would result in it being towed as the sign threatened.  This, she replied, was a possibility, and she recommended I park on the street.  I said, “There are no places on the street.” 

I cannot truthfully say she shrugged, but her body language as she walked away conveyed the message that parking was my problem, not hers.   After some minutes of driving around the narrow streets, I discovered I could park for a fee in a nearby lot to which she might easily have directed me. 

I’d been warned that the White Horse Tavern required appropriate dress, but this appeared not to be the case.  I was the only man wearing a tie, and three men were in jeans.  Most, including two who had sports coats draped over their chair backs, ate in their shirt sleeves.

Our waiter was tall in stature and wide in girth. His plain white shirt was open at the neck and in danger of becoming untucked from his black pants.  He brought no bread.  Other servers were delivering breadbaskets to tables, but none of his diners were so favored. He greeted a gentleman near us, saying he’d taken his course in economics, but even the economist went without bread.

My martini was evidence there was someone with know-how behind the bar.  Often this is an indicator of overall quality, but not at the White Horse Tavern. 

I started with a platter of local artisanal cheeses.  I asked what they were and the waiter said, “blue cheese, Guinness cheddar, and brie.”

“What kind of blue cheese?” I asked.

He said it was Great Hill from Marion, Massachusetts.  This is a cheese of which the region can be justly proud, but explaining seemed to pain the waiter so badly, I didn’t want to inquire about the other two.  The smidgens were small and not very good anyway.  Also on the plate was a tiny crumb of honey comb and some nondescript relish.  This starter is listed on the menu for $14. 

Annette got lobster bisque with corn and poblanos, which she liked. 

The meat of my braised pork shank was tender and fell from the bone, but the dish was under-seasoned.  There are a hundred ways a capable chef could have made it delicious, but ours hadn’t bothered. 

Annette had braised short ribs with pappardelle pasta.  The portion was adequate for her appetite, but would have left a hearty eater wishing he’d gotten some bread.  For dessert we had a trio of gelatos, and Annette had coffee.  The ice cream was almost completely melted and about the same temperature as the coffee. 

The building is charming on the outside.  It was built in 1652 and was converted from a home into a tavern in 1673. The décor of our dining room consisted mostly of darkness.  There were candles on the tables. 

We reported to our innkeeper who’d reminded us to bring proper attire that he need not so caution his guests.  He told us that the restaurant was under new management. The waiters once wore tuxedos and male diners were required to wear jackets and ties.  Now the website says dress is business casual.  It doesn’t make clear what sort of business folk they expect. 

Possibly the days have passed when a restaurant can require jackets and ties, but dressing up once enhanced a diner’s perception of the elegance of the food.  It gave him a sense of dignity that was missing from a table close to us where the yahoos were loud with drink. But attire wasn’t the real issue and wouldn’t have mattered if we’d been served skillfully prepared food by people who seemed to care whether or not we had a good time.

Guinness cheddar!

Well it's local somewhere, but I don't know about how they define artisanal...