Thursday September 6, 2012

SHEFFIELD -- On rural Route 41, imposing columns frame the doorway of an 18th-century brick Federal building housing a tavern since 1829, and now home to the Stagecoach Tavern.

The restaurant epitomizes rustic elegance, with a choice of quality everyday dishes and exceptional fine dining. Every Thursday, the menu is augmented by individual pizzas custom-designed from 25 toppings, and live music plays in the Down Town Social Club basement lounge.

Manager Allegra Graham ex plained by phone recently, after our meal there, that her business and life partner David Rothstein -- who once ran the famed Music Inn -- purchased Stagecoach in 2004 to compliment his adjoining Race Brook Lodge. Graham de signed the antique-filled interior and runs a small designer store on the premises. For the past year, Berkshire-trained chef Jay Gala rneau has presided over a kitchen originally set up by acclaimed restaurateur Dan Smith.

Galarneau continues the farm-to-table tradition -- which includes produce from neighboring Race Brook Farm, created by Rothstein’s son, Casey Meade -- and adds his unique touch through nightly specials.

"He is more about making really, really tasty food with very good ingredients," Graham said, describing his Eggplant Parmesan as "out of this world."

And, she added, "a tavern has to have a great burger!"

On a recent Saturday, we parked by Race Brook Lodge’s converted red barn beside an old wooden wagon and entered from the patio where tall flowering hostas framed round tables under yellow umbrellas.


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We were welcomed by an imposing painting identified as a member of Shays’ Rebellion by the hemlock sprig in his tricornered hat.

A musical blend of jazz classics included Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, subject of a stellar play we had seen at Shake speare & Company just days before.

Under a dark, low-beamed ceiling brightened by strings of lights, wood-topped tables were lit by tealights augmented by tall silver candlesticks.

An enclosed porch was bright during the early evening, dimming as dusk fell into a cozy dining room popular with large private parties.

The tavern has small, distinct seating areas: romantic tables à deux, convivial tavern booths, even a sophisticated nook with black leather chairs and fuzzy Ralph Lauren tigerprint wall fabric.

"Every spot is complete unto itself and has its allure," Graham said.

We tucked ourselves into a corner by a low square window offering a view of arriving diners, including a surprising number of young children, drawn by the early hour and an eclectic menu that includes fish and chips, pizza and burgers.

Relaxing over a glass of Spanish cabernet to complement the theme of the Tangle wood concert we would go to later that evening, we munched on soft white bread and butter served attractively on a marble slab.

Sliced grilled pheasant sausage ($13) fanned out around white cannellini beans mixed with tomato, red onions, garlic and sage, blending fresh taste and texture with rich, savory flavor.

Saffron strands liberally coated a mound of Maine mussels ($14), the garlicky white wine and capers broth supped with relish once the plump fleshy mollusks were devoured.

That evening, a veritable herd of Colorado bison thundered out of the kitchen onto diners’ plates. From a hefty slab of crosscut bison short ribs ($30), lean reddish meat draped in BBQ sauce with a hint of bite fell from oversize bone segments in large satisfying chunks, partnered with crisp cabbage slaw and perfectly roasted potato and sweet corn hash.

Flaky cod bathed in buttery flavor arrived on a bed of bright green sautéed spinach and white rice, liberally sprinkled with chopped herbs.

An exceptional dessert of espresso crême brulée ($8) topped silky coffee-flavored creme with sweet, grainy flame-melted sugar mixed with coffee specks.

The paradoxically soft "crisp" ($8) paired peaches with blueberries and a refreshing scoop of vanilla ice cream.

From a large silvery pot, we poured strong French press coffee ($6) into ample white cups.

Aficionados will appreciate the well-stocked bar with an impressive selection of aged single malt whisky and artisan tequila.

We departed for Tanglewood to the strains of "Summertime, and the living is easy." At the Stage coach Tavern, it really is.