If you have not made your way up to Woodstock recently, you might just be surprised.
While many of us weren’t paying attention, Woodstock’s Old Town underwent a rejuvenation that has transformed the heart of downtown into a bustling and pedestrian friendly hub of shops, restaurants, and condos. And the hottest new kid on the block is the Century House Tavern.
Chef Richard Wilt of Salt Factory and INC Street Food in Roswell has teamed up with Jon Hayano of Harry & Sons to bring their own take on upscale comfort food to downtown Woodstock. The pair has renovated the historic Hubbard House on Main St., converting a 120 year old home into cozy nook of weathered wood and exposed brick. Out front, an old fashioned front porch spills onto a shady hilltop yard lined with wooden lounge chairs and a long community table just waiting for the cooler fall evenings to arrive.
If you find yourself at Century House on a Friday night, a drink while sitting a spell in that front yard is likely in your future. The quaint indoor seating area is deceptively small, so you wade through the energetic crowd huddled around the bar for a while before your table opens up. A quick order of some of their small bites (2 for $10), like the slightly spicy cashews with honey and chili or crispy fried cannellini beans tides you over while you wait.
Grab yourself one of the many wines by the glass or their take on a classic cocktail, like the French Derby ($7), with Jim Beam, Chambord, brown simple syrup, and lime juice. While I appreciate keeping the prices on their cocktails within this stratosphere, the bourbon snob in me can’t help but request an upgrade to Wathen’s upon spying the impressive bourbon selection behind the bar.
Many of Wilt’s small plates offer familiar flavors with dashes of international influences. A spring roll ($9) comes filled with dark, moist hunks of duck confit paired with jicama, sweet chili sauce, and green papaya. Corn meal crusted oysters ($10) are part creole, part Thai, and part Latin with a sweet corn salsa and green curry and jalapeno remoulade. He melds Tunisian and Turkish versions of his Kefteji ($7), a near-mash of butternut squash, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, black olives, and spicy Harissa sauce. Desserts even take a tour of Asian flavors with the Warm Forbidden Rice Pudding ($6), topped with coconut ice cream and candied ginger.
Not all of Wilt’s playfulness manifests itself in mashing up cuisines. At first, you’ll order a mug of the Ode to The Onion Soup ($6) for the novel presentation of soup done cappuccino-style. But beneath the froth awaits a savory, cheesy, sternum-warming blanket of classic onion soup that is much more substance than presentation. Ordered alongside the refreshing honey and lavender draped Marinated Feta and Watermelon salad ($7), the pairing makes for a balanced and memorable lunch.
Wilt sticks closer to the classics in many of his entrees. For an unmolested taste of home, you may want to look to the Chicken and Dumplings ($17), a steaming serving of hearty chicken chunks and vegetables. A Pork Confit ($20) gets all of the dressing up that it needs with a drizzle of thickened jus that runs down onto the bed of mushrooms and seasonal vegetables beneath it.
While most of the dishes stand up well, a few could use some reworking, or perhaps a slightly heavier hand with the seasoning. The shrimp in my Gulf Shrimp and Lobster Risotto comes perfectly cooked, but the risotto only tastes of lobster if I manage to balance a chunk of the meat with each bite. Far too little of the seafood’s flavor permeates the overly thick creamy rice, preventing this from feeling like a cohesive plate.
I swerve past the Woodstock Traditional burger ($11) and opt instead for the Kobe Beef Patty Melt ($14), intrigued by the pairing of the fattier beef with a slice of gooey brie and pickled onions. Cooked medium rare, as ordered, there is no denying the quality of the meat. But any uplift in flavor struggles to break free from the steak sauce slathered on the baguette bun. The combination of flavors works well, but I can think of too many things I’d rather see Wilt attempt with the prized Kobe.
Century House Tavern fits right in with the rejuvenated downtown Woodstock, and judging by the crowds, is a welcome addition the neighborhood.CENTURY HOUSE TAVERN 125 E. Main St., Woodstock, 770-693-4552 Food: Comfort food with International twists Service: friendly, but sometimes lacks focus Best dishes: Ode to Onion Soup, Duck Confit Spring Rolls Vegetarian selections: Multiple salads, vegetable and portobella panini Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, and Discover Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, noon-9 p.m. Sundays. Children: Time for a sitter Parking: May take a few laps on weekends Reservations: no Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: moderate to loud Patio: yes Takeout: yes