“The entrées are unquestionably the stars at the Black Horse.”
By Michelle Ali and Nicholas Brooks
The Black Horse Tavern & Pub
1 West Main Street • Mendham NJ • 07945
973.543.7300 • BlackHorseNJ.com
The tavern is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant features an extensive wine list, a popular prix fixe menu on Tuesdays from 5:00 to 7:00, and two rooms for private parties that can accommodate up to 125 people.
Mention the idea of “Old School Dining” to a New Jersey foodie and you may not elicit the intended response. Visions of grease-encrusted diners, timeworn seafood joints and, let’s face it, (the really old-school) Medieval Times are likely to come to mind. This story is about something a little loftier—and a lot older—the Black Horse Tavern in Mendham. Originally a stagecoach stop, the Black Horse has been serving New Jerseyans since the 1740s, making it by most measures the state’s oldest restaurant.
Which is not to say there is anything “old” about the menu. On the contrary, since the arrival of its young executive chef and general manager, Kevin Felice, the Black Horse has struck a balance that appeals equally to its well-heeled local clientele and those with more intrepid and adventurous tastes. The focus of the approachable, understandable menu is farm-to-table sustainability; the high-quality meat, poultry and fish are surrounded by fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Indeed, Felice makes great use of the 10 farms within five minutes of his kitchen. That kitchen features a slow-cook rotisserie which he has put to use in a number of imaginative ways (including producing its own bacon). It should be noted that the Black Horse Tavern is famous for its roast beef, mac & cheese and other homey menu items. We worked our way through the appetizers and entrées with an eye toward the freshest, healthiest options, the most intriguing combination of ingredients, and eye-catching preparations.
For starters, the standouts included an Arugula Ricotta Salad and Crispy Crab Cake. The salad earned high marks for taste, nutritional value and a clean, modern presentation. The arugula really popped, sugar-snap peas added a touch of crisp sweetness, and the salad itself was well-seasoned. If you are watching your calories, ask for the dressing on the side; we would have stopped the pour a bit sooner. Ask the server to make sure there is plenty of ricotta. It was delicious. The crab cake was the best-executed appetizer on the menu. It was not overly salty, and the accompanying fennel and dill salad was a great addition to the dish, which balanced many flavors. A good portion of lump crab and very little filler let the seafood do the talking.
The entrées are unquestionably the stars at the Black Horse. The Smoked Bone-In Pork Chop had a wonderful level of smoke without being the least bit dry. The cut and presentation was smart and whimsical, and the mustard and cherry chutney went very well with the dish. It was nice to find a large pork chop that was well-seasoned and smoked, and the chef did a superb job of ensuring that each bite was moist and juicy.
The Farm-Raised Seared Salmon was presented beautifully. Everyone has their own preference regarding the doneness of fish; we would have liked our salmon taken off the heat a minute sooner. We thought the accompanying herbed quinoa was extraordinary—nutty and perfectly cooked, with a lovely hint of basil oil. The Myers Organic Filet may be the best quality steak you’ve ever had. Seasoned with coarse salt to coax out and heighten every molecule of flavor, it literally melts in the mouth. Order this anything above medium rare and you should be led away in handcuffs.
Having been tipped off in advance that everything on the dessert menu is made on premises, we saved room for the Key Lime Pie, Blackout Devil’s Food Cake and Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream. The custard had tremendous texture and flavor, with a burst of lime in every bite—you can tell fresh lime juice was used. The crust had a rich, buttery flavor but there was disagreement at the table on whether it should have had more crunch.
We also disagreed on which dessert was our favorite. All were superb. The chocolate cake was not overly sweet and very moist. It was decadent enough to live up to its name. The ice cream was smooth, rich and full of blueberry flavor, with the little tweak of lavender with each spoonful. We guessed there was a hint of clove in the recipe, which the chef later confirmed. If you are looking for a guilt-free finishing touch to a meal at the Black Horse Tavern, the antioxidant properties of this dessert make it the hands-down best choice. In fact, go ahead and order a second scoop!
Editor’s Note: We asked EDGE’s regular food reviewer, Andy Clurfeld, to work on an Old School-themed wine and spirits story for this issue. Into the breach stepped Michelle Ali and Nicholas Brooks. Michelle is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Trinitas. Nicholas is TRMC’s Executive Chef. Together, they have re-invented the concept we used to call “hospital food.” Michelle, it should be noted, does not eat meat, so Nicholas handled that part of the menu.