Monday, April 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

This in from Ship Inn: Good food, good brews

The restaurant is modeled on a British pub.
The restaurant is modeled on a British pub.
About the restaurant
61 Bridge St.
Milford, NJ 08848
908-995-0188
Rating:
Neighborhood: Milford
Hours: Restaurant open noon-9 p.m. Sunday-Friday, till 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Bar closing depends on the crowd.
Prices: $
Payment methods:
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Cuisine type: Brew Pub; Pub
Meals Served:  Lunch   Dinner

A SPRING DRIVE in the country seems in order, so why not head up the pastoral Delaware River above the New Hope/Lambertville tourist log jam toward Milford, N.J., home to the first brewpub in that state since Prohibition.

The Ship Inn also happens to be styled after an authentic British pub, the perfect place to get together for a jolly, as the Brits say. Or banter about the royal nuptials tomorrow and, if you are so inclined, hoist an ale to the monarchy that we ditched more than two centuries ago. A light complementary buffet with tea and sandwiches will be served in honor of the occasion.

Owner Tim Hall is the establishment's second generation. His parents, David and Ann Hall, originally from Great Britain, opened the bar and restaurant in an old Victorian building on the main street in 1985. About a decade later, they began brewing.

Hall and his longtime chef Lonnie Lippert offer a menu with locally pastured meats, hormone-free or organic chicken, sustainable fish and locally grown produce.

Our visit began with the Starter Special ($8.95), a flatbread with artichokes, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. The bread was fresh, crisp and showed off the artichokes and mozzarella.

Also in the appetizer category we enjoyed the Stilton Skins ($8.95). Billed as potato skins, these were ample, with more potato than skin and bits of bacon melted into the Stilton cheese.

One of the highlights for me was the British Sampler ($13.95). It sported Scotch Eggs, a hearty pub nibble that is a hard-boiled egg encased in ground meat and fried. The richness was offset by the accompanying sweet-and-sour piccalilli. Two entrées also are sampled, a Cornish pasty (pastry-wrapped sausage roll) and the cheese and onion pie.

The Fish and Chips (one piece $10.95; 2 pieces $14.95; three pieces $17.95) were stellar. Currently Hall substitutes Basa, a cousin to our catfish, for the traditional cod. Some might object to farm-raised fish, but Hall gets credit for trying to balance sustainability with a price point consumers will accept.

The fry was perfect, with a crisp batter that adhered to the fish. I like a little extra surprise on the plate and the dab of mashed pea added that as well as authenticity.

The Shepherd's Pie ($13.50) was a traditional mix of locally raised beef seasoned with sautéed onions and covered with mashed potatoes and not too much cheddar cheese. Simple but good.

The Steak and Mushroom Pie ($17.95) was tasty and the pastry crust had the requisite flakiness, but I missed the kidneys. OK, mushrooms are more acceptable to American sensibilities, but I was heartened to learn that Hall's sustainability commitment is to buy the entire animal. That means specials with kidneys and offal on some nights.

The Shandy Chicken ($14.45) fit the bill for a basic grilled chicken. The glaze is a play on the British drink that combines beer and lemon soda.

I opted for the Dinner Special ($15.95) of the evening which was Kingklip, a fish I frankly had never heard of. It is a member of the eel family and generally found off the coast of South America. I had no objections to the fish, but the sauce, especially when paired with a mango salsa, was much too sweet. And the side was fried sweet potatoes!

The seaweed salad also overwhelmed, but there was a lovely little sautéed cabbage side - inexplicable with the flavor systems going on, but it was delicious and also appeared on several other entrées.

All in all, stick with the British specialties. It's what the kitchen does well and pairs best with the beers.

The British dessert Trifle ($4.95) is not to be trifled with in my book. And this was. A trifle should be boozy and rich. This was mostly whipped cream out of a can with nothing of note besides. The Marmalade Cake ($4.95) faired better, a light yellow cake and creamy frosting redolent with orange.

Service was attentive, and there are four main dining areas that, thankfully, are not overly stylized. It definitely carries the welcoming feel of a family business in a small town. And the view can't be manufactured.

But the real reason you come to a brew pub is the beer. Ship Inn has a thorough and classic philosophy of brewing English-style beers. I like the lower alcohol content that allows me to enjoy the traditional British Imperial pint - 20 ounces as opposed to a U.S. 16-ouncer.

My "beer geek" taster enjoyed the Extra Special Bitter ($5.25) with what he called a "delicious yeast and hop blend on the palate." Coming out of the handpump was the more traditional Best Bitter ($5.25), citrusy in flavor and, true to a "real ale," with less carbonation.

I usually look to the less hoppy styles and found the Golden Wheat ($5.25) fit the bill with a lighter taste profile and refreshing carbonation.

This is a small-batch operation and there's always a great selection, but you might have to be flexible. I'd like to go back and sample the seasonal brew, Killer Bee, made with local honey that was sold out last visit.

Lari Robling has been expressing her opinion about food ever since her first bite (according to her mother). She produces multimedia pieces for WHYY and is the author of "Endangered Recipes." Reach her at larirob@gmail.com.

Lari Robling
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