It’s that time of year for Sunday drives. If you’re headed west, here’s a place to stop for dinner on the way home.
The Old Barn Inn is a part of the Inns of St. Albans. It’s an event venue as well as an extremely upscale bed and breakfast. Part of it used to be Malmaison, the French restaurant. And they only do one meal a week that’s open to the public, on Sunday evenings.
The community of St. Albans has lots of ties to names out of St. Louis history, including Theodore Link, the architect who designed St. Louis’ Union Station, and the Oscar Johnson family of International Shoe. The names of various family members of Johnson can be found all over what once was simply called Barnes Hospital, with names like the Rand-Johnson Building and the Irene Walter Johnson Rehabilitation Building. Link built one of the buildings that’s part of the Inns, in fact, and established it as a sort of vacation community for (presumably well-off) artists.
There’s a lovely terrace with two fireplaces as one enters. The old timbered room that was my primary memory of Malmaison, is still there, no longer reeking constantly of wood smoke, but it, too, has a fireplace. It’s the site of the bar and the buffet line that’s holding the Sunday meal; a couple of tables sit near the fireplace.
Things are very simple; several wines are offered by the glass, listed only by variety. I asked about the Norton, and was told it was “house wine”. The label does indeed show the Old Barn Inn logo, but it comes from St. James Winery, a good source, and the wine, while still young, was rewarding, especially at $6 a glass, the price for each of the offerings.
The buffet kicks off with four cold salads, a tasty mayonnaise potato salad, slaw that isn’t cliched – I’m thinking there are some peeled broccoli stems that have been julienned in there – cucumbers with dill and vinegar, and a pasta salad. Frankly, I’m way not a pasta salad fan. The ones put out on too many buffet spreads are monotonous and unexciting. Not this guy. The creamy dressing was faintly pink, and slightly textured, as though it had been thickened a little with potato. It was difficult to identify specific seasonings, although I think I got a bit of roasted sweet pepper in there, but overall, it was good enough that I got seconds, a rare thing.
The headliner at the buffet is the fried chicken. It’s a crackling batter, probably containing beer, and it’s well-seasoned. The buffet line is frequently replenished, so things are crackly-fresh when it comes to the chicken. Slices of meatloaf are juicy and tender enough that they need to be removed from the chafing dishes with some care.
The classic side dish with both those entrees is mashed potatoes, and these are real potatoes, not those infernal instants, which still plague society, and very good of their style. Green beans were labeled “country style”. I would have expected bits of bacon or ham with them, given that description. The small beans, almost the size of haricots verts, were cooked to tenderness, and there may have been a ham bone in their past but what came with them were bits of diced carrots for color. Okay, but not remarkable. I passed on the “vegetable medley”. I’d rather have a Cole Porter medley, thanks.
And then – before the dessert – there was a pan of milk gravy, followed by a chafing dish of biscuits. White gravy was the standard in the household I grew up in, poured over the fried chicken and/or mashed potatoes. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now; other people can better judge this than I. But the biscuits were great, and it was real butter, not margarine, available. (Strangely, a request for jam or jelly brought the news that there was none to be had, rather surprising for a place that offers continental breakfasts to folks staying there.)
Dessert was apple crisp, very mom-like, the topping chewy here, softer there.
All this for $20 a head. Not sophisticated food, certainly, but worthwhile, especially in interesting surroundings, as the building, grounds and community are. The locals make for good people-watching, too.
There’s no information on Sunday dinner on the website, but the pictures are nice. I’d suggest calling for a reservation.
The Inns at St. Albans
3519 St. Albans Rd., St. Albans
Credit cards: Yes