Deer’s Head Inn
7552 Route 9
Elizabethtown, NY 12932
The Deer’s Head Inn, which had been shuttered since January 2015, has reopened. New partners Aaron Woolf and Dr. Rob DeMuro have extensively remodeled the interior space, moving the bar from its original location and repurposing that room as a “country store” offering locally made foods and products from area farms. The bar is now located out in the main dining room, which has also been treated to a makeover. The three original small dining rooms have been opened up into one large one, giving the place a brighter look and feel, with lots of blond woods used in the furniture and flooring.
The atmosphere at the Deer’s Head Inn is unique among area eateries. Yes, it is a restaurant, and soon to be an “inn” when the rooms upstairs are finished, but it is –and has always been – more than that. Part community center / meeting house, it always seems like everybody in the place knows each other, or would like to. It is how I imagine a roadhouse tavern would have been like in colonial days of yore, and the Deer’s Head, which originally opened in 1808, has actually seen those days. When we arrived for dinner last weekend, not only were we greeted by most of the staff, but by many of the diners sitting at tables. And we didn’t know anyone. All that’s missing is a cracker barrel.
We took seats at the bar when we arrived with our new favorite bartender, Jason, and perused the menu. Said menu is in the capable hands of Chef Josh Cunningham, who was lured away from the kitchen at Lake Placid Lodge. We have known the chef since his formative years frying chicken wings at Flanagan’s Public House in Schroon Lake. Suffice it to say, he has come a long way.
The bar has five beers on draft and a half dozen more by the can. Our hometown Schroon Lake Paradox Brewery was conspicuously absent, an oversight I will attribute to the opening week shakedown. A small but nicely chosen selection of twenty wines – most around $30 / bottle – was offered, with ten by the glass. A Lamuri Nero d’Avola, a robust red from Sicily, went very nicely with my rib-eye. ($10 per glass | $28 per bottle.)
The restaurant’s mission statement is to focus on the local, which should come as no surprise given co-owner Aaron Woolf’s history of local and organic food advocacy. Over a dozen local farms have signed on as suppliers. A raised bed kitchen herb garden has been planted just outside the back door, and is already brimming with herbs – purple sage, mint, thyme, fresh basil, and nasturtium.
The menu is an eclectic mix of informal “pub fare”. The website is still under construction, but you can view the current menu on the Deer’s Head Facebook Page. Shareable favorites include three different “boards” – a vegetable crudite, a selection of local and regional cheeses, and a charcuterie board of cured meats. An Adirondack version of our northern neighbors’ classic, poutine, fries the taters in duck fat before treating them to a Grafton cheddar cheese melt and bath of peppercorn gravy with a sprinkle of garden herbs. There were three salad offerings on the night that we visited: a garden salad ($4) of tossed greens, tomatoes and cucumber, a kale caesar, and an arugula salad tossed with roasted beets, and fresh chevre.
I tried the crispy pork belly, slow roasted and served nestled on a pile of baked BBQ style black beans. A bowl of fettuccini primavera was topped with wilted cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and tossed in a cream sauce. My steak was the highlight of the evening – a grilled to perfection rib-eye, perched on top of a mound of smoky “smashed” potatoes. Very nicely done.
Deer’s Head Inn fans can rejoice in the restaurant’s reincarnation, and be assured that the new operation preserved what was best about the old – the small town “community center” vibe of the place. That welcoming atmosphere is complemented by a new pub style menu with a local focus, a very nice bar, and a country store alongside to stock up for the trip home. What’s not to like?