The French Manor Main Dining Room, with views of the Poconos.
The French Manor
50 Huntington Drive
South Sterling, PA
I know that it is our stated intention to try and restrict our columns to upstate New York, but what happened this past weekend is too good a story to pass on. The destination in question is really not too far from our home turf, just over the New York border at Port Jervis, and less than an hour into the Poconos of Pennsylvania. I happened to be in the area on a fishing trip, meeting a group of friends at the Sterling Inn, in South Sterling Pennsylvania. South Sterling is six miles south of Route 84.
I had arrived Thursday around noon with my fishing partner, Dick. We were scheduled to meet forty fellow anglers at the Sterling Inn for the weekend. The trip was a repeat of a trip we had taken five or six years ago, and we were looking forward to the return stay, the company, a few good dinners, and some trout fishing in the neighboring clubs that were playing host. We do this a few times each year, and this was our 2010 inaugural spring outing. Upon our arrival, it was immediately apparent that the Sterling Inn of our fond memories was exactly that – a memory. The inn had been sold. The new owners apparently saw no need for a kitchen, or a bar, or for that matter, paint. Since our evening dinners always end at the bar, not having said aforementioned bar presented as big of a problem as the lack of a kitchen.
Having neither the time nor the inclination to make other arrangements, we checked in, counted our provisions (read bottles of wine), and then went out looking for Plan B for the next few nights.
We drove around for some time looking for a place to have lunch, with hopes that it could also serve as a gathering place for drinks and dinner if it passed muster. We drove around for the better part of an hour, and found absolutely nothing – not even a burger palace. I tried Google. Google has not yet found Sterling PA. (Neither had my Garmin GPS.) Zagat.com would have been of little use, there was nothing to compare. We were borderline frantic. Driving back to the inn we did finally find a local family restaurant called the Raintree, and we stopped in for lunch. They had a passable menu and they served wine, although it did not have a bar. If all else failed, we would at least have a place to eat. We took one more turn around the area before heading back to the Sterling Inn to greet the afternoon’s new arrivals.
On the way back, I noticed a small wooden sign nailed to a tree. The French Manor – Fine Dining. I made the hard right, and followed the arrow up the road for about a mile, climbing Huckleberry Mountain. Near the top of the hill was another similar sign, at the entrance to the property surrounding the manor. And it was a manor. We pulled into the property, wondering where we were, what we were looking at, (and if we were about to be escorted off the property for trespassing.) The views from the mountaintop were nothing short of breathtaking. You could see miles of the northern Pocono range from the patio at the rear of the complex. The manor itself was a 1930’s stone building with a Spanish tile roof, and framed on either side with newer stone structures which we were to find out housed spas and additional guest rooms. We entered the main dining room, which was empty, tried my best Bon Jour!, and hoped for a friendly response. We were greeted immediately by Genevieve, the house manager. I explained our predicament, asked about availability, and were told that she would be happy to accommodate any and all of our brother anglers for dinner. Eight of us returned for dinner at 6:30.
We started with cocktails on the veranda – martinis all around, perfectly prepared. We could not believe our good fortune. Genevieve had set up a table for ten in the middle of the dining room, just in case we needed to expand. The dining room was one of the most beautiful rooms I have dined in. The room’s forty foot vaulted beamed ceilings are framed on each side with stone fireplaces. Just out of sight in the corner was a grand piano which was in use when we returned on Friday for dinner. On Thursday evening the background music was provided by classic Ella Fitzgerald recordings, which is more than enough to keep me happy. In keeping with the setting the restaurant asks men to wear jackets, although they did allow a few of our group to pass without one. What they do not allow are children under twelve, which no one in my group found problematic.
The menu changes seasonally, and it seemed we were transitioning from some winter meals – short ribs were offered as an appetizer – to a spring lamb entre offering. I ordered a bottle each of white and red, and given the large mixed group I tried to keep the price reasonable. A Drouhin Bordeaux Blanc was offered at $33. We also shared a very nice Chevrey Chambertin ($45). On Friday night we shared a bottle of Sancerre and a Croze-Hermitage, which were also very reasonably priced for the setting.
I started with a classic presentation of escargot ($13) – served in their shell. I can’t remember the last time I saw escargot served in the shell. Actually I can, but I don’t want to tell you how long ago it was. Let’s just say it was the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts launches one across the dining room. She had operational issues with those spring loaded tong – like thingies. I managed not to do that -even after the martini and the Bordeaux blanc. The snails were served bubbling hot in a Roquefort and garlic butter sauce on toast points. A basket of French bread was also on hand to sop up the left over sauce, which is really the reason to order escargot in the first place, oui?
My entrée order was a breast of Muscovy duck which was seared to crispy perfection, but still slightly pink in the center. The duck had been rubbed with a little nutmeg and cinnamon, and then finished with a mixed fruit glaze of cranberry and orange. It was just spectacular, especially with the burgundy I had ordered to go with it. My dining companions raved about the ahi (yellowfin) tuna, which hey had ordered cooked just a moment beyond still qualifying as sashimi. A rack of lamb ($40) looked so good I ordered it the following evening. It was Australian lamb, not at all “gamey”, finished with course mustard and topped with chevre. It ranked right up there with my all time best racks ever. I’ll definitely order it the next time I go back.
I’m not going to suggest that you stop at the French Manor if you are in the area, because you are not going to be in the area unless you are looking for Lake Wallenpaupack and you are really lost. I am going to suggest that the French Manor is a weekend destination. It is worthy of the trip just for the food, but you could also spend a day or two in the spa, do some hiking or snowshoeing, and call it a vacation. They offer various weekend combination packages at the French Manor. In their brochure they quote (the late) Gourmet Magazine, which featured them as one of the best restaurants in Pennsylvania. I haven’t eaten in many upscale Pennsylvania restaurants outside of Philadelphia, but I suspect that they were right on the money.
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