Bust a permanent move to the suburbs, and for the first months your soundtrack might see heavy rotation of Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good.” It’s just the song to accompany the hopeful, sometimes desperate feeling that comes when contemplating your dining options.
True, you now have easy parking. True, the kids have a yard. True, Family Night at Bertucci’s is starting to look like a culinary pinnacle.
And no disrespect to Bertucci’s. The chain fills a precise need. Yet there remains a hunger for local dining that’s more ambitious.
This chasm must have struck Jen and Josh Ziskin, owners of much-loved La Morra in Brookline. Because in June 2015, they took over what had been the Sherborn Inn, which dates back to 1762, and replaced it with their second restaurant, Heritage of Sherborn.
From the start, an evening at Heritage comes lit with warm and capacious generosity. The hosts are effusive, the plates brim, pours run deep, the wait staff is sweet enough to make you forgive the occasional lapse.
Yet when it comes to the food itself, serious lapses surface — though they’re often followed quickly by serious triumphs.
It’s tempting to lay blame on the anodyne suburbs. Because at Heritage, like at many restaurants beyond the urban fray, you come up against the sort of catch-all menu that tries unabashedly to be everything to everyone. Which means that occasionally you feel bashed by its scattershot approach. Unlike at La Morra, where a tight and sophisticated Italian focus maintains, Heritage offers up the following hodgepodge: chicken fingers and hot dogs, semolina-crusted halibut cheeks and monkfish saltimbocca, smoked beef pozole, nachos, grilled cheeses, and quinoa burgers.
Young, old, north, south, low, high, east, west. Does the kitchen staff take a shot of Dramamine to start the shift?
But before avoiding what may sound like a palate pig pile, consider two things. First, and importantly, there are excellent things to eat at Heritage. You just have to find them. And equally critical, the ambience here is beguilingly Colonial — more “Inne” than “Inn” — the sort of place that feels like you’ve tunneled into history.
Heritage may be an Inne, but it’s also a compound. To one side sits the main gastropub, which features a vaulted ceiling, dangling chandelier, glowing candles, and a long bar with a television hearth. On a Saturday night, it feels church-like, a boisterous midnight Mass outfitted with pints instead of Bibles. Beyond, there are four rooms where one can lodge for the night, also a considerable wine shop plus several peripheral dining rooms. Here the vibe is quiet, perfect for a low-key dinner next to a fireplace or a conversation under a low ceiling ribbed with wooden beams.
Unfortunately, the first dish to hit our table also leads off Heritage’s menu, and it is dispiritingly bad. Fried oysters with chile, ginger, cilantro, and seaweed: Sounds tasty, right? Well, the oysters taste like some kind of generic food putty — no brine, no ocean, no nothing — and they’re thickly breaded, without a trace of the crispness that’s the very reason things are fried. On top of which they’re bedded on a sweet and slithery supermarket seaweed salad. Say what?
But the meatballs are as fantastic as the oysters are disappointing. Supple and beefy, topped with braised mushrooms and shredded Fontina, sitting in a broth of mushroom essence — it’s hard to believe this was the work of the same guiding hand.
The pizzas follow suit. Vegetarians (and non) will love the roasted squash version. The crust strikes that elusive balance between delicate and chewy, and the toasted pine nuts, sage, mozzarella, and garlic cream all play well with the powerful squash. It’s a hearty meal unto itself.
A number of dishes at Heritage are decent, if not memorable. One night, a leftover from summer, bluefish pate, is on the list of specials. It tastes heavily of cream cheese, lightly of bluefish, and sits on thick pieces of bread. The roasted root vegetable salad sounds promising yet, though impressively tower-shaped, tastes dry and nondescript. The goat cheese is an afterthought. But there are five other salads on the menu, and all are good, if a bit overdressed.
Entrees are similarly hit or miss. The monkfish saltimbocca is nicely cooked, moist and flavorful, with good sides — roasted celery root and broccoli rabe — yet with nothing to bind them together. Then another oyster-style disaster hits the table hard. Billed as “semolina crusted halibut cheeks” and described as “bouillabaisse,” what arrives is neither. It appears to be scallops heaped on roasted vegetables. I ask our server. She checks with the kitchen. Yes, this is the bouillabaisse. They ran out of halibut cheeks. (Thanks for the heads up.) But is the melange of roasted carrots, fennel, and leeks a substitution for fish broth? I never find out.
The braised orange beef with shiitakes — did we blink and land in Chinatown? — tastes more like a respectable pot roast. There’s enough here to feed three Dover-Sherborn lacrosse players. The grilled flat iron steak, however, is well executed and deeply satisfying, as is the world-class burger with copious fries.
Again and again, the generosity at Heritage is keyed to win you over. A glass of wine here is half again deeper than its city sister. The cocktails are equally outsize. And if the desserts are straight-shooting — apple crisp, pumpkin mousse, homemade ice creams, and the like — they’re also large and satisfying and sweetly shareable.
So I’ll tell you something good. I’ll tell you that I like it. Even with the missteps, it’s true.
HERITAGE OF SHERBORN
33 N. Main St., Sherborn, 508-655-9251, www.heritageofsherborn.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $9-$14. Kids’ menu $10. Sandwiches $13-$15. Entrees $18-$25.
Hours Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m. Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Sat 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Sun 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9 p.m.
Noise level Gastro pub: spirited. Colonial side rooms: hushed
What to order Meatballs, roasted squash pizza, burger, monkfish saltimbocca, grilled flat iron steak, apple crisp.
Ted Weesner can be reached at email@example.com.