The historic Railroad House Inn has reopened with a new look and a new chef
In Marietta, the new Railroad House Inn is running at top speed.
A soft opening of around 100 friends and family cracked open the doors in January, and the owners hung a fresh sign on the circa-1820s railroad building at the corner of West Front and South Perry streets in early February. I stopped in to get a glimpse of the newest addition to Marietta’s culinary scene just days after it opened.
But let’s back up a bit. There’s some important history associated with this location. The building served as a vital wayside inn for the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and, later, the Pennsylvania Standard Railroad. Known to be a bit bawdy in its heyday, the building has weathered storms from man and nature. Throughout the years, a series of flooding events – most recently, Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 – caused the building to be closed and reopened under new management and ownership.
The new management team at the Railroad House are no strangers to Marietta.
“We’ve been looking at the Railroad House for a couple of years. We always loved that building,” says co-manager Freddy States, who also runs McCleary’s Pub just a few doors away. “We got to the point where we could work out a deal with Eric Farr and Tracy Beam, who have owned the building about as long as we’ve owned McCleary’s.”
Loyal fans have been asking States to open another McCleary’s location, but he wasn’t quite sure that was the route he wanted to take when considering a second restaurant. He decided to go in a different direction. Farr and Beam will continue to own the Railroad House and operate the inn part of the building, while the restaurant falls under the supervision of States’ partner, Joey Bowden (formerly of Haydn Zug’s and Bulls Head Public House).
Even with all the faces at work behind the scenes, the food is the star of the show. It comes from the creative mind of Rolando Aniceto – aka Chef Roli. Before putting his stamp on the dishes at the Railroad House, Chef Roli worked at Gibraltar (where he met Bowden), the Belvedere Inn and Penn Square Grille.
“Our goal with the menu is to keep it small, but keep it changing often. There’ll be some staple items that people love and some items that will change seasonally,” says States, who aims to have food as locally sourced and as farm-fresh as possible.
There are two entrances to the Railroad House – one opens into a well-lit bar area with accents of fresh wood and a stainless steel bar top; the other, off of Perry Street, seems like a side door but opens into a foyer occupied by a hostess.
My party of three was shown to a spacious booth with a window looking out to a courtyard. Rivets, pipes and gears hung around the dining room give a muted steampunk feel to the décor.
“We didn’t want to go over the top, but we wanted it to have an industrial feel since it is the Railroad House,” says States. “We wanted to keep an elegance to the restaurant.”
From the expansive beer list of craft and import brews listed by taste and character, I chose an old favorite – Sixpoint Brewery’s The Crisp pilsner.
The small dinner menu – five first-course dishes and five main course entrees – made the decision-making process easy. I started with the duck confit spring rolls served with apricot jam and pickled radish and the crisp salmon tacos, crunchy wonton shells filled with salmon, sushi rice, yuzu, wasabi crème fraiche and shiso (an Asian herb). Of the two, I preferred the tacos; the balance of the soft salmon and crunchy shell, along with the contrast of the cool crème fraiche with the subtle heat of the wasabi made each bite unbelievably delicious. The appetizers were to be a clear bellwether for what was to come with my entrée.
I’m not one to order a dish centered on gnocchi, and sometimes I find the use of truffle a bit overpowering, so I’m not quite sure why I ordered the black truffle gnocchi. Maybe it was the promising dichotomy of textures with the crisp pork belly, celeriac purée and pioppino mushrooms accompanying the dish. Maybe I was being frugal, as this was the cheapest entrée on the menu.
Whatever the reason behind my order, I was pleased with the result. I can easily describe this as one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. (I’m not blowing smoke here.) I first took single bites of each component and was somewhat impressed, but when I took a well-portioned forkful of all ingredients together, my eyes opened to a world of flavors I never knew existed. I savored each and every bite.
I paired my entrée with a glass of Natura organic Carménère – a 2013 red wine from Chile. Like the now popular Malbec, the Carménère grape was a French varietal that was used mostly for blending. It has now found a foothold in other growing regions where it excels. The wine list at the Railroad House is split simply into two categories – red and white – but the wines are decent selections (half from California) and are properly priced.
Having enough room for dessert, my table split the chocolate flourless cake, served with chocolate stout ice cream, caramelized bananas and peanut butter powder. Peanut butter powder! Now that was something new.
• 280 West Front Street, Marietta
• Wednesday and Thursday, 5-11 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m.-12 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.