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Dobbin House is heavy on Colonial charm

May 07, 2006|By ye Olde PHILIP McGULLET

GETTYSBURG, Pa.

Ye olde menu at the Dobbin House Tavern is very true to the Colonial period in its affections and spellings, substituting "f's" for "s's" at every chance and throwing in phrases such as "A generous offering difposed in a fanciful manner to dreff your table."

"Our fertile Pennfylvania countryfide supplies the fineft of vegetables," the menu assures us. "We search the markets for the beft and frefhest."

It leaves things open to the guest to figure out why they search the market instead of fearching it, but there is probably a formula at work here that escaped us.

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The lighting in the Dobbin House dining room is provided exclusively by candles, which is simultaneously romantic and hard on the eyes, efpecially when one is forced to play the letter-substitution game.

The stone house dates back to 1776, when it was built by the Rev. Alexander Dobbin. The cellar has been made into a pleasingly rustic tavern with some interesting old-world features and a definite Colonial feel.

The dining rooms upstairs seem a little more contrived, including tables surrounded by four-poster canopies. The help is all dolled up in Colonial dress and a talented, guitar-strumming troubadour wanders the floor.

Ambiance is a subjective thing; some patrons were clearly loving the experience, while we believed they could have ratcheted down the Founding Fatherism to advantage.

But Gettysburg is a tourist destination, so Dobbin House can be excused to playing, at least a bit, to tourist sensibilities. And best of all, it is able to put on this Colonial show without declaring its independence from culinary consciousness.

There's nothing tricky about the Dobbin House menu. No experimental fusions or whimsical, West Coast art-concoctions need apply. The ingredients are basic, the combinations tried-and-true and the preparation flawless.

Some of these Colonial antiquities try to make the fare as traditional as the decor, complete with offerings such as salt cod and brined pork. Here, Dobbin House draws the line. There are culinary nuances that draw from the Colonies, but the powdered wig doesn't wag the dog. Where Colonial method is used, it's because the end result is favorable.

The evening begins with a basket of home baked breads, our favorite being a pear and raisin bread that is pleasingly spiced. The breads are served with a gallipot of butter, which is Colonial for "a whole bunch."

The menu includes veal, duck and lamb, as well as chicken, fish, shrimp and vegetarian fare - but the word "crab" seemed to crop up with frequency, which we took to be a helpful hint. And it never takes much to talk us into making an evening into a crab sampler, so we started off with a crabcake and a crab-stuffed Avocado Louis.

The crabcake must have been held together with the chef's good intentions, because there was little more than a trace of bready binder, and just looking at it cross-ways was enough to break it down into succulent morsels of crab seasoned with herbs and a good, but not overpowering, representation of Old Bay.

The perfectly ripe avocado was accented by a delicious, creamy lemon sauce and came with an ample portion of chilled lump crabmeat - the real, luscious, snow-white item.

We'd been pleased with Dobbin House's sparkling cider, oops, sorry, we mean cyder, a tangy apple concoction, and were tempted by another specialty drink before the server asked what could be construed by a warning-shot of a question: "Do you like vinegar?" Apparently this drink was one of the old-world throwbacks not universal in its appeal, and she wanted to be sure we knew what we were getting into.

Through the meal, the service was ever thus: honest, helpful and attentive, friendly and down-to-earth.

If we were being steered to the crab, it was properly so, because the crab imperial main course was melt-in-your mouth delicious - a healthy portion of backfin crabmeat with just the right amount of spice and a tasty sauce all baked into a mound of hearty goodness. The entre was served with a baked potato - again, plenty of butter and sour cream on the side - and a fresh house salad.

But we needed to break up the crab action, and wanted something earthy and meaty in honor of the old ancestral fossils, and what could be a better representation than the "primal rib of beef?" In a world becoming too populated by flaccid, unnaturally pink prime ribs, this was a treat of beef the old way.

In was served bone-in, with a peppery crust and plenty of character, crunch on the outside and roasted to a perfect rose color within. On the side was real, eye-opening horseradish, not the watered-down, milky version.

When we ordered the homemade apple pie, we were again warned that it might not be as sweet as we were used to, again as a nod to Colonial cookery. But here we barged right ahead and were quite pleased by a solid wall of tangy apples baked into a flaky, homemade crust.

Likewise, the cheesecake was not overly sweet in a positive sense, and demonstrated that quality ingredients do not need to be drowned out by a sackful of sugar.

The Dobbin House isn't as expensive as some of the more highbrow country inns - a good appetizer can be found for $7, and entre for $20, but a full meal with wine, appetizer and desert can still cost a pretty shilling, pushing the $100 level for a couple bent on sampling one of each.

Still, the price seemed reasonable given the portions and quality. If you're looking for adventure or a new taste, there are better choices. But for a good, hearty meal with no disappointments and an entertaining environment, we believe most diners will leave the Dobbin House well-fatisfied.

Overall 4 stars out of 5

food 4

service 4

atmosphere 4

value 3

89 Steinwehr Ave.

Gettysburg, Pa.

1-717-334-2100

www.dobbinhouse.com

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