The Day – Herb’s Cafe & Restaurant in Uncasville is only part of the fun
It’s always a good idea to have breakfast or lunch at Herb’s Country Deli & Restaurant in Uncasville. But our favorite time is late Sunday morning, when there are enthusiasts in front of you requiring a 15 or 20 minute wait.
Why is it good?
It gives you time to stroll by Herb’s Country Store, which is one of those places in Vermont with fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh flowers and plants and pumpkins in the fall and always jam and homemade cheese, candles and soap. It’s the kind of place you’ll come across on a rural road while on your way to see Robert Frost’s grave. But you pass because you have to go to the cemetery — only you arrive and it’s black fly season and the place is dense with them. So you tell the e’er-still poet you’ve got miles to go before you sleep and head back to that folk vegetable stand/shop instead.
THEN you say, “Hey, this place is like Herb’s Country Store in Uncasville! Too bad there isn’t a restaurant next door like Herb’s because it’s really good.”
It’s fair to add that we spent more money at Herb’s Country Store last Sunday than on breakfast, but we’re not complaining. The whole storyline is pretty awesome.
Immersion in herbalism
Herb’s Country Deli & Restaurant is more than a culinary extension of the Herb empire. It’s a kind of chain. As you walk in, there’s an old-fashioned lunch counter on the right, a cluttered host/hostess station center, and a cooler full of pies and pastries on the left. On the walls, shelves and counters are all sorts of trinkets and memorabilia you can buy – and you’re a fool if you don’t bring home one or more of Granny’s Pies (a Hartford outfit) that are available. You can get individual slices, a mini pie, or a regular sized item. There are many recipes centered around fruit and chocolate, lime, cheesecake, etc. I highly recommend the strawberry-rhubarb and my wife Eileen recommends the pecan pie.
Behind this front section is the dining room proper, filled with tables of a regularly wide cultural cross section of happy people. The walls are green and brown and covered with framed newspaper clippings, photos dating back to half a century of Herb-ness, photos of Montville youth sports teams, hand-carved folk sayings and Herb’s menus from boxed days (example from 1975: the Herb’s Man-Sized Breakfast, “guaranteed to start your day off right!” and featuring more food than the Patriots training camp dining hall consumes in a week, for 2 $.49). There are also whiteboards listing daily specials.
An interesting thing is that there are spinning vertical shelves and stacks of children’s books based on the immortal “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown. Dozens of titles! “Good Night Bears”, “Goodnight Dump Truck”, “Good Night Health Care Workers”, “Good Night Pirate Ship”, “Good Night Crime Scene Cleanup Crew”… (OK, I made up the last one, but: It’s clear that Margaret Wise Brown is no longer with us, so who thought about the idea of the “Goodnight” franchise and went wild about it? I wish I had thought of that.)
I thought about all this while Eileen and I had breakfast again. We have visited three times recently, and each time it was excellent, creatively designed food. The staff is also wonderful. The matriarch of the family might just come to your table with a sample of freshly baked banana/blueberry bread, oozing butter, for example. And employees all have that assured comfort with each other AND customers who suggest long and happy tenures. Another thing I like is that they’re all wearing brightly colored Herb’s shirts, a style I might expect if Phish opened a breakfast. But maybe Herb was in Woodstock. Who knows?
Here are some dishes we loved:
Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes ($9.95) – These are crazy. Two jumbo cakes hot on the grill with an inner layer of fresh strawberries. Then, at the top and center is a carved turret of giant carved berries holding a mound of whipped cream, and all around is a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar. Did I augment with generous amounts of melted butter, then maple syrup? Extra boost: A side of sausage patties ($4.50) — two large discs with a perfectly, lightly seared exterior and a bit of well-seasoned punch. Was everything wonderful? Do you really have to ask?
Sausage Sauce on Cookies ($13.95) – This tray is neatly compartmentalized. From left to right, there’s a huge, soft, buttery cookie butterfly and ladle with a heavy cream sauce sprinkled with mouth-watering chunks of that thin sausage; a batch of square homemade fries; and two expertly rendered, ultra-moist scrambled eggs.
Benedictine Potato Pancake ($14.95) – Two medium-thick pancakes, fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside and soaked in potato greatness, are topped with perfectly poached eggs, thin slices of tomato and red onion and a generous dollop of a velvety Hollandaise sauce, topped with green onion. The whole thing sits on a bed of baby fresh spinach. Now that Eileen has discovered this, she says she may never order anything else again – anywhere.
French toast with syrup and butter (choice of two slices for $7.50 or three for $8.50) — Just the way you want it: the egg acts as a coating to fry the bread and add weight, but you don’t taste an egg in the dish. You taste French toast. And butter. And cinnamon. And powdered sugar. And syrup. Gorgeous. (Note that other French toast options include raisin or multigrain, Monte Cristo, stuffed, or Elvis—from $7.50 to $10.95.)
English stuffed ($11.95) – Well, hell. This sammich is served on a buttery toasted English muffin and includes a generous pile of thinly sliced lean roast beef, a fried egg, strips of green peppers and tomatoes, crispy bacon and melted Swiss cheese. Breakfast? Yes. Lunch? Yes. Dessert? Why not?
We are fortunate to live in an area that is full of very fine and distinctive family restaurants. It’s fun to casually visit each one in a sort of rotation we’ve established. But Herb’s is special in its own way and worth adding to your own list of regular stops.