By LINDA GIUCA, Special To The Courant
The Hartford Courant
December 12, 2013
Over its more than 150-year history, the Gelston House in East Haddam has been a tavern, a fine dining establishment, an inn and always a spot that served up beautiful views of the Connecticut River with its meals.
An institution in town second only to its neighbor, the Goodspeed Opera House, the restaurant and inn now offers a new dining experience, the GH Gastro Pub. Through the winter months when the Goodspeed goes dark and beyond, chef/owner Iso Dedusaj hopes to attract more locals and daytrippers to the pub, a more casual dining venue with an inventive menu and easy-on-the-budget prices.
"Everyone does a tavern or a grill menu or a bar," says Dedusaj, who hails from Montenegro and worked in the New York City restaurant scene for 15 years before taking over the property six years ago. "I decided to do the gastro pub. [The idea] started in England as an upscale pub. I decided that everything on the menu would be under $20 and that I didn't want to go with small portions. Even if people don't have a lot of money, they get to taste good food."
Because of the impressive Italianate architecture and the size of the Gelston House, Dedusaj believes that the building sometimes intimidates newcomers. "They see this big building and think it's too fancy or too expensive," he says. While the foyer with its curved stairway looks grand, the gastro pub, which incorporates the restaurant's original bar, has a more casual feel.
The original molding and hardwood floors accent the sky blue walls. The granite-topped wood bar remains with the area in front of the bar furnished with high top tables and chairs. The bar room opens into a separate dining area of booths and tables and a gas fireplace.
Certain dishes on the gastro pub menu already have become crowd favorites. "The lamb sliders, people love them," Dedusaj says. The mini lamb burgers are topped with housemade mango salsa and served on brioche rolls. Also popular, says the chef, are the veal meatballs and Florentine ravioli, served in a wild mushroom Marsala cream sauce, and the shepherd's pie. Dedusaj's take on the comfort food pie is replaces the traditional lamb filling with slow-braised Angus short ribs mixed with roasted corn, celery, onions and carrots and topped with gorgonzola mashed potatoes. Menu prices range from $6 for a mixed green salad to $20 for lobster and shrimp scampi over linguini, but there are many sandwiches and small plates for $10. The best value is the 8-ounce ground Kobe beef burger with roasted wild mushrooms and a brandy cream sauce for $14.
Wednesday night is Hungarian night when classics such as stuffed cabbage, goulash and chicken paprikash are the daily specials.
Besides an extensive wine list that includeds 13 wines by the glass and in keeping with spirit of a pub, Dedusaj has expanded the beer selection to include microbrews and locally brewed varieties. For the uninitiated, the beer menu informs and educates: each listing includes notes on the style, appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthful and finish – and a fun fact or two. Dedusaj says he created dishes for the menu that would complement the beer choices.
Dedusaj plans to open the Gelston House for a New Year's Eve celebration. Both the formal dining room and the Gastro Pub will be open, and live music will begin after 9 p.m. He will serve the regular menus until 9 and offer a special menu after 9.
He also is slowly restoring guest rooms and banquet rooms in the building. His most current project is room in the front of the building that can seat 40 guests for a meal or a meeting. The room, which has a fireplace, will also be open to the public during the day. Dedusaj encourages folks to watch television, work on their computer, read the paper or take a coffee break in the cheerful, light-filled room.
>>The Gelston House dining room and the GH Gastro Pub are open Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Information: 860-873-1411 or www.gelstonhouse.com.
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