Ho-Ho-Kus Inn continues to amaze me. In a "why did I return" way. A recent visit (to the "tavern," not the formal dining room) proved baffling and frustrating on too many levels.
Let's start with a cocktail.
The cocktail list consists of maybe four or five drinks. Hopefully you're not too concerned with money, because there are no prices. You'll just have to guess. We ordered something billed as a Tequila Old Fashioned. Ostensibly, this would be an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of whiskey. Good in theory I suppose.
An Old Fashioned, to my mind, is simply whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Perhaps a garnish of fruit. Yet in this version, there's lime juice. When I saw "lime juice" in the list of ingredients, I knew I had to ask if it was fresh lime juice. The friendly bartender said that she could put fresh lime in the drink if I wanted. Now I was really curious. "What would you put in it if I didn't ask?" She showed me this plastic bottle of neon green lime juice cordial from the rail. Good grief, why does a place of the level of Ho-Ho-Kus Inn even have that stuff, much less use it in one of their featured cocktails. Why? Because it's amateur hour here. Twenty-four-seven.
Presumably because we asked for the drink without that lime "juice," the cocktail barely came halfway up the small glass of ice. Indeed, it was 1.5 ounces of tequila, with some muddled lime and orange, a bit of agave syrup, and a scant shake of bitters. I suspect it would normally be topped off with that horrible lime cordial. Thankfully it wasn't. This, for 12 dollars as it turns out.
<rant>Why is it that bars and restaurants will pour 4 ounces of vodka into a glass, calling it a "martini" or something, yet they dispense tequila as if it's a rare and expensive single malt?</rant>
Ho-Ho-Kus Inn offers six varieties oysters, and that's just wonderful. I tire of opening a menu and seeing a single item called "oysters." That's about as helpful as "mammal." Typically those generic "oysters" are "Blue Point," which are fine, but not terribly exciting. Extra points to HHI for offering a selection. <whatAYelperSays>I wish I could give half stars just for the oyster selection.</whatAYelperSays>
We ordered two of each, for a dozen oysters. Again, as with the cocktails, no prices. These are "market price." Come on. Just put some prices on the menu and deal with the small market fluctuations. I can't think of another restaurant that prices specific oysters as "market price," and I don't want to see one.
The oysters were unceremoniously delivered by a runner, with no indication of which were which or what order they might be in. The server took a reasonable guess, but without much authority. Good restaurants know how to provide the required level of service in situations like this. Bad ones don't.
Once I got past my somewhat-irrational annoyance of the prices and the presentation, I thoroughly enjoyed the oysters. They were served appropriately cold, with the liquor intact.
Lamb ribs, served with a yogurt-based sauce, were quite tasty (and messy), if not a bit tough in parts.
The chicken and biscuits sounded super. Described by the server as sous-vide, then deep fried, two thighs, served on a biscuit. Wow. First of all, it's nice to see thighs instead of breasts. And the extra step of sous-vide? Sounds good to me. They are really trying with this dish, we figured, and we were sold.
When the chicken hit the bar, it looked pretty damned good. My friend cut it open, took a bite, and chuckled "ice cold." We had a good laugh and called the server over. She wanted to know if he wanted it reheated--essentially asking how the kitchen should handle this. Amateur hour, again. We know you'll probably reheat it if you're a shitty restaurant. We'd prefer if you re-fire it.
As expected and feared, the same pieces came back, a little worse for wear after hitting that deep fryer for a second time. The chicken turned out quite dry and unexceptional. The biscuits were also dry and unexceptional.
The burger has clearly changed since the last time I was there (HHI has gone through more chefs than I care to keep track of). This time, a much thinner patty, with a reasonably sized bun. A perfectly good burger, cooked to m/r as ordered, served with cheese and bacon. Would have gone great with some craft beers, which they really don't have on tap.
The fries, which also came with the chicken and biscuits, were probably some of the worst fries I've ever had. Pasty, white, pale, limp, just a mess. It's amazing the kitchen would send these out. I'd shut the doors of the place if I were the owner and saw these things, just to avoid the embarrassment.
Ho-ho-kus Inn has for years given me the impression that their aspirations are much more lofty than their abilities. I'm still convinced this is the case. During every visit, I got the feeling that no one is minding the store. The place feels like a big, expensive, pet project, being run by a bunch of inexperienced kids. Every time I walk away from Ho-Ho-Kus Inn, I'm $200 poorer, and can't help but think "WTF was that all about?"
Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern : One East Franklin Ave : Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ : 201.445.4115