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Globe North Dining Out

A repolished gem waiting for discovery

January 2, 2011

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Finding a great, or even decent, brunch spot outside Boston can be an existential challenge. I had all but given up on the idea of a leisurely Sunday nosh, with flowing coffee, eggs, and fresh fruit, along the Interstate 495 belt when I stumbled across Samuel’s in Andover.

You may not have heard of this restaurant unless you’ve visited the Addison Gallery of American Art lately. Directly across from the world-class museum on the Phillips Academy campus, three-month old Samuel’s anchors the recently renovated Andover Inn.

After a 15-month shutdown, both the inn and its restaurant have been updated from stem to stern. Gone is the stodgy, gentleman’s club air of the past in favor of a more refined, if austere, establishment, with lots of deep blues, browns, and frosted glass, and overseen by an attentive staff.

We visited Samuel’s twice; first for dinner and then for Sunday brunch. Because the brunch impressed us more, let’s start there.

For $29, you will eat like an elite prep school grad on a state school budget.

A beautifully arranged buffet overflowing with croissants, muffins, and bagels gives way to platters of shrimp cocktail, melons and berries, and smoked salmon. Plates of rice and quinoa salad with feta and tomatoes, and couscous with roasted red pepper pesto and zucchini are as tasty as they appear. Tomato and mozzarella salad and roasted asparagus were the nourishing start we needed. With such healthy offerings, it’s easy to queue up for seconds, or thirds, and not blush.

Next come the main dishes, a varied romp from eggs Benedict to beef stew.

I went for the frittata with asparagus and olives topped with creamy goat cheese. The texture was up to snuff, but the overall effect was bland. Chef Eric Heinrich must not have had his coffee yet. Fresh ground pepper helped. But thyme or rosemary, anything from the spice rack, would have saved this fluffy omelet from mediocrity. Luckily I was plenty satisfied by the time it arrived and didn’t mind its shortcomings.

Here’s the best thing about brunch at Samuel’s: bottomless cups of bold coffee are included. Even our postmeal espresso, an inflated cost at most restaurants, was not added to our bill, a huge score for the caffeinated culture.

Samuel’s, named after academy founder Samuel Phillips Jr., offers several places to dine, but we are partial to the lounge. Plush leather stools, a gleaming bar, and dark wood overhead impart an urban élan. There are banks of windows that filter in afternoon light. Looking out onto the tree-lined campus, with a sprawling quad, a network of brick halls and a monument in the distance, one feels in touch with the storied school where Humphrey Bogart and Presidents George Bush (both first and second) studied. It’s also a prime spot to watch Phillips grad Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots on TV on any given Sunday.

The night we came to dinner we ordered burgers at the bar, preceded by one of the best salads we’ve had in the Merrimack Valley. Dubbed “simply the best’’ ($7), it’s made with seasonal vegetables and was a bright and delicious discovery.

As for the Inn Burger on the lounge menu, I’m not going to go out on a limb and say it was the best I’ve had, but when the craving calls, this is an adequate answer. The cheddar cheese made it a more comforting, rich experience. Topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms, exactly how I order my burgers, it squeaked into the win column. At $12 it’s a reasonable price for the all-American classic.

And speaking of American classics, the New England clam chowder ($6), lobster casserole ($35), and seared lamb loin ($31) are menu highlights. Seared sea scallops ($23) served with handmade fettuccini (all pasta is made on the premises) is Samuel’s signature dish, I learned later. I will return for this version, topped with red and golden beets.

The well-stocked bar features a wine list that is on the mark, with glasses from $6 to $14, and locally brewed beers, such as Fisherman’s Brew from Gloucester and Whale’s Tail Pale Ale from Nantucket, are on tap for $6, which tells me someone is paying attention. I appreciate the effort.

When our check arrived, I didn’t know it. The staff is not aggressive getting you out the door. This may be because Samuel’s is still a secret and was not slammed on the occasions we visited.

Like a talented, young singer performing in an out-of-the-way club, Samuel’s cranks out the hits night after night.

Visit now before it’s completely discovered.

KATHLEEN PIERCE

Samuel’s
The Andover Inn
4 Chapel Ave., Andover
978-775-491; www.acc-andoverinn.com
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m.
Major charge cards
Handicapped accessible

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor