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Dining Out

Food as rich as the history

Email|Print| Text size + By Paul E. Kandarian
February 26, 2006

The Crane Brook Restaurant and Tea Room is blessed not only with a fine menu but also with the magic of discovery of a heretofore unknown family connection.

Don McKeag, a retired Rockland High School English teacher who previously owned the Flying Bridge Restaurant in Falmouth and the Asa Bearse House in Hyannis, bought the place in 1994. Until then, McKeag, 65, had no clue that his great-grandfather, a cranberry farmer, had traversed the very bucolic acres where the historic restaurant is located.

Built in the mid-1800s, the building was home to a cranberry separation facility, and McKeag's great-grandfather would deliver cranberries there. The great-grandfather's kin also had a camp just up the road in Carver.

"I had no idea about any of that until I bought this place," says McKeag, a Weymouth native who has coached varsity high school sports in Hingham and Rockland. "It was just amazing."

As is the food on the menu. Our party of four visited on a chilly winter night and were immediately warmed by the friendliness of the wait staff and the atmosphere of the establishment, a richly textured place that was dimly lit but elegantly appointed, from its wonderfully cozy English-style pub to the antique furniture in its parlor and dining areas.

McKeag, a white-haired social sort who has a local talk radio show on WXTK (95.1 FM) (he jokingly warns that his show is extremely conservative, aired on a station that also carries Howie Carr and G. Gordon Liddy) loves roaming table to table to chat up the patrons.

Executive chef Mark Sweirkowski from New Jersey has created a wonderful menu and portions most generous for a restaurant where at least one entr?e tops $30. The size of the servings is at McKeag's insistence. The owner said he hates paying good money in fine restaurants only to be shorted on portions, so here they are on the large side.

We started with a stuffed artichoke appetizer ($9.95) better than any we've ever had, filled with sausage and fontina cheese and served with roasted garlic and a terrific chardonnay broth. We also tried the pear and parsnip soup ($9.95), a distinctive and delicious dish boasting a large saut?ed scallop, melted brie, and applewood smoked bacon bits -- a perfect soup for a cold night.

Rounding out the appetizers were clams on the half shell ($8.95), with a tangy cocktail sauce, and the best appetizer of the night, butternut squash gnocchi ($8.95), with toasted hazelnuts and prosciutto, shaved grana padana (a very hard cheese), and sage brown butter sauce, very nearly a meal in itself.

Testing the salads, we all shared the baby spinach ($8.95), a delightful mix with grilled balsamic red onions, warm tomato confit, roasted pears, Great Hill Blue cheese (from Marion), and warm bacon vinaigrette, and the baby romaine with Parmesan basket ($9.95), served with imported white anchovies, garlic crostini, and Caesar dressing.

On to the main courses: The cedar plank-roasted salmon ($19.95), flaky perfect and delicately seasoned, came with roasted red and gold beets, saut?ed spinach, and fresh horseradish cream sauce. We also tried the bouillabaisse ($26.95), a mishmash of distinct ocean flavors in a rich tomato and saffron broth with crostini and saffron rouille, generously populated by mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, salmon, and halibut.

For the carnivore in us, we tasted the Wolf's Neck Farms beef duo ($27.95), featuring braised short ribs and pan-seared New York sirloin, with silky smooth mascarpone and porcini mushroom polenta and caramelized onion tart, the meats perfectly done, the accompanying polenta and tart pretty filling by themselves. Lastly, we had to go with the beef Wellington ($32.95), a seared tenderloin with mushroom duxelle (wild mushrooms finely minced and saut?ed), wrapped in a divinely flaky puff pastry, the beef fork tender and moist, done to perfection.

Desserts, after food this rich and plentiful, seemed excessively decadent. So naturally, we went with it, sampling banana chocolate mousse ($7.95), chocolate cake ($7.95), and cr?me brulee ($6.95). We just about had to be rolled out of the building from culinary overload.

Our final tab, not counting tip and bar bill, was $154.40, reasonable for dinner this well done and richly presented in an establishment so steeped in history.

Crane Brook also has seasonal outside dining, a glorious experience at sunset as the restaurant sits on Sampson Pond, and musical entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday brunch.

It's more than a bit off the beaten path, deep in the woods of Carver, but well worth the journey.

CRANE BROOK RESTAURANT AND TEA ROOM

Cuisine: Bistro

Address: 229 Tremont St., Carver

Phone: 508-508-5691

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. to kitchen closing, hours vary by season; Sunday, brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. to kitchen closing, hours vary by season.

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