The Patriot-News
Hidden Gem
By Mimi Brodeur

Tavern on the Hill is a recipe for a successfully run restaurant. Well-trained servers, inviting ambience and memorable food are all key ingredients that have been stirred into this profitable pot.

Owners Gus and Tina Giannaris and nephew Laki Daskalakis opened Tavern on the Hill in 1993.

Lighted signs are helpful in pinpointing the restaurant hidden off U.S. Route 11/15. Twinkling little lights and a green awning mark the front entrance facing a full parking lot. A long hallway leads to the hostess station headed by Tina Giannaris, who keeps an eagle eye on new servers.

“When we first opened, there were just a couple of dining rooms,” Daskalakis said.

They have since expanded to four dining rooms and a private room. One of those rooms is a cozy-chic bar with nearby tables. Saturday is the only day smoking is not allowed in the bar area.

Each secluded dining room is conducive to audible conversations and legible menu reading. (Even though lighting is subtle and romantic, the print is big enough to read without glasses.) Low ceilings, heavy and ornate decorations, such as gilded framed floral artwork and oversized candleholders, create an intimate, yet elegant ambience.

I’ve had consistently good meals here over the past decade, and a recent dinner was no exception. We dined on fine wine and deliciously prepared courses.

The daily appetizer special, saganaki ($6.50), is a traditional white, firm Greek cheese warmed in a stainless steel serving bowl. It was thick, rich and slightly oily. It tasted like golden brown, baked cheese that you’d scrape off the bottom of a frying pan. It was a little salty, but that just made you eat more. Fresh garlic bread arrived just in time to soak up the oozing separated oils.

USDA prime blackened tenderloin ($8.95) had a spicy outer crust protecting a baby-pink tender interior. Chili oil added heat and spiciness to a moat of red pepper sauce.

Our server arrived with our salads before we were ready. She was discreetly made aware of this mistake. Our salads did come back a short time later still crisp and fresh and fueled with interesting ingredients.

Arugula salad ($6.50) is a tribute to fall, with its wafer-thin slices of pungent aged Parmesan-Reggiano, pears and toasted walnuts. Fruity raspberry vinaigrette complemented the richness of the cheese and nuts and the bitter-peppery bite of the arugula leaves.

Entrees range from a pricey roasted rack of lamb ($33.95) to reasonable featured specials off an additional printed page. A steak-size portion of Alaskan halibut ($22.95) had a velvety texture supported by a spoonful of luscious lobster butter sauce and prime bits of crab meat. A julienne of carrots, red peppers and zucchini accented with fresh herbs and capers lay next to the fish.

It seemed like everyone in our room was choosing the stuffed potato as a side. We did, too. Twin balls of heavenly potato mixture were tinged with a shadow of paprika.

Another light and wonderful side was Mediterranean peas. This lively dish had crisp tender sugar snap peas, petit peas, celery slices and chopped, fresh herbs saturated by aromatic broth. It was quite colorful and full of flavor.

Entrees are a good size. There weren’t many gray-haired couples leaving empty-handed. It would be hard to finish Portuguese-style chicken with linguine all’olio ($19.95). This rustic dish filled the plate completely with finger-length strips of tender, braised chicken breasts, cured black olives, freshly chopped tomatoes, quartered mushrooms, al dente pasta and red spicy sauce. No one came around with a pepper mill, but then again, the dishes didn’t need additional seasonings.

The dessert tray looked like something you’d see in a bakery case. There were at least five or six desserts plated and arranged on the tray.

Six-layered moist carrot cake cemented by thick buttercream took over one dessert plate. On another plate, a curvy slice of chocolate cake wrapped around a subtle raspberry chocolate truffle filling tasted even better than it looked.

Some of the desserts are made in-house, such as creamy rice pudding. Desserts are all around $6.

There’s an excellent assortment of after-dinner drinks, too, if you need time to digest.

Tavern on the Hill is hidden, but certainly not forgotten. The bustling midweek crowd was a telltale sign of success.