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Reviewer updates long history at Daniel Packer Inne

I can't rightly say I was "heavily recruited" by The Day although, in an era before Zoom and video interviews were the norm, the paper's honchos were sufficiently curious about my resume to fly me up here from Texas to talk about an open arts writer position.

The "curious" part comes in because, inasmuch as any accurate resume would have been very short — Dude spends 14 years trying to be rock star; fails; freelances some book and album reviews; leaves out part about begging on street corner — I instead essentially ripped off F. Scott Fitzgerald's biography for the details listed on my curriculum vitae.

This is true!

Of course, at some point in the document, there was a disclaimer — "If you've read this far and you're an arts editor, you'll have realized this resume look exceedingly familiar and that I, Rick Koster, did not write 'Tender is the Night' and marry Zelda ..." — and my future boss, The Day's Milton Moore, thought it was uniquely bold and sort of funny. True, he also threw the resume AWAY three different times. But for some reason he kept retrieving it and he finally called and I flew up to try out and ... here we are a quarter-century later.

Now THIS is New England!

I mention all this because my wife Eileen and I were EXCITED to be coming to New England. Neither of us had so much as visited the region before, and it seemed as exotic and full of old-time charm as it has proven to be. We both agree the first place that made a tattoo-strength, "Wow, THIS is New England" impression on us was driving through Bridgeport.

Kidding. No, it was the Daniel Packer Inne in Mystic.

Walking into the downstairs tavern of the magnificent, colonial-era provenance, with its dark beams, flaming hearth (it was late October, right after we moved) and maritime overtones associated with the titular Packer — a former square-rigger — it all coalesced in a fashion that we FELT the history of the place in that ghostly but tactile way historic buildings and locales sometimes have.

The DPI remains one of our favorite places. We've eaten holiday dinners there, celebrated Big Events there, invariably bring relatives or friends visiting us for the first time there, and casually drop into the pub for lunch or dinner on pleasantly spontaneous whims.

Back again

To mark the end of a persistent winter, and because we haven't been there since well before COVID, we brought new friends John and Elisa to the Inne last weekend for a meal in the upstairs dining rooms. The facilities remain as period-authentic as the tavern, and it doesn't require too much opium to imagine, at a corner two-top, Ben Franklin and Mohawk chief Joseph Brant pitching a story outline about a recalcitrant white whale to a skeptical Herman Melville.

The Inne was very crowded and the dining room a bit loud, but we settled in. Our quick and quick-witted waiter took good care of us for the evening. Upon hearing how we wanted our food cooked, he said, "We'll get it pretty close to that" and winked. Instantly likeable.

Those of us who imbibe — everyone but me — enjoyed a bottle of buttery house Chardonnay, which is curated for the restaurant by a Lodi, California, vineyard and features a label with a picture of the Inne. Our server also immediately realized I'm a Man of Cola and presented me with a carafe of Diet Coke to use at my leisure.

Bring on food!

We split two appetizers. A shrimp cocktail ($4 per crustacean) featured large, fresh and icy specimens with a wedge of lemon and a container of pre-mixed cocktail sauce. It was big fun, although the opportunity to add our own horseradish would have appeased my desire for a bit more heat.

Also sampled were stuffed Portobello mushrooms ($13). Typically prepared with Alouette cheese, seasoned breadcrumbs, chive oil and a balsamic reduction, the dish is one of many on the menu that can be made in a gluten-free fashion — which we requested as one of our party was gluten-intolerant.

The dish was reportedly pleasing — I'M mushroom-intolerant and wasn't going near them — with an earthy, creamy quality that worked comfortably with the sweet/tart glaze and mellow herbed cheese.

For entrees, Eileen, a committed vegetarian, tried the vegan mushroom goulash ($21). While not structurally resembling a traditional goulash, the plate featured a mosh pit of 'shrooms, sautéed onions, strips of red pepper, roasted tomato and garlic all heaped over white rice. Eileen said she was a bit surprised the mushrooms played more of a supporting role in the overall flavor, but the whole concept delivered a solid ensemble performance.

John asked for Sirloin Blackjack ($38). It was a large cut of beef, cooked as requested with that pink throughout/warm-inside medium rare precision. "Blackjack" must mean "semi au Poivre" in sailor-speak. Pressed peppercorns dominated the surface of the cut and overall taste, but the less prominent mushroom whiskey sauce was nonetheless tasty. The steak was, as John said, "scaffolded" on the renowned, tasty and mildly garlicked "DPI mashed potatoes" and surrounded by buttery, fresh, al dente green beans. Both vegetables were highlights.

Meanwhile, Elisa was intrigued by Scallops Nantucket ($36), a concept in which the bivalve mollusks, newly harvested from the sea, were baked with herb butter, white wine, seasoned breadcrumbs and draped in melted cheddar. She asked for the breadcrumbs to be left out. Sadly, while Nantucket does well with those salmon-tinted shorts and trousers from Murray's Toggery, the island's approach to scallops overwhelmed the distinctive and appealing quality of the seafood. To wit: the cheese — which is a delightful thing unto itself — was simply too powerful and the theoretical stars of the show — the scallops — were lost.

Cheddar is perhaps best employed on burgers or atop apple pie or ... hey! How about my DPI tenderloin schnitzel sandwich ($17)?! Yes! The fine sandwich consisted of two pounded planks of lean and flavorful meat, with a perfectly brittle fried exterior, extending beyond the parameters of the fresh potato bun, and coated in velvety cheese. I was also compelled to try it because "pirate sauce" was a promised condiment. Not sure what I expected — something fiery or perhaps Robert Louis Stevensony — but I'd say pirate sauce most closely resembled a honey mustard dressing. And that's fine.

This wasn't the finest dining experience I've had ta DPI. However, cautiously coming out of a pandemic when restaurants are dealing with rising food prices and difficulty finding help, I think ye olde Packer is emerging quite well. I look for a full-throttle return soon.

If you go

Captain Daniel Packer Inne

32 Water St., Mystic

(860) 536-3555, www.danielpacker.com

Cuisine: Broad and creative menu featuring seafood, steaks, chicken and a variety of vegan and gluten-free items

Atmosphere: Utterly charming old colonial inn with a wonderful bottom floor pub and a second floor of tiny, period-authentic dining rooms. It can get noisy on busy nights.

Service: Friendly, helpful and experienced

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily in pub and Sat.-Sun. in dining room (later hours for drinks only in pub), 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri. dining room

Prices: Fairly expensive but in context with rising prices during inflation

Credit cards: Yes

Handicapped access: A ramp from the back upper parking lot and level but tight access through the downstairs tavern door

Reservations: A good idea on weekends

 

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