May 08. 2018 11:24PM

Our Gourmet: At the Town Tavern, change is very good


Town Tavern

142 Lowell Road, Hudson; 889-9900; towntavernnh.com

Serving:
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays until 10; Sundays until 8:30.

Cuisine: American.

Pricing: Appetizers $6-$16; soups & salads $5-$13; entrees $15-$26; pizza $8-$18; sandwiches $11.50-$13.

Scores for Town Tavern
Atmosphere: 18/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 17/20
Service: 17/20
Value: 16/20
TOTAL: 86/100



Sometimes time runs out on a landmark. A place that’s been a fixture for many years finally runs out of steam, and something has to give. For lots of restaurants, that means closing up shop, posting a “for sale” sign out front and sending the help packing.

But for others, a change of ownership and a new approach can breathe new life into the place without nearly as much angst. That’s what happened at Valentino’s in Hudson, which was redesigned, refocused and rebranded a couple of months ago as Town Tavern.

And the change is very good.

We last visited Valentino’s three years ago with our son, The Bottomless Pit, and we thought it was nice, but nothing special. Portion sizes were huge, but the food was pretty much standard Italian family fare.

Mrs. Gourmet recently heard some co-workers raving about the new Town Tavern, so we decided to check it out and see for ourselves. The co-workers were right.

The layout of the restaurant is pretty much the same as it was before, with a central, partially enclosed bar and dining areas to the left and right. The decor has been spruced up, with a nice contemporary paint job and earth-tone and stone accents. Seating is primarily in booths along the inner and outer walls, with a row of tables in the middle.

The menu has had a complete overhaul. It’s been pretty thoroughly Americanized, though there are still a few Italian dishes, particularly in the “Local Favorites” section. Among the appetizers, the formidable “Bocce Ball” appetizer, which The Bottomless Pit ordered the last time we visited, is still there.. But this dish is an indication of how things have changed: What used to be three huge pizza-dough encrusted meatballs for $8.95 is now one for $6.95 (two for $10). While the per-meatball cost is higher now, it’s a much more sensible serving that won’t leave you stuffed before your entree arrives.

We went with a pair of classic appetizers to start. Mrs. G ordered French Onion Soup ($6), and was surprised by how tightly packed this smallish crock was with bread, onions, and cheese. There was almost not enough room left for the dark, rich beefy broth. There was nothing delicate about it except for the size; it was hearty and very good.

My order of calamari ($10.50) was lightly breaded, delicately fried and served with a mild cocktail sauce. We were glad we ordered it with the sliced hot banana peppers, which added a nice kick and some variety to the dish.

Mrs. G was pleased with her entree order of short ribs ($23) for the tender, fall-off-the-bone quality of the braised beef. And props to the chef for enterprise for the dark cherry sauce, but we both thought the cherry flavor, while not sweet, overwhelmed the beef. A simpler dark demiglace or pan gravy would let the meat be the star it deserves to be.

I ordered the Shrimp & Scallop Linguine ($19). There was a generous supply of shrimp and scallops, tossed with the pasta in a light, flavorful white wine garlic sauce. Artichoke hearts added some tang, but the smoked tomatoes were an extra special addition that really made this dish pop.

We were satisfied by the time we finished our entrees — not stuffed, as we were after we finished at Valentino’s three years ago. Still, we decided to order our desserts (all $6) to go. Allowing some slack for travel, we thought the Tiramisu was creamy and moist but rather bland. The key lime pie was much better — sweet and tart, though maybe not as good as a couple of examples we tasted recently in Florida.

Our server, Madison, was very helpful with the lowdown on the menu and on the changes at the restaurant over the last few months.

Town Tavern seems a bit more expensive than Valentino’s was (our three courses for two with one cocktail came to $89), but we think the enhancements and reorientation— not to mention the food — are worth it. Based on the 30-minute wait we sat through to be seated on a Saturday evening, it seems that people in the Hudson/Nashua area agree.