Atmosphere: Informal, country inn. Large dining room upstairs seats 250; smaller Sitting Duck Pub downstairs. No tie or jacket required. Price range: Dinner costs $7.25 to $12.95 for adults, $4.25 to $5.50 for children for entree, salad bar, bread and milk, Buffet lunch (served Monday through Saturday) $4.50 for grown-ups, $3.50 for children. Entrees for Sunday Brunch (Sitting Duck Pub) range from $4.25 to $10.95. Hours: Buffet lunch, noon-2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, Noon-3 p.m Saturday Dinner 5 to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 12 to 9 p.m. Sunday. sReservations: Unnecessary for lunch; accept for dinner, though only for parties or 10 or more on Saturdays. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Mastercharge, Visa. Special facilities: Booster seats, high chairs, wheelchair access (except to Sitting Duck Pub).
Evans Farm Inn is the ultimate family-out restaurant. Unlike restaurants that cater to adults but tolerate children, Evans Farm Inn seems designed for children -- who are encouraged to bring along grown-ups with well-stocked wallets who want to show the family a good time and are not annoyed at having to pay too much for it.
Evans Farm is more than a restaurant. The owners have tried to maintain an aura of rural antebellum gentility with acreage, relatively authentic buildings (some of which were built in the 18th century), and the presence of numerous animals. Our kids, aged 8 and 9, loved it. And except for the food, which would taste better if it cost less, we did too.
Dining itself is only part of the Evans Farm experience: The setting also is important. The rooms -- with beamed ceilings and working stone fireplaces -- are large, airy and hung with early American artifacts. The views out of the wavy-glass windows are unobstructed by anything but trees and splendid flowering plants.The waiter and waitresses dress in period costume. The children's menu comes as part of a storybook with lots of pictures.
Once our order was taken, we were invited to sample the salad and relish bar -- nothing remarkable in taste (except for freshly made cottage cheese that warranted a return trip), but bountiful and with rural touches exotic to city children: country bread you slice yourself, tubs of whipped butter, jam pots full of brightly colored, sweed red jam I thought the children would O.D. on. With a suggestion of farmhouse bounty, the inn tries to bring reality to the myth people have about farm food.
The appetizers, though not first-rate, are good value. We tried two of them: crab soup ($2.25), which was full of crab chunks and mild enough for children, but with a vaguely catsupy broth, and smoked Nova Scotia salmon, three big slices for $3.95.
We ordered one dish from the children's menu -- the inevitable hamburger steak, which was no better, really, than fast-food fare. Other choices on the children's menu are prime rib ($5.50), chicken legs, sliced ham or fish of the day (each $4.25). From the adult menu we ordered: lamb ($8.95), a mound of spare ribs ($10.95) that was twice as much as our 9-year-old could manage, and prime ribs ($11.50).
The rib choices were ample, tasty and cooked to the right degree of doneness. The lamb was overcooked (this is an American inn, not French) and severed with that plastic-looking green mint jelly you can buy in supermarkets, despite quantities of fresh mint growing in the herb garden down the path from the restaurant.
Desserts, which range in price from $1.50 to $1.75, were mixed in quality. One daughter's strawberry tart contained the biggest strawberries I've ever seen -- in a glaze very much like the jelly at the bar -- and disappeared before we could fight over it. The banana cream pie was gooey, sweet and distinctly short on bananas, tasting faintly of liqueur and not at all like mother used to make. The apple turnover was pronounced "almost as good as Pepperidge Farm," a compliment in our family but not something to get the car out of the garage for. The ice cream was good, not great.
Portions throughout the meal were generous, the service attentive and helpful. Dinner for the four of us -- house wine, tax and tip included -- was $67.24. (There is also a wine list.) Had I been able to turn off my internal cash register, I would have enjoyed this meal a good deal more. The girls were less critical.
At Evans Farm Inn, the ambiance and the non-food experience (touring the gardens, the grounds, and the shops) are everything. The place has a faintly Mt. Vernon/Williamsburg air, yet avoids any sense of being a tourist trap. One is left free to walk the grounds as a guest, not a mark -- except for the greedy ducks.
Take along stale bread or crackers. We spent a good half-hour feeding the ducks on the pond near the electrically operated water mill, watching one little boy catch three or four goldfish while two other children dangled their empty poles enviously nearby. Even the purple martins that flocked to the birdhouse on the lawn outside the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The gardener in our party appreciated the well-tended and intelligently planned herb and vegetable gardens from which the restaurant gets fresh vegetables and greens. And the kids ran happily from one place to another, charmed by chickens, a peacock, a turkey, goats, horses, sheep and the dirtiest little pigs I've ever seen.
Except for a shop in the restaurant, the plant store by the mill, and a gift shop that sells standard "cute" and "adorable" wares and antiques, the grounds are not overly commercial. And the grounds are well kept; it's apparent that Evans Farm is a working farm.
If it weren't for the overpriced food, the setting would make it a great place to eat.