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It's been over two years since I have been coming to the Horse Inn, or as the locals simply call  the Horse.  In all my years of dining out, there is no other place that comes close to what this tavern delivers. Horse is the quintessential neighborhood spot. Its located away from the city's main hub of eateries, and not in downtown Lancaster. They don't really advertise, and there is a no reservations policy, yet each and everyday there is a line out the door prior to opening. The consensus is that is has everything to do with the owners,  Matt & Starla Russell, have built along with their well informed staff.   I have been hesitant on writing about the Horse, cause I wanted to keep it a secret for as long as I could, but I feel everyone deserves to know how truly awesome it is. 

For starters, in true speakeasy fashion, the Horse can be a bit hard to find unless you know what you are looking for. Located on a residential street on the East side of Lancaster City with no distinctive marquee or sign, you have to trust GPS to lead you to it. Word to the wise, park in the designated parking lot otherwise you can be certain that once your evening has come to the end, you'll be greeted with a parking ticket courtesy of Lancaster Parking Authority. There is a clear sign on the front door of the Horse directing patrons not park on the street, and to use the parking lot down the block.  Once inside, you immediately head  to the second floor of the stable. The decor of the Horse in an instant , welcomes you. It's as if you have been hear before and feels familiar. There are two bar areas, several tables , and old horse stables that have been crafted into dining tables. If you arrive any other time other than prior to opening, expect to wait for a table.  A wait could be as a brief 30 minutes or as long as 90 minutes. I suggest you get there prior to opening at 4:30, or come later like 9 on weekends, if you don't want to wait long. 

So what do you order at the Horse? I suggest anything from the cocktail menu, and for dinner one must have the Burger. Of course there are several other delicious choices, but they vary from month to month depending on what Matt can pick up from the local producers. Matt Russell directs the kitchen, and his charismatic wife, Starla, leads the front of the house. On any given night you can see both of them at the Horse. Actually on most of the five nights they are open, you can find both of them. They are both graduates of Johnson & Wales and spent several years working at some of Charleston, SC finest restaurants. So on their menu, you can see  influences from the South married with culinary traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch.  The Music City's 'Hot" Chicken sandwich,($11), is definitely an item that you won't see too often north of the Mason Dixon line, but the Horse executes it so well.  The sandwich is composed of a crisply fried sweet and spicy chicken thigh that is garnished with blue cheese slaw served on a Martin sesame seed bun.A Horse favorite as I mentioned earlier is the Burger,($11). On  occasion I have ordered it as an appetizer.  It starts out with a proprietary blend of short rib, brisket, chuck and 10% aged beef. The garnishes to the burger are deliberate to include shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced tomato , red onion, American cheese, and special sauce. No substitutions are permitted. The burger is crafted as is to deliver optimal flavor. The burger is an permanent fixture on the menu. so luckily you can get it any time. The menu changes pretty frequently to reflect the best the season has to offer. During the summer I had the joy of having zucchini blossoms .The blossoms had been filled with ricotta which were lightly fried and served over a salad of fresh sweet summer corn and patty pans dressed with arugula -pistachio pesto. Delish. Most recently I had the Short rib, ($28). A 12 -hr braised short rib served over puree of potatoes so delectable you wish you could order an additional side of it. I would say they are as delicious as the  mashed potatoes at Corduroy, maybe a bit more. The rib is garnished with a bevy of root vegetables and finished off with a richly developed Bordelaise sauce. Technique in deft preparation does not go unnoticed, and you taste it throughout the menu whether it be in the prep of the burger or any of the delicious entrees.Now onto the cocktails.  

Cocktails. They are on an entirely different level than any other place I have visited , ever. I know back when I was living in the District, I was spoiled with endless options for a great drink. In Lancaster, the Horse Inn stands out as the most incredible bar program in the Central Pa, perhaps in all of Pa. I know , I know. Have I been to all the spots in Pa, No. Would I put money that Horse Inn is the best out there, absolutely. Each cocktail, no matter who shakes it, taste exactly the same. Why? Each component added to the drink is measured for consistency. Are the drinks strong? Well that depends on your spirit of choice. Of course the flavor of rum is going to have a different finish then rye whiskey, but every part of the drink is balanced as to not deliver a boozy cocktail. As I get older and my palate is maturing I tend to drink spirits as is,with a splash of water or plunk of an ice cube or two. That is my preference, but as far as cocktails, the Horse serves them expertly with mindful garnishes.  The drink menu is presented in different categories which include Whiskey  Proper, Botanicals, Grain & Barrel, and alternative spirits. Drinks on the menu are crafted with home made bitters as well as extracts. Seasonality is taken into account in composing their drinks as well. Currently there are a few of my favorites on the menu. The CIder Buck ($10) is mixed with local cider, Lairds Apple Jack , Ginger Beer, Angostura & Lime.  Then there is the Chai if I want to ($10) made with Sailor Jerry , spiced rum, Chai cream, cinnamon & finished off with a shaving of nutmeg. I am certain you can find a cocktail you will enjoy on the menu , if not the bar keep cant certainly whisk up something to accommodate your liking.  They also have an extensive selection of bourbons and whiskeys. Beer and wine round out the selection.Interested in something other than craft beer and just a good ol low cost brew? Order the Mystery Beer ($2) that are chilled in an old lion foot tub. 

So there you have it my best kept secret in Lancaster, Pa! Its a little hard to find, but once you are there , you'ill understand why I love it so much. If I am any where near Lancaster, I can be found at the Horse.




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