Sherman’s Taverne by the Green

“This restaurant, once the home of New Haven’s exclusive Union League Club, is one of the most elegant eating places in all of Connecticut. Its atmosphere of well bred opulence and hospitality is a perfect setting for the superb cuisine that is characteristic of its kitchen.

The Taverne is owned by Ernest J. Nejame, former proprietor of the highly respected Poor Lads Restaurant on nearby Crown Street. And the chief chef is Anton Pipenbacher who came from the same establishment.

If you arrive at this restaurant just before dusk, perhaps you’ll catch the waiters lighting candles in sconces along the walls and above the fireplace mantel. With a bit of imagination, you can fairly see the gleaming ghosts of Gibson girls descending the wide dark stairway while their gentlemen wait in the billiard room with its marvelous stained glass windows overlooking the green.

The high beamed ceiling, tear drop bewitching chandelier and magnificent fireplace give a sense of Edwardian spaciousness and worldly power to the entire room.

-Image courtesy of the Westport News, “Dine with the Carriage Trade / an advertising section,” June 3, 1981

But …above all, there is the food. Thoughtfully, the management has provided translations in English for all the French entrees listed on the menu (except the obvious). It does help to know Escalope de Veau Oscar is medallions of veal lightly sauteed and topped with crabmeat and asparagus with a sauce bernaise or that Crepes aux Fruits de Mer is a supremely delicate crepe filled with tiny morsels of seafood basking in an elegant yet subtle white wine sauce. Other main courses need really no translation such as a fantastic Boneless Duckling with Cherries and Brandy or a tender Filet Mignon.

Daily specials are also available. One of the most interesting is Oysters Anton, served either as an appetizer or main course. Fresh oysters are lightly floured and sauteed, returned to the shell and finished with crab meat and a white wine sauce.

Hors d’ oeuvres include an outstanding Lobster Bisque, velvety smooth and rich, and escargots.

Mixed green salads precede the main course. The house dressing is tart and herb-flavored, with a hint of bleu cheese. To complement the meal, fluffy oven hot rolls, prepared on the spot, are presented with plenty of fresh sweet butter.

Strawberries Grand Marnier is the most tempting of the many featured desserts, but Meringue Torte filled with chocolate mousse was also irresistible.

The wine cellar offers an extensive wine list with a number of reasonably priced bottles and half bottles in the $9 to $20 range.

Lunch is served Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m. Dinner begins at 6 and continues to 10 p.m., and there is entertainment in the lounge every night. A trio plays for dancing Wednesday through Saturday. Enjoy after dinner dancing, cocktails or a light meal if you wish.

Saturday and Sunday after noons are reserved for private parties and weddings.

Sherman’s Taverne is minutes from Long Wharf and the Yale Rep. and can be easily reached from exit 47 on the Conn. Turnpike to Downtown New Haven where you take Church Street for two blocks, turn left onto Chapel. Valet Parking in the rear. For reservations, telephone 777-2524.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Westport News, “Dine with the Carriage Trade / an advertising section,” June 3, 1981

-Image courtesy of the Hartford Courant, November 29, 1984
-Image courtesy of the Hartford Courant, Weekend, “A Taste of California,” May 14, 1982
-Image courtesy of the Hartford Courant, March 28, 1981

Inviting Atmosphere in Former Club

-Image courtesy of the New York Times, Dining Out, “Inviting Atmosphere in Former Club,” by Patricia Brooks, February 22, 1981

“The setting at Sherman’s Taverne is so convivial that one is tempted to linger, especially on chill winter evenings. The dining room is stylish and attractive any time of year, but it is at its best at night when the crystal chandelier, imposing hearth, dark wood paneling, mirrored wall, arched stained-glass windows, and flickering candles on each table provide a romantic backdrop for dinner.

The restaurant is approximately three years old, but for many years the building housed the Union League Club. The accouterments, including a grand staircase and marble pillars, give it a comfortable club look. A plaque on the ornately carved mantel states that the ‘club stands on the home lot where Roger Sherman lived and where he entertained George Washington in 1789.”

So much for history. How is the food? Here the mirror clouds. Sherman’s Taverne is good but not as reliable as its appearance might suggest. The menu is French, and is promising but not flagrantly overambitious. Most dishes, especially at dinner, are attractively served and competently prepared, but few courses have the spark of inspiration. Dishes are generally underseasoned, except for a sporadic tendency toward oversalting.

Among the hors d’oeuvres offered, we found several notable: the quiche Lorraine (delicate and creamy in texture), hearts of palm bearnaise (with a delicious ”bite” to the sauce, though many of the palm strips were stringy and inedible), seafood crepe St. Jacques (scallops and fish in a light crepe bathed in a rich sauce), clams casino (somewhat tough, lightly-garlicked clams baked in their shells and topped with bacon squares).

Less rewarding were the escargots a la Bourguignon, without a hint of garlic, and fettuccine Alfredo, which would have benefited from a creamier, less runny cheese sauce.

The soups and the special salad were winning courses. Cream of zucchini soup was rich with shreds of zucchini, if a bit too salty; lobster bisque was creamy and smooth with tiny bits of lobster in it; and the chicken-vegetable soup was a well-simmered broth with slivers of chicken, carrots and broccoli.

Notable entrees include escalopes de riz de veau aux Princes (the sweetbreads were tender and delicious in a well-balanced cream sauce) and chateaubriand Printaniere (the excellent beef was topped with a veal-pork pate, then enveloped in a gentle bordelaise sauce). The crabmeat topping on the veal Oscar was good quality, and a big bowl of bouillabaisse proved regal in clams, shrimp, lobster tail and fish, but pauperish in flavor.

Desserts sound tempting but are uneven. Dobosch torte, a Hungarian-Austrian multilayered treat, was four layers of lightweight cake with a rich dark chocolate filling and proper burnt-sugar frosting. A chocolate cake was delicious with dark chocolate topping. Cheesecake had a strange tallow consistency, and an apple crumb pie was too cold to be eaten.

There are small details that a caring restaurant would seek to avoid: foil-wrapped pats of butter, cut-glass glassware not too carefully washed, warm-and-serve rolls, negociant wine at chateaubottled prices. There is need of a wine cellar commensurate with the ambitions of the menu.

A three-course dinner for four came to $39 a person, with wine, tax and tip included. For a sociable, extremely festive occasion, where a gourmet experience is secondary, Sherman’s Taverne would seem a fine choice. When the restaurant was new, it received a two-star rating on this page. Time sometimes erodes both quality and incentive, alas. *
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, “Inviting Atmosphere in Former Club,” by Patricia Brooks, February 22, 1981

-Image courtesy of the Westport News, “Sherman’s Taverne by the green,” by Wendy Lee, June 4, 1980

“Without hesitation we give four stars or more to Sherman’s Taverne on the green in New Haven, and remember…

Many years ago when we were guests of Henri Soule and his famed Le Pavillon Restaurant in New York City. We dined in simple elegance, our table adorned with one red rose, his trademark.

The staff, trained under the watchful eye of Monsieur Soule, served an array of French dishes enhanced by sauces we still savour.

Professional attentive service is the watchword at Sherman’s Taverne. Our waiter made well-informed and timely suggestions as well as expertly preparing one of our entrees at the table. Information, recipes, your every wish is instantly filled.

Although neither the Pavillon nor its owner remain today, we have been searching through the years for a restaurant that offered both the elegant decor, impeccable service and haute cuisine we discovered so long ago

Last week our search was fulfilled when we climbed the stairs of the former Union League Club in New Haven, located across the street from the green and the campus of Yale University, at 1032 Chapel Street. We were greeted by our host, owner-manager Ernest Nejame, who opened his newest restaurant, Sherman’s Taverne by the green, just 2 years ago.

We arrived just before six, in time to watch waiters light the candles placed in sconces along the walls and in brass candle sticks resting on the magnificent mantel above the majestic antique fireplace.

We stopped, paused and for a moment tried to capture the grandeur and elegance, yet simplicity, of the room. The beauty of the setting was enhanced by fresh floral bouquets placed in elegant antique vases about the large dining room. High ceilings, carved moldings and original stained glass windows, retained from the former Union League Club, drew our attention to the magnificent tear drop chandelier which stands guard over each table, covered with royal blue clothes. As the decor of each table matches the royal blue walls, so the napkins placed at each setting, compliment the rust covered wing back chairs placed comfortably throughout the room.

Originally the home of Connecticut’s founding father and patriot, Roger Sherman, who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the building was converted to the Union League Club at the turn of the century. Here, the elite of New Haven’s political and business world, wined, dined and relaxed. The building remained idle when the Club closed its doors in 1954, until Mr. Nejame purchased the building last year. He hired architect and designer Marcel Bretos and together they renovated and restored the first floor of the four story building and were featured in the June issue of Interior Design Magazine.

Seated for dinner by a window overlooking the Yale campus and green, we opened the menu to an elegant and tempting selection of French cuisine, prepared under the careful supervision of Chef Anton Pipenbacher.

It was a happy occasion to relax with a menu writtern in French, with brief English descriptions explaining what we could select.

The meal perhaps could have started and ended with the Crepes aux Fruit de Mer, a delicate crepe filled with a selection of sea food morsels, covered with an elegant, yet subtle sauce.

Les Hor’s D’oeuvres included shrimp cocktail, artichokes hearts avec sauce hollandaise, clams casino, and escargots. Oysters Anton, le specialities of the house, was offered as an hor’s d’oeuvres or an entree.

For dinner, we sampled the mushroom soup of the day, then the fresh spinach salad with mushrooms and bacon and an order of Sherman’s special tossed salad. Served on chilled white plates, the salads were crisp, well seasoned and delicious.

With a variety of temping entrees to select, from Les Poissons (fish), Les Specialities of the House and Les Grillades, we chose the boneless duckling maison, served in a flaming orange sauce and medallions of veal with crabmeat, asparagus and sauce bernaise.

Each serving earned a four star or more applause for the chef, who selects only the freshest of the fresh ingredients for his menu each day. Next visit we will order the Oysters Anton and a portion of breading pudding for dessert, specialities of the gourmet kitchen.

We applaud the chef for his vegetable dish, zucchini baked with chopped celery, onions and cheese topped with a delicate bread crumb crust.

Accolades again to our host for his wine selection and for the manner it was presented. Each wine, chosen with care, has a page of its own, featuring the wine label, a brief description of the price, vintage and the foods to compliment the flavor.

Completing our meal two hours later, we sampled the the elegant meringue torte, filled with chocolate mousse. But it is strawberry season every season at Sherman’s and if you sample nothing else, order this dessert when you visit. Needless to say the service was impeccable, from appetizer to dessert and coffee.

“Broadway star, Joy Franz, at Sherman’s Taverne on the Green in New Haven, receives a warm embrace from old friend and owner, Ernest Nejame.” -Image courtesy of the Westport News, “Sherman’s Taverne by the green,” by Wendy Lee, June 4, 1980

If time and pen would permit, we would continue for pages. Instead we invite you to turn your car towards the Connecticut Turnpike to New Haven for luncheon, dinner, or an after-the-theater meal ‘par excellence.’

Luncheon is served Monday through Friday from 12 noon to 3 p.m. with Sunday brunch from noon to 2:45 p.m. Dinner by candelight begins at six and continues until 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10:30 p.m. to midnight, enjoy after theater, dancing, cocktails or a light meal, if you wish.

There is also a piano player Sunday through Wednesday; cocktail dancing highlights Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

Your bill of fare will be served according to your appetite and your selection, but is well within your dining budget. Minutes from Long Wharf and the Yale Repertory Theater, Sherman’s Taverne can be reached from exit 47 off the Connecticut Turnpike (I-95) to Downtown New Haven. Take Church Street 2 blocks; turn left onto Chapel. Valet parking in the rear of the building. For reservations, Tel. 777-2524.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Westport News, “Sherman’s Taverne by the green,” by Wendy Lee, June 4, 1980

-Image courtesy of the Hartford Courant, advertisement, October 28, 1979

An Elegance in Taste

-Image courtesy of the New York Times, Dining Out, “An Elegance in Taste,” by Jeri Laber, July 10, 1977

“Sherman’s Taverne, a new restaurant near the New Haven Green, is truly exquisite. It’s hard to keep from bursting into spontaneous applause for the impeccable taste (and, appar ently, limitless funds) that went into this inspired renovation of New Haven’s Union League Club, built in the 1890’s on the site of patriot Roger Sherman’s home.

Its large, elegant dining room, originally the club’s drawing room, is warm, comfortable and gracious. Stately architectural features have been maintained: tall windows with stained‐glass arches overlooking street and campus, delicately carved wooden wainscoting, a paneled fireplace, a gilded, beamed ceiling. Everything is polished and sparkling. There are highbacked Queen Anne chairs with lovely floral upholstery, subdued Oriental rugs, discreetly patterned wallpaper, a huge crystal chandelier flanked by four smaller brass ones and wall sconces with flickering candles.

The tables are set with care, as in a fine home: cutcrystal water goblets are at each place, cocktails are served in huge brandy snifters, graceful flatware and tulip glasses for wine are quickly replaced as they are used. A reasonably priced menu and a friendly young staff contribute to sense of discovery.

We have ?? ??man’s Taverne twice in the two months since it opened. Anyone who has had, as we have, a disastrous early experience there will be pleased to hear that the food has improved greatly the last few weeks. We had a first‐rate meal the second time around and later learned that the menu and kitchen staff had been drastically overhauled just five days before.

A generous portion of chewy, sliced mushrooms, tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing, and a chickenliver pâté, too creamy for my taste but with piquant flavor, were the best of the appetizers. The shrimp cocktail, harder to carry off well than one might expect, had a good sea tang and plenty of moist, tender shrimps. The quiche du jour with sweet cherries was like a clafoutis; with a less soggy crust it would still be a peculiar appetizer but could make a reasonable dessert.

The entrees we sampled were just fine. The scampi sauté had a light, garlicky sauce and came with delicately herbed rice. Chicken cordon bleu—a boned chicken breast stuffed with ham and melted cheese—was pleasantly juicy with a dry, crisp, golden‐brown crust. The roast beef was excellent and the tournedos Rossini—filet mignon on a toast round topped with pâté and mushroom caps and bathed in a sweetish Madeira sauce—was rich and a bit fancy as it was meant to be.

The salad—three cheers—included chicory and romaine lettuce to balance bland, crunchy iceberg lettuce, the salad green used exclusively in so many other restaurants.

The pot au chocolate, dark and chocolaty, had a light, almost syrupy texture and a nice touch of orange liqueur; the sherried trifle had lots of preserves and sweet whipped cream. Fresh strawberries and whipped cream were beautifully presented in a brandy snifter.

Not everything is perfect at Sherman’s Taverne. The squash and the cauliflower were both overcooked and the fried potatoes—a burnt greasy failure on our first visit—were more presentable this time around but neither hot nor crisp enough. The cold cucumber soup had an odd sugary taste and the bread, inexcusably, was both limp and stale.

The staff at the Taverne is attractive, friendly, efficient and highly attentive—qualities that are not often found together., Too young to have acquired from experience the attention to detail that they display, they have clearly been trained by an expert manager. The maitre d’, who looks like a recent Yalie, has exchanged his V‐necked sweater for a jacket but has retained the charm and reserved familiarity that helps make the place so likable.

Sherman’s has a reasonably‐priced wine list that is very limited, naive and unfinished and does not even mention vintage years. The tavern, which serves food after the restaurant closes, features a massive, circular bar made of blond hardwood taken from a bowlingalley floor. Brick walls with arched openings and groupings of large, overstuffed couches create the inviting intimacy of a private home. Drinks are served with considerable style.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Dining Out, “An Elegance in Taste,” by Jeri Laber, July 10, 1977

“Cocktails and conversation: owner Ernest Nejame, Stefan Verga (tennis professional and winner of a gold medal at the Melbourne Australia Olympics) and friend enjoy the pleasant atmosphere at Poor Lads.” -Image courtesy of the Westport News, June 11, 1976
“Ernest J. Nejame, owner and maitre d’hotel, and hostess Nancy Quaranto, welcome you to Poor Lads.” -Image courtesy of the Westport News, June 26, 1974
Image courtesy of the Westport News, June 27, 1975

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