Column: The Griswold Inn is a favorite for Thanksgiving or anytime

A 'Not Bread Alone' column.

Built in 1776, The Griswold Inn is not the oldest building on Main Street in Essex, but it is one of the oldest continuously operating Inns in the Country —  a window into the founding of the United States. 

The Gris has been hosting hungry and weary travelers since Sala Griswold opened the doors at the dawn of American independence.  Once the center of commerce at the busy Connecticut River sailing port of Essex, the Inn is now the heart of a stylish and historic town for vacationers, recreational boaters and folks lucky enough to live there.

It's a perfect place to celebrate Thanksgiving.

If you’re not eating at home for Thanksgiving, then a cozy New England Country Inn brimming with charm and old-time spirit is the place to be. In that category, The Gris ticks all the boxes. 

The food is delicious, and it better be. It takes some good eats on the table to tear your eyes away from the decor. Every inch of the rambling dining rooms and award-winning Tap Room is covered with nautical Americana. Ship portraits and antiques from the golden age of sail to later coastal and river paddle wheelers are everywhere.  There’s a notable collection of ship-portrait paintings by Antonio Jacobsen — the Rembrandt of that trade in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Timetables and fare schedules are tucked amongst the portraits. One memorable piece demands that “Fancy women and gamblers” register with the captain before departure.

Baked Cod under a Gremolata Crust with sautéed shrimp, brown butter, lemon, fried capers, jasmine rice and peas at the Griswold Inn in Essex.

Baked Cod under a Gremolata Crust with sautéed shrimp, brown butter, lemon, fried capers, jasmine rice and peas at the Griswold Inn in Essex.

Frank Whitman

On a recent visit I dined well on Baked Cod under a Gremolata Crust ($34) with sautéed shrimp, brown butter, lemon, fried capers, jasmine rice and peas. Marsha chose the Grilled Faroe Island Salmon ($30), mostly I suspect, for the autumn succotash, roasted carrot purée, sautéed spinach and sherry-maple gastrique that came with it. Both dishes were notably tasty and creatively presented.  

The menu includes some New England traditions: Clam Chowder ($9); Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque ($10); and Seared Scallops ($40).  It also reaches further afield with Duck Spring Rolls ($15), a Quinoa Grain Bowl ($14) and Crispy Duck Leg Confit ($28) with Sweet potato spӓtzle.  A Tavern Fare menu offers sandwiches and salads.

Not wanting to give up our seats in front of the fireplace, we ordered a fine Sticky Toffee Pudding to extend the evening (and our waistlines). 

The Thanksgiving menu touches the traditional bases with the same creativity and finesse.  Butter basted roast turkey ($42) hews a traditional path with sage and sausage stuffing. The three-course dinner menu, including an appetizer and dessert, will taste all the more authentic at the historic Griswold. Start with soup or salad and finish with pie or cake.

From my days in the restaurant business, I can tell you that turkey will account for more than 80 percent of the Thanksgiving orders.  But for the rest, the Gris will serve up Braised Short Ribs ($42), Faroe Island Salmon ($48) or Pumpkin Risotto ($38).

There are also enticing shops surrounding the Inn, great for holiday shopping. The Griswold Inn Store, one of Marsha’s favorite shopping stops, is way more than just a logo source. Next door is the Essex Duck (you have to look it up), Chocolate Geeks, Sweet P’s Ice Cream and the Essex Coffee and Tea Company. On the other side there is Emmy’s on Main for creative clothing, Gracie’s Corner, and Toys Ahoy (a must stop for grandparents). 

This sign to Sweet P’s Ice Cream across Main Street from the Griswold Inn tells all you need to know.

This sign to Sweet P’s Ice Cream across Main Street from the Griswold Inn tells all you need to know.

Frank Whitman

A short stroll down Main Street is the Connecticut River Museum on the waterfront. Their Annual Holiday Train Show, great for children of all ages, runs from November 23 to February 20.

The loop to stroll around town (work off your meal or work up your appetite) includes fascinating boat yards, beautifully-restored historic homes and exclusive shops. 

The Griswold has thirty-four well-appointed rooms on its campus inviting an overnight or longer visit. That’s what we like to do. We won’t make it to Essex this year for Thanksgiving, but it’s great to visit in any season.

Frank Whitman writes a weekly food column called "Not Bread Alone." He can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.