Twilight pours through the tall windows, lending a glow to the wood wainscotting and our table. Covered in butcher paper, it’s set with a vase of peony blooms and dishes of bright-green olives and luscious roasted pecans.
The ambient light matches the muted buzz from the tables around us. As we make our way through the four-course prix-fixe dinner at Canal House Station, a 3 1/2 hour Sunday dinner unfolds enchantingly.
If you make the journey to the remote town of Milford on the banks of the Delaware River to eat at this restaurant in an 1870s former train station, you will be in the capable and artistic hands of co-owners and co-chefs Christopher Hersheimer and Melissa Hamilton. The two women, who have been collaborating in various food ventures for close to 30 years, take that responsibility seriously.
“The restaurant is in a small, quiet town where no one is walking around on the streets looking for a place to eat. You have to make the decision to come here,” says Hirsheimer. “So for someone who chooses to make the trip and spend their time and hard-earned money, we say, ‘You’ve got the table. Enjoy yourself!’”
This thoughtful yet playful mindset is at the heart of Canal House Station, where fresh, seasonal ingredients are transformed into dishes as delicious as they are Instagramable. This should come as no surprise. Hirsheimer ran two restaurants in Illinois before shifting to magazines in the late 1980s, first at Metropolitan Home and then as executive editor of Saveur, which she cofounded in 1993. Hamilton helped her father, Jim Hamilton, open Hamilton’s Grille Room in 1988 and served as executive chef there before moving on as recipe tester, food stylist and writer for Cooks Illustrated, Martha Stewart Living, and then Saveur, where, as food editor, she and Hirsheimer began their professional relationship.
They opened Canal House in 2007 as a studio in Lambertville for cookbook development and food photography. “We were working on other people’s projects, making beautiful cookbooks,” says Hamilton. “Then we thought, We’re really good cooks, with lots and lots of recipes of our own. Why don’t we do our own cookbook?”
Which they did. Their Canal House Cooks Everyday won a James Beard award. Meanwhile, they moved their studio upriver to Stockton and then to Milford, where they purchased the defunct train-station building in 2017. “The building kept telling us it needed to be a restaurant,” Hirsheimer says.
The 50-seat Canal House Station opened in 2019 for breakfast, lunch and Sunday dinner. After nine months, it shifted to takeout due to the pandemic, reopening for dinner in 2021.
With our dinner, we enjoyed toasted croustades, one topped with a garlicky fava bean mash finished with preserved lemon peel, the other with whipped goat cheese, olive oil, black pepper and minced chives.
The second course was a pillowy blini with buttery smoked salmon and coral-colored salmon roe. A heaping bowl of tender Maine mussels in a fennel, white wine and cream broth was so delicious, I scooped up the broth with the mussel shells.
Among entrées, crisp-skinned duck confit came with delicious cassoulet-style white beans and roasted endive. Pan-fried pork-loin schnitzel, though pounded thin and coated with bread crumbs, remained moist and tender. The crispy cod, coated in rice flour and deep fried, needed a tad more time in the fryer. Both the pork and the cod were topped with a colorful assortment of lettuces in a light vinaigrette.
Sunday dinner started with a bagna cauda, a splay of raw baby turnips, radishes and asparagus from Roots to River Farm in Solebury, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the raw vegetables could not absorb the luscious anchovy-garlic butter. (I asked for bread to soak it up, but was told there was none.) The next course was a saffron-tinged timbale of shrimp-studded risotto topped with two perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp. The star of the day was gently poached salmon fillet, full of flavor aided by a foaming lemon hollandaise and a mound of spring peas, shelled and in the pod.
The same dessert was served at both meals: strawberry shortcake with tender, buttery biscuits topped with juicy, sugared, local strawberries and softly whipped cream. Other desserts in the rotation include a dense chocolate cake and fresh fruit tarts, the recipes for which are included in the Canal House Cook Something cookbook.
Besides the delicious food and the leisurely pacing of that Sunday dinner, I had another reason to be thankful to Canal House Station. This was the last restaurant meal I’d be sharing with my frequent review companion and best friend of the last 30 years, who was moving back home to England. I am grateful to Canal House for making the meal worthy of the occasion.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:New American
- Price Range:Moderate–Expensive
- Price Details:Lunch: appetizers, $9–$10; entrées, $13–$17; sides, $10; desserts, $8. Dinner: prix fixe, $69.
- Ambience:Vintage train station; tables set with cloths and flowers
- Service:Gracious and responsive
- Wine list:BYO