A basket of homemade asiago-topped sourdough bread at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Prime rib at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Apple cobbler at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Corn chowder at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
The Salad to Di For at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
A spinach and artichoke panini on house-made focaccia bread at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Death by Chocolate cheesecake at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
The side salad was rather drab at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
A Hot Brown with turkey, bacon, tomatoes and Mornay sauce at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Sassafras on Main resides in the hstoric Bluffton home once known as the Rittenhouse that was built in 1902
Cajun fettuccini at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Au gratin potatoes at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Persimmon pudding at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Pork chops with mushroom gravy at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
The old tin ceiling in the historic home that is now home to Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Crispy battered onion rings at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
A cesar salad with house-made sourdough croutons at Sassafras on Main in Bluffton.
Sunday, January 08, 2017 4:36 pm
Bluffton spot's bread worth drive
Ryan DuVall | Restaurant critic
Though it does not have a lot of places, Bluffton has always been one of my favorite destinations to dine out.
From Tyeger’s Pizza, the best pizzeria in the area, to the classic Bummies Drive In to the upscale TW Fable, there are some real jewels in Wells County’s Parlor City.
And I can now add another one to that list.
Sassafras on Main, in a historic home built in 1902 that was once the Rittenhouse, captured my heart with one of the simplest of foods, but one that is often taken for granted.
It is owned by Chuck and Sue Kristek, and it is the bread baked by Chuck that blew me away.
As soon as I was seated, a basket of warm, asiago-topped sourdough was placed in front of me. Made with a classic starter, I probably could have made a meal out of just this moist, flavorful loaf.
Chuck bakes all of the breads incorporated throughout the menu. And, if they have enough, they will sell you whole loaves to go.
No bread-infused dish was better than the Louisville classic Hot Brown.
I don’t know that I have seen this Mornay sauce-covered, open-faced turkey sandwich with sliced tomatoes and bacon offered elsewhere in these parts, and the only better one than Sassfras’ was the one I had at Louisville’s Brown Hotel, where it was birthed.
The sauce was rich and cheesy, the thinly sliced turkey had a pronounced roasted flavor and the asiago sourdough added even more cheesiness to this brilliant version. The only thing more I could have wanted was one more slice of tomato – it had two – as its acidic freshness really helped cut the richness.
Chuck’s asiago and Parmesan-topped basil focaccia bread was a great vessel for the Tuscan Artichoke Panini.
Sliced end to end to form what resembled a hoagie bun, my half sandwich was plenty big, so I could not imagine finishing a whole one in one sitting. It was packed with the same tasty turkey and a plethora of finely diced artichokes and spinach, which oozed out of the sides of the bread.
If you go with a half-sandwich combo, opt for a cup of the corn chowder instead of a side salad. The chowder was not too sweet and not overly creamy but had big slices of tender ham.
The side salad had just a couple of raw white onion rings, tomato chunks and bi-colored cheese over romaine. The side Caesar salad was better because it included crusty croûtons made from the homemade bread.
The Salad to Di For, which was an entrée-sized offering, was far better than the house. It had slices of tender and surprisingly juicy pieces of warm, herb-encrusted chicken mixed in its fresh, vibrant spring mix, along with oranges, walnuts and soft blue cheese crumbles, and it was perfectly dressed with a sweet raspberry vinaigrette.
Though the bread basket was the best appetizer, the onion rings weren’t far behind at Sassfras. If there is a perfect way to make onion rings, this was it.
The same white rings on that side salad were coated in a light, airy, crispy batter that had just the right seasoning. Each was encapsulated beautifully to keep the oil from penetrating and they were simply delicious.
I had my rings with a side of ranch dressing but will be asking for some of Sassafras’ homemade blue cheese next time because it was crazy good.
When it came to dinner entrées, Sassafras’ prime rib was the finest choice. Rubbed aggressively with a savory spice mix, it was cooked perfectly and had a good fat ratio.
Its au jus also was above par, and I think I may have detected some Worcestershire sauce in it.
I also loved the center-cut, boneless pork chops. I was disappointed to find out they were no longer served with the menu-promised sage dressing and was shocked at first that there were no actual mushrooms on the plate.
The dark, rich gravy covering the meat made the second issue go away as it had a robust mushroom flavor that more than made up for it.
The garlic mashed potatoes that replaced the dressing were also spot-on. And, like the prime rib, the chops were well seasoned and quite tender.
Those mashed potatoes were not as good as Sassafras’ au gratin potatoes, however. There was more cheese than cream in these sliced potatoes and the golden, gooey cheddar was impossible not to love.
There was little to love about the Cajun Fettuccini, however.
The grilled chicken and plethora of grilled andoullie sausage was acceptable, but the dark brown sauce had an acrid taste that made the entire dish off-putting. It was caused by the many pieces of diced garlic that were burned until black.
Dessert was another high point at Sassafras. Just like the time spent to bake bread, the Kristeks take the time to make awesome homemade meal-enders.
The most unique was the persimmon pudding. Persimmon is not used nearly enough and Sassafras’ version highlighted it wonderfully.
It was not the kind of pudding you eat with a spoon as the persimmon base firmed up and formed sort of a bar with a custard-like texture.
With a big scoop of whipped cream on top, I loved every bite.
The apple cobbler was about as good as it gets, too. It had moist and doughy bits of crust on the inside and crispy flaky pieces outside accentuated by a dusting of cinnamon sugar.
The apples were also just soft enough without being hammered.
The Death by Chocolate cheesecake narrowly edged the Snickerdoodle, but it might just be my bias as I would always choose a chocolate cookie over a Snickerdoodle.
Both had light, creamy bases, but the cookie crust lifted the chocolate version.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, there was also a pretty tasty bread pudding. How could there not be?
Restaurant: Sassafras on Main
Address: 218 S. Main St., Bluffton
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Friday; 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Onion rings ($2.25), soup ($3.79 cup; $4.19 bowl), Salad to Di For ($8.29), Hot Brown ($7.99), prime rib ($14.99 for 8 ounces; $17.95 for 12 ounces) Cajun Fettuccini ($12.99), Tuscan Artichoke Panini ($8.29), pork chops ($8.99), cobbler ($1.99), cheesecake ($4.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: **1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.