It used to be true of several Toledo-area restaurants, but today only one on my personal list of favorite places to dine evokes the word elegance.
A gracious house built halfway through the 19th century by David Carpenter, an early settler, for his family, the Hathaway House in Blissfield remained that way for more than a century.
The present proprietors might well make much of their historic antecedents, but apart from brief sketches of the handsome brick building and a feel for period furnishings, they judiciously allow their elegant, homelike restaurant by the side of West Adrian Street to speak for itself.
It's not exactly an amuse-bouche, as a French brasserie calls a piquant little bite offered to a guest on arrival, but a Hathaway House server brings a basket of good, crusty bread and pieces of rusk with three small cups of butter, spreadable cheese, and a house pate. I find it a delicious incitement to a leisurely review of the menu.
An inch of print at the top of the page lists five appetizers, all judged familiar enough not to need explanation, and three soups - onion, lobster bisque, and a daily variant. The latter one recent day was identified as chardonnay cheese; the alcohol had boiled off, and the tasty residue was still redolent of the wine's flavor. I indulged myself in a plate of snails, juicy little morsels, though I thought its liqueur could have used a little perking up.
Getting into the entrees, the menu doesn't waste space. Under each upper-case item, the Hathaway House tells the guest in small-print italics what it proposes to do with each of the featured dinners. I don't bother with the fine print, convinced as I am from long experience with the Hathaway House kitchen that whatever the cooks do will be just fine.
One evening I ordered a special (there are usually one or two specials your server will tell you about). It was a substantial fillet of Lake Superior whitefish, broiled and dressed simply with lemon juice and butter. It was memorably good. It was served with boiled, crisp green beans and a handful of bite-sized roasted redskin potatoes.
I leaped from the seafood a few days later, skipping over pasta, meatless dinners, and poultry (though I paused and should have given more consideration to roasted duckling in classic orange sauce), to settle on a red meat choice, steaks and chops.
“I heard the chef pounding something out in the kitchen,” said my server, “but only now do I realize that it was your veal.”
Yes, among the list of enticements, a plate of veal paillard, sauteed and very simply sauced, was more attractive than even a pairing of filet mignon and an eight-ounce tail from an ocean lobster, not a rock lobster (at a price, by the way, that would be a near-bargain without the filet mignon).
Behind the Hathaway House is a small, low-key alternative to the crisp white tablecloths, candles, and flowers. It's the Main Street Stable and Tavern, another old structure - serving light meals from a single menu everyday (11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday). With the same proprietors, it is around the corner on north Main Street.
The Hathaway House is on the north side of U.S. 223, almost exactly 10 miles from Exit 5 off U.S. 23. There are a few parking spaces in front, around the corner onto north Main street, some along the street side, and others in back.