J-Barn Country Inn: Sarver's best kept culinary secret
James Walsh didn't exactly plan on going into the restaurant business.• A traffic manager for PPG Industries, he was informed by his employer of 30 years that he was about to become a victim of corporate downsizing.• That was 17 years ago.• He and his wife, Karen, heard that Jardine's Restaurant was for sale. They drained all of their savings accounts, pension plans and 401Ks and bought themselves a restaurant.• Having changed career paths completely, they were advised by his wife's extended family who had been in the restaurant business. Armed with a strong work ethic and plenty of positive attitude, they were determined to make their new venture a success -- and they have.
"Our business went off like a rocket and has stayed straight up," says Jim Walsh.
Cars in the parking lot bear license plates from Ohio and West Virginia. Diners come from a 100 mile radius says the co-owner, who also doubles as pit cook.• Offering customers a fine dining experience, Walsh says he is happy to report that "people still come here all dressed up."•
Having reached retirement age, Jim Walsh is looking forward to the next phase of his life, and has put the business up for sale.• He hopes that the next owner continues his proud tradition and improves upon it.
"We don't just cook food, we perform magic with our food."
Tucked away in the farmlands of Sarver, the J-Barn Country Inn represents country living at its best. Hundreds of clear white lights stretch out along the roof line, separating it from the dark countryside.• A curved brick driveway accented by full size antique lampposts makes dropping off guests at the front door quick and convenient. Impeccable landscaping includes signs of fall -- pumpkins, hay stacks and mums.
From the outside in, the place is warm, welcoming and well-appointed.• Seasonal decorations, changed four times each year, are handled by Sisters Three and Me, a decorating and design firm located in Freeport.• Lead by Denise Stewart and team, the overall effect is comfortable, relaxed and refreshing. The Walshes also add their own creative touches.
Quilts and comforters hang on display, antique kitchenware sits along side ceramic pitchers, glass jars and fresh and dried flower arrangements. Soft lighting provided by hanging brass and glass light fixtures and flowered hurricane lamps casts a soft glow on the honey-colored paneled walls. The massive stone fireplace in the main dining room is draped with grape vine swags and lights. Fall decorations are everywhere.
The four charming dining rooms, with a seating capacity of 235, can accommodate private parties, banquets, weddings and receptions as easily as a cozy dinner for two.
Hot off the grill is more than just an expression at the J-Barn, where many of the 32 entrees are prepared on a large outdoor fire pit.• Fresh meat and seafood are all procured from local sources. During growing season, fresh fruits and vegetables are purchased from local farmers. You may pay a little more for your dining experience, but the quality, variety and freshness of the made to order items are worth it.
You'll start off with J-Barn's complimentary appetizer - a bountiful array - breaded fried mushrooms, a basket full of homemade rolls, banana bread, and apple butter.• A marshmallow fruit salad. And, a tray of the freshest veggies you may ever taste, crunchy cukes, peppers, carrots, celery, and more, accompanied by an amazing homemade horseradish-based dip. On the Saturday we visited, pumpkin soup, ($3.99), was the soup of the day. It arrived steaming hot and topped with whipped cream. Like eating hot pumpkin pie. The seafood lover in me could not pass up the Seafood Trio ($22.99), which included a totally non-greasy piece of moist and flaky deep-fried cod, and a jumbo J-Barn crab cake, along with two large butterflied shrimp. Excellent. My boyfriend opted for the J-Barn Country Steak ($20.99). Marinated in delicate spices, he ordered this 12 oz. charbroiled strip steak (A house specialty!) topped with mushrooms and onions.• My brother, who was celebrating his birthday, decided on the Barbecued Sampler ($25.99).• He was served three of the largest jumbo shrimp and half rack of ribs we had even seen, and two boneless chicken breasts, all smothered in J-Barn's own barbecue sauce. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious.• Side dishes included homemade mashed potatoes with gravy and fresh buttered corn seasoned with parsley. Lead chef Karen Shearer "makes the magic happen."
Dessert was take out. Who had room• From a selection of about a dozen sweet treats, we chose carrot cake, the J-Barn Fantasy ( 1⁄2 chocolate fudge cake and 1⁄2 cheesecake with double fudge icing), and the raspberry eruption, raspberry mousse with chunks of white chocolate cheesecake. Rich and delicious, but so large that we couldn't eat them in one sitting.
J-Barn Country InnCuisine : American Classic Fine Dining
Hours : 4:30-8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 4-9 p.m. Friday-Saturdays; noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Entree price range : $12.99-$24.99; Surf 'n Turf, $45
Notes : Major credit cards accepted. Three special entrees featured Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Address : 497 Monroe Road, Sarver, Buffalo Township
Details : 724-353-3300; Reservations recommended
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