A Magical Dining Experience At The Country House RestaurantFebruary 16, 2021
When it comes to fine dining in a truly enchanting atmosphere, there really is no comparison to the c.1710 Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook. And there are few public establishments that have such a fascinating and haunting history.
Throughout the year, the restaurant is magically decorated to reflect the changing seasons and holidays. Flowers, garlands, fairy lights and hanging décor, along with centerpieces, hand painted murals, and the carved gilded fireplace highlight the historic and intricate details of the inn.
“We really work to make it a special experience,” said Bob Willemstyn, owner. He and his partner, Scott Wendt, spend countless hours working to get all the details just right.
The décor is changed out at least nine times per year for Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, New Years, Mardi Gras, Christmas, Easter, Summer, Spring and Fall.
“We feel like it gives people a lot of joy to see,” Willemstyn said.
While the restaurant is available to host special events including holiday parties, showers, birthdays and other occasions, it is open six days a week serving lunch and dinner. Country House is not just a ‘special occasion’ restaurant, it also has a bar menu that includes lighter fare, appetizers, salads, pasta and flat breads and a Happy Hour from 3:00-5:00. Since it was voted ‘Most Romantic Restaurant on Long Island,’ by AOL City Guide it’s an ideal place to bring a date, but it’s also perfect for a girlfriends get together or family night out. And you can enjoy dining outdoors in the warmer months.
The full menu includes such specialties as Prime Dry-Aged steaks, Roast Duck, Lobster Tail and always fresh seafood selections. The restaurant’s chefs, including Jimmy Vertucci, Michael Fallon and Sous Chef Michael Hess, prepare everything in-house, right down to the stock used for sauces. Country House also has its own pastry chef, Marnee Gorman, who prepares the restaurant’s amazing cakes and pastries.
Willemstyn also changes up the menu for special holidays, adding a touch of fun and whimsy. For example, the Valentine’s menu has a ‘Famous Couples’ theme and includes ‘Elvis and Priscilla’s Steamed Chicken and Lemon Grass Dumplings,’ ‘Barbie and Ken’s Fireside Salad,’ and ‘Daisy and Daffy’s Half a French Cut Roasted Duck,’ among other dishes.
The Christmas menu includes ‘Father Christmas Soup,’ ‘Winter Wonderland Salad,’ and entrees named after movie stars in famous holiday movies including ‘Jimmy Stewart’s Prince Edward Island Mussels,’ ‘Natalie Wood’s Roasted Filet of Wild Salmon,’ and ‘Bing Crosby’s Lobster Pot.’
During the holidays the restaurant also partners with the nearby by Staller Center for the Arts to create a special Dinner and Theater package. The package includes a price fixe holiday dinner at Country House and tickets to see The Nutcracker. A giant nutcracker stands outside the restaurant as the Christmas holidays approach.
A Fascinating History
Owner Bob Willemstyn has always felt drawn to the Country House, well before he was able to purchase it. Growing up in the Stony Brook community he was always intrigued by the building. In fact he started working at the restaurant in 1979 as a waiter, and he never left.
“I would tell people that someday I’m going to own the Country House, but people didn’t really believe me,” he said. He purchased it in 2005.
Interestingly, Willemstyn worked under the previous Country House owner (Thomas Wendelken) who also ran Sherman Billingsley’s notorious Stork Club in Manhattan. That NYC club (and speakeasy) was known for its rich and famous celebrity patrons including the Kennedys and Roosevelts, Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe and more.
“The stories he would tell me…” Willemstyn said. “He was a real showman too. People might remember the way he used to decorate the restaurant here. He had very eclectic taste: zebra prints; bright neon greens and yellows; mirrors. It was unique, but that was the time period.”
Willemstyn’s concept for the restaurant takes into consideration the deeper history of the building and respect for a history that pre-dates the Revolutionary War.
Going back over 300 years, Country House was originally a home and farmhouse. The original wooden ceiling beams and stone foundation can be seen. Throughout the centuries, it was used as a stage coach drop-off. In the 1800’s it became home to the famous English actor Thomas Hadaway. Spiritual séances would be held there, with neighbor William Sidney Mount trying to conjure up past spirits, a popular practice at the time.
Interestingly, over the years there had been reports of unexplained (but benign) happenings at the restaurant. During one séance, a ghost named Annette apparently told a story of how she and her family had met with an unfortunate end following accusations that they were Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. She told of a family cemetery behind the house, which when later found, revealed the family name of Williamson. Is it coincidence that Williamson and Willemstyn seem to be variations of the same name?
“It always felt like a second home to me here,” Willemstyn said.
You can ask the owner to tell you stories of different encounters he and others have had. There’s even a photo that was taken that appears to be Annette looking out an upstairs window. But, Willemstyn said, it’s all light-hearted.
If you plan on visiting Country House for a truly magical holiday dining experience, please note you must call in advance for reservations, since there are special seating times on certain days around the holidays.
Country House Restaurant
1175 N. Country Rd., Stony Brook, NY