Press & Reviews
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“Very good restaurant, the food and service is consistent a mainstay for sure. It is best in the winter for the atmosphere. If you are looking for a spot with good service and a different experience this is it. A solid value.”
Glenn H., Conshohocken, PA
“The owner is the chef and he checks every detail. Invariably excellent food. The decor takes you back to George Washington’s time. Not to be missed.”
Alan R., Bryn Mawr, PA
“Small, cozy atmosphere. I love their salmon! You can order takeout also! Consistantly good service and food. I've never had a disappointing meal.”
Victoria R., Palm Beach, FL
The Old Guard House Inn, still vigorous after more than two decades, remains the epitome of tradition-minded fine dining. In a log-walled room reminiscent of a chalet hideaway, Continental classics like Dover sole and roast duck are treated with respect, not as clichés. Owner Albert Breuers honors his German roots by including sauerbraten and Wiener schnitzel, but he may have scandalized locals when he first dared to serve his excellent lump crabcake with a Thai red curry sauce.
Three decades of class at Gladwyne’s Old Guard House Inn
By Len Lear, Main Line Times, Sunday, October 10, 2010.
Old Guard House Inn owner/chef Albert Breuers with long-time employee Beverly Roessner, definitely one of the area’s best servers.
Ask any customer the most important ingredient for success in a restaurant, and I’m sure almost 100 percent would quickly say, “The food.” However, Albert Breuers does not even rank food in the top three ingredients. And Breuers definitely knows something about what constitutes restaurant success. Breuers, 69, has owned, operated and been executive chef for 31 years at the Old Guard House Inn at 953 Youngsford Rd. in Gladwyne, often referred to as the “Cheers” of the Main Line.
“Based on all of my experience,” said Breuers, “I say the most important ingredient is recognition of the customers. For example, in looking over at the bar (which was two-deep on a recent Thursday during our latest visit), I can tell you that I know every single customer by name. People want to be greeted by name and treated the way you would treat guests in your own house. And that’s what is missing from so many modern restaurants, especially the chains.
“So many contacts nowadays are impersonal, like when you have to contact a big company with a problem and you get nothing but recorded messages. You do not want that same impersonal treatment in a restaurant. I always tell new employees that you can be stupid. We all make mistakes, but one thing you can never be is rude to a customer… The second most important thing in this business is service and then ambiance and only then food, fourth.”
In keeping with his philosophy, Breuers routinely comes out of the kitchen and schmoozes with customers in the dining rooms and at the bar.
“Albert is old school; he is a role model for me and many others because he always does things the right way. He is a class act,” insists Paul Roller, who has owned, operated and executive-cheffed his own restaurants for three decades in Chestnut Hill. “I cannot tell you how much respect other restaurateurs have for Albert. He does not take short cuts and he treats both customers and employees the way they want to be treated. That’s why customers keep coming back and why so many employees have been with him so long. And in this business, that is unusual.”
Breuers, who is descended from a line of restaurateurs and innkeepers in Düsseldorf, Germany over the last 400 years, graduated in 1962 at the top of his class after a three-year culinary apprenticeship program in his native country. He then came to New York, where he worked at the Four Seasons Hotel and trained with the legendary James Beard. He did catering work for then-Mayor John Lindsay at the mayoral residence, where he rubbed elbows with a gaggle of celebrities.
In 1979 Breuers took over the Old Guard House Inn, which had been owned since 1949 by Frank Callahan. Prior to 1949 the building was used as a post office, soda fountain, ice cream parlor, meeting hall and even dog kennels. Albert gave some thought to renaming the restaurant “Albert’s,” but he thought that might seem too egotistical for such a conservative Main Line town. The name “Old Guard House Inn” is believed to come from the weekly training and recruiting sessions that were conducted by a volunteer rifle company in the building many years ago.
The building, which resembles a log cabin, was erected about 1790 by Henry Hemboldt, who wanted to open a tavern, but his petition was denied. (Even then, the Main Line had zoning issues.) John Rawlins, the next owner, was captain of the volunteer rifle company in the War of 1812. Rawlins actually did open a tavern, but his tavern license was taken away in 1818, supposedly because of frequent late night disturbances by local mill workers who would drink too much. By 1880, the building had become the Merion Square Hotel.
The venerable property probably looks pretty much today as it did more than a century ago (and unlike any other restaurant in the Delaware Valley), with its five varnished-log dining rooms decorated with antlers, muskets, antiques, shellacked turtle shells and pewter mugs, as well as the window boxes overflowing with flowers that line the porch. (By the way, George Washington did not sleep there, but he did allegedly march his colonial troops through Gladwyne for refreshments.)
Pardon the pun, but the Old Guard House Inn still serves the old guard. The dark, rustic dining rooms are like a trip back in a time machine, spilling over with mostly well-dressed retirees and those of older middle age. Almost all are regulars whose food orders Albert can predict. There is also a fairly active take-out business. And the signature sauces, soups, sweet red cabbage braised with juniper berries, meatloaf, pot pies, twice-baked potatoes and desserts can be purchased next door at the Super Fresh market.
Old Guard House Inn’s menu is filled with classic dishes such as lobster bisque, shrimp cocktail, snails in garlic butter, Caesar salad, Philadelphia snapper soup, Dover sole, dijon-crusted roasted rack of lamb, chicken Marsala, grilled lamp chops, seared filet of beef, etc. And then there are the dishes Breuers has brought from Germany that you rarely see anywhere else, such as sweetbreads (thymus gland of a cow), wienerschnitzel (lightly breaded veal medallions) and schweinepfeffer (thin strips of pork filet in a brandy and peppercorn cream sauce). On the regular menu, appetizers range from $6.50 to $14 and entrees from $18.50 to $39. There is an extensive list of beers and wines by the glass and bottle.
One thing that has changed at Old Guard House Inn, thanks to the current economic realities, is the $30-for-three-courses policy in effect every night but Saturday and Sunday. This is less than the price of some of the entrées alone on the regular menu.
My recent $30 dinner consisted of goat cheese brulée, horseradish-crusted salmon with a lemon butter sauce and a chocolate torte for dessert (from pastry chef Isaiah McCutchen). Everything was delicious, and the portions are the same as the dishes on the regular menu. I definitely had significant leftovers for the next night.
“It (the $30 menu) serves a great purpose,” Breuers insisted. “It fills in the seats on weekdays and we don’t mind doing it because not everybody can afford these (regular menu) prices. Of course, every chef and restaurant owner wants to see as many people as possible enjoying his food, and not just on weekends. It’s also a great learning tool for some of our young chefs.”
Joseph M. DiLoreto, restaurant manager for the last 11 years, pointed out that most customers still order off the regular menu, despite the obvious savings on the fixed-price menu. “I’d say that on any given non-weekend night, anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of the customers order the $30 dinner,” he said.
In addition to his much-praised food, Breuers is very proud of his staff, many of them long-timers. For example, chef Frank Miller, a Rosemont native and Radnor High School graduate, has been with Breuers for 20 years; sous chef Mellon Polche has been there for 14 years; Romilo Fortune, a kitchen worker, has been at Old Guard House Inn for 18 years; “Best Bartender” Joe Belza for 16 years, and Beverly Roessner, who has to be one of the best servers in the Philadelphia area (she remembers everything you ate and drank in previous visits), for 10 years.
“I can’t get rid of these people; they just won’t leave,” kidded Albert, to which DiLoreto replied, “Albert has tried to fire us dozens of times, but we refuse to leave.”
Although he is 69 and has been working 24/7 his entire adult life, Breuers insists he has no plans to retire.
“I still love this business,” he said. “If I did not, there is no way I could do this every day ay my age. People tell me I should retire and travel, but travel to me is a big hassle. All the waiting around in airports and elsewhere; it’s not for me. I love preparing food that people love eating. It never gets old.”
Old Guard House Inn has won every award imaginable from area newspapers and magazines in the past few years (“Best Crab Cakes,” “Best Chef,” “Best Lobster,” “Best Bartender,” “Best Restaurant Overall,” etc.)
Originally published in the Main Line Times, Sunday, October 10, 2010.
Gladwyne’s Old Guard House Inn sees the upside of traditional.
By Dawn E. Warden, Main Line Today, January 25, 2010
Lobster tails lightly egg-dipped and sautéed in brown butter. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These days, it’s a business strategy we can all get our arms around. Take Gladwyne’s iconic Old Guard House Inn. Owner Albert Breuers knows what his customers want—and that, for the most part, is more of the same. The proof is in the pudding: Last May, the Guard House celebrated its 30th anniversary. And though there was much less fanfare than such a milestone deserves, Breuers’ loyal customers paid their respects by keeping the dining room full and packing the bar.
This is the perfect time of year to take in all that’s special about this cozy institution, with its three working fireplaces; hearty, homestyle-with-flair Continental cuisine; and great desserts. The bread pudding and apple pie with butterscotch ice cream are well worth the calories–and they taste even better with a glass of cognac or port sipped while chatting with bartender Joe Belza.
The menu changes about four times a year. But rather than cater to personal whims, Breuers and executive chef Frank Miller cater to their clientele with favorites like Dijon-crusted rack of lamb, Dover sole, jumbo lump crab cakes and seared venison entrées. Perfect for frigid winter nights: the meatloaf with black peppercorn sauce and mashed potatoes, and the filet or chicken pot pies. Plenty of locals come for the snapper soup and seared filet—the consummate blue-blood meal.
Head to the bar and settle in with one of Belza’s martinis and a lobster pizza, buffalo sweetbreads or weinerschliders (mini veal sandwiches). Or go more conventional with chicken wings, pork dumplings, mussels and fries, or chicken tenders.
A Gladwyne stalwart pursues tradition over trends
By Craig LaBan, Inquirer Restaurant Critic, November 2, 2003
For a moment, he thought of calling his new restaurant “Albert’s.”
But even as a young man, Albert Breuers knew that notion smacked too much of ego, especially in historic downtown Gladwyne. The German chef, descended from a line of Dusseldorf restaurateurs stretching back nearly four centuries, decided to stick with local tradition.
The moody white tavern on Youngsford Road, its varnished-log dining rooms festooned with antlers, muskets and pewter mugs, would remain the Old Guard House Inn.
Within weeks of the opening in the spring of 1979, a distinguished Main Line matron reassured Breuers that the lack of change suited his clientele just fine.
“If you keep your nose clean,” she informed him, “we’re going to let you make a living here.”
Almost a quarter-century later, very few local restaurants have managed to survive so resolutely within that old-world bubble of “Continental” dining, with its black-tie servers dishing out Dover sole and snapper soup. Even fewer have managed to do it with the consistent high quality and self-assurance of the Old Guard House Inn.
There have been a few gestures toward modernity, though with mixed success. A Thai red curry sauce was a delightful accent to the bountiful lump crabcake, the lightly spiced coconut cream adding a hint of exotic intrigue. The wild-mushroom spring roll, on the other hand, was doughy and bland.
For the most part, Breuers feels no compulsion to chase trends. Being the caretaker of a dwindling tradition is a higher priority.
“We don’t invent things here. We just do them,” Breuers says proudly, “the same way over and over again.”
It’s a motto that plays well with the largely silver-haired clientele, the well-heeled Main Liners who don’t flinch at the menu’s lofty prices. But anyone who arrives with an understanding of what this restaurant is not (exciting, surprising, innovative) should still recognize the quality at the heart of its food.
The deep-fried oysters are large and crisp, with centers soft as pudding. Classic soups are redolent of pure, patiently steeped flavors. The lobster bisque is infused with apple brandy and lobster, a handful of tiny claws bobbing in the creamy orange broth. From the tomatoey snapper soup waft tradewinds of nutmeg, clove and other spices that perfume the tender meat. The mushroom bisque is foresty and rich.
The beef carpaccio has a vibrant blush, and I happily wrapped the sheets of raw beef around small toasts scattered with capers, shallots and shards of Parmesan. Steamed mussels basked in a garlicky wine sauce so fragrant that you could inhale it from across the table. Even a simple chopped salad delivered unusual satisfaction, the ripe tomatoes and crisp bacon mingling in homemade Russian dressing.
On occasion, the food seems archaically heavy. I loved the herb gusto of the penne tossed with chunks of filet mignon and carrots in red wine demiglace. But I wouldn’t call it a bolognese, as it was billed, and I definitely wouldn’t consider it an appetizer.
The lobster Guard House was another example of too much of a good thing. The egg-washed tails were sweet and tender, but, submerged in a pool of brown butter, they sacrificed any delicacy to a lipid overload that left a burnt aftertaste. It was one of the few dishes I felt was - at $33 - priced too high.
I wouldn’t complain about the quality of the Dover sole. The fillets were firm, fresh and luxurious, and properly napped with light, lemony cream. But for $34 (the menu’s highest price), I’d hoped for a shade more fanfare, at least a tableside deboning.
The wait staff seemed professional enough to attempt it, even if there were moments when its attention drifted.
But I had no quibbles with the rest of our entrees, especially those flavored by Breuers’ German heritage. The Wiener schnitzel was tender and crisp, the medallions of breaded veal sided with delicate lemon butter. The schweinepfeffer is a rarely seen dish, its soft morsels of pork loin cloaked in a rich brown peppercorn sauce.
A butter-glazed side of chewy, pipe-cleaner-shaped spaetzle and a mound of tangy red cabbage braised with apples were a natural complement to the pork. Then again, those sides harmonized equally well with the excellent roast duck, whose soy-sauce-crisped skin and exquisitely tender meat also came with a cloudlike corn fritter.
With its solid menu and unique, intimate decor (the log veneer was added in the 1930s to shore up the deteriorating sand-and-horsehair walls, circa 1790), the Old Guard House has a package that most other “inns” would coast on (usually to a slow demise).
But this is clearly a complete restaurant. The martinis are as cold and crisp as they come. And while the wine cellar isn’t enormous, it is stocked with high-quality bottles from California, France and Italy. The selection of German wines, ironically, is conspicuously thin.
The desserts also displayed rare care and attention. Pastry chef Michelle Glancey turns out elegant confections: chocolate mousse wrapped in a tube of delicate chocolate tracery; tender pecan pie topped with a layer of creamy caramel; a fan of baked apple perched on a pillow of airy puff pastry; and ice-cream-filled profiteroles with a textbook crisp crust.
Only the preordered chocolate souffle was a letdown, cooked to the consistency of spongy cake and delivered too far ahead of the other desserts.
But with a taste of “Inge’s famous bread pudding”—a cupful of freshly baked croissant soaked in rich, raisiny custard—it’s easy to forgive the occasional slip, not to mention the uncharacteristic attribution.
Inge is Breuers’ wife. And after 24 years of “keeping his nose clean,” that seems a small but well-earned concession to vanity.