There are many reasons to reserve Ram's Head Inn in Galloway for a special occasion. Over and over, it's been referred to as the most romantic restaurant in the area. But whether you're looking for romance or not, you can't help but feel its effect by the time you leave.

In a period when contemporary decor and chic cuisine have become the norm, there is something reassuring about walking into a building that has maintained its nostalgic colonial charm for decades.

A wood-burning fireplace, white tablecloths and real silver tableware add to the elegance of a high-ceilinged dining room staffed with a wait staff of three on the night my guest and I dined. We especially liked how they delivered flawless, formal service without being starched. Quiet attention to details was

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second nature to the team, and it created a lasting impression.

Without good food, polished service can only go so far in making a dining experience memorable. In this case, the entire package was complete, starting with the crisp, toasted crostini with butter we found on the table when we sat down.

And then one of our servers brought us a surprise palate teaser: salmon tartare bouche, the chef's version of a classic French amuse-bouche (mouth amuser), a complimentary bite-sized hors d'oeuvre to get the juices flowing. Served on a ceramic spoon, creamy minced raw salmon with hints of chive and cilantro paved the way for the specialties that followed.

Next he brought each of us a traditional American popover that came deliciously browned from the oven. With hollowed centers, these egg batter beauties were puffed to perfection and ready to pull apart and devour, which was exactly what we did.

It's not often that I want to try everything on a menu, but all of the items on this one appealed to me. Where else in town have you seen grilled quail or espresso rubbed venison as appetizers?

Thin slices of house smoked salmon and black cod ($16), served with pumpernickel bread, capers, onions and whipped cream cheese spread, had subtle musky flavor and buttery texture. The balsamic tossed arugula salad ($11) with caramelized fresh figs, prosciutto and shaved, imported parmigiano reggiano was heavenly and not overly dressed like most of the salads we've been getting lately.

Speaking of salads, we watched closely as a server prepared caesar salad tableside for a couple seated near us, and I almost wished I had ordered one. It's been a long time since I've had caesar dressing made from scratch the way it was intended to be done in a wooden bowl.

From a selection of a dozen or so entrees - including European influenced beef wellington and chateaubriand - we chose two with American homespun flare. Chicken potpie ($24) came to the table brimming from a copper pot crowned with golden puff pastry. Inside, hefty chunks of tender chicken breast, peas and aromatic vegetables with egg-shaped dumplings floated in velvety chicken gravy that could have used more salt, my only quibble about this otherwise sumptuous dish. Comfort food at its best!

The braised pork shank with New Zealand cockles ($28) was also superb with fork-tender, well-seasoned meat that fell from the bone; teeny, sweet littleneck clams; truffled polenta stoked with bacon and Vidalia onions enhanced by a silky rich brown sauce that deserved our praise, and impeccably cooked asparagus.

The dessert cart has become almost extinct, so I was thrilled to see one mounded with cakes, pastries, assorted berries, apple dumplings, mousses and freshly whipped cream. There's no doubt that each and every one is made in-house.

A mixed berry tart ($7.50) and a light, moist lemon crumb cake ($7.50) definitely had homespun quality. Although neither bowled me over, they delightfully ended a fantastic meal.

The dress policy states that no jeans, sneakers, shorts or other athletic wear are to be worn, and jackets are required for men. If you don't mind dressing up a bit, this is the spot for fine dining that will lure you back for more. Special occasion or not, it's worth the splurge.

Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.

Ram's Head Inn

9 W. White Horse Pike

Galloway Township

Phone: 609-652-1700


Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Tavern Room only; noon to 3 p.m. lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. dinner Tuesdays to Fridays; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturdays; and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. brunch and 3:30 to 9 p.m. dinner Sundays.

Liquor license: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Credit cards: All Major

Price range: Appetizers: $14 to $16, Entrees: $24 to $39

Our bill for two: $94 plus tip

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