The Temperance House

Grilled salmon, crab cakes and rack of lamb get top-notch treatments from the new staff at this landmark in Newtown, Pa.

By: Richard Burns

The Temperance House

5-11 S. State St.

Newtown, Pa.

(215) 860-9975

fax: (215) 860-9498
Food: Excellent

Service: Excellent

Prices: Moderate to expensive

Cuisine: American with Italian touches

Ambiance: Formal but comfortable, noisy in the front dining room

Hours: Lunch and dinner: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 2:30-9 p.m.; three-course family-style meal available Sun.-Thurs. evenings ($14); Sun. cruise-style brunch ($22) 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Essentials: Major credit cards accepted; not wheelchair accessible; smoking section available; full liquor license; reservations recommended.

Chef Guy Mitchell will present a cooking demonstration and lesson Feb. 25, 7-9 p.m., $25 per person, includes wine tasting.


   There is a strong, new player on the restaurant scene in Newtown, Pa. Housed in an historic building on South State Street that dates back to 1772, the new Temperance House, which has been open about three months, replaces another restaurant, Ye Olde Temperance House, that went out of business a couple of years ago.
   I reviewed the previous restaurant and found it to be a generally attractive place that served mediocre food. The new restaurant is even more attractive, and you can update that previous mediocre rating to excellent.
   The building has housed everything from a Revolutionary War generals’ meeting place, to a stagecoach stop, oyster bar and ice cream parlor. Under the leadership of General Manager and Innkeeper Jimmy Kozak, the inside has been refurbished and brightened.
   Always a large restaurant, Temperance House is composed of five different dining rooms of varying size and formality. The main dining room is in the historic front of the building, with windows looking out on State Street. During our visit, there were roaring fires burning brightly in each of the two large fireplaces that grace the room. The sturdy wooden tables are covered with white tablecloths and napkins. On the walls are murals, painted in 1996, that show scenes from Colonial times. The one drawback of the room is that it is totally lacking in sound absorbing materials and, when full, it is loud. We were straining to hear each other.
   The kitchen is under the direction of Chef Guy Mitchell, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has worked at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan and served as chef for a number of well-known places and individuals. Chef Mitchell later told us the restaurant has been seating an average of 200 diners on weekend evenings. His 30 years of experience clearly show in his dishes. His philosophy is to treat his restaurant as he would a Broadway production, with all the performers and sets in the right place. For example, he requires the chefs who work for him in the kitchen, 15 in all, to perform a two-week trial run. He also insists on the freshest and finest ingredients.
   His menu is an assemblage of dishes that have been well received in the places where he has worked. The result is an assortment of many familiar items and few innovations. The appetizers were limited to such old standards as crabmeat or shrimp cocktail ($8), clams casino ($7), lox ($7) and mussels in a red or white sauce ($7). The one exception was a stuffed portabella mushroom ($7). There was also an antipasto listed among the salads for $7 per person.
   We learned from the server that a few more items were available from the bar menu, including bruschetta ($6), which I ordered. It consisted of five slices of good bread that had been grilled, then topped with grape tomato halves, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and parmesan cheese, and lightly broiled. The result was unusual and very effective, with the freshness of the tomato mixture contrasting nicely with the bread. The mushroom was a large cap that had been covered with a generous amount of sweet Italian sausage, topped with mozzarella cheese, lightly broiled and finished with marinara sauce. Again, the combination worked well. We were delighted.
   The remainder of the menu included such old favorites as prime rib (available on Friday and Saturday only), duck à la orange ($18), two veal dishes, three different steaks, and lobster, along with about a half-dozen other offerings. For the first time in a restaurant, I found the beef dishes listed at "market price," along with the lobster.
   I have been hearing that rising beef prices are creating pricing problems for restaurants. This is apparently the solution. If you want to know what a beef dish will cost, you must ask, and the price may well be different, higher or lower, the next time you come in. For example, the prime rib the night we were there cost $27 for a 16-ounce serving, the 8-ounce filet mignon stuffed with crabmeat cost $39, while the surf and turf cost $49. The waitress told us that the week before, the lobster market price was $40 for a pound-and-a-half lobster, and this week it cost $29. Entrées come with a choice of potato, rice or pasta, and seasonal vegetables, in this case a medley of snow peas, carrots and zucchini. A choice of spring or lettuce-wedge salad comes with the meal, and a Caesar salad is available for an additional $4 with an entrée.
   We were with guests and were able to try a number of entrées. From the specials menu, blackened catfish ($17) and sea bass with Amaretto cream sauce ($24) tempted us, but we decided to stay with the printed menu. A rack of lamb ($22) arrived at the table crusted with Dijon mustard and rosemary, served rare, just as ordered. It was much loved by those who ordered it.
   Our grilled salmon ($17) had a Scotch-and-honey glaze and was served on a bed of baby spinach. The glaze lent a slightly sweet taste to the perfectly cooked salmon. Another entrée, the Neapolitan Feast ($19), involved an assortment of shellfish in a marinara sauce over linguini. All the shellfish, including the shrimp, were cooked to perfection. Finally, the Maryland crab cakes ($21), two very large cakes loaded with lump crab and lightly seasoned, were slightly sweet and were excellent, as was the accompanying Newburg sauce.
   The vegetable side orders were very fresh and cooked al dente. We found the springtime salad to be a nice mix of baby greens, glazed walnuts, blue cheese and poached pear, which could have been poached longer. The Caesar salad was very good, although it might have been made up in advance, since it was not as crispy as expected.
   At the end of the meal, the waitstaff presented us with about 10 offerings on an attractive dessert tray. From this, we chose a ginger heart and a warm apple tart with ice cream ($6 each). The ginger heart was a mild gingerbread with a liquid chocolate center, though we felt it should have had a stronger ginger taste. The tart, served cold, had a somewhat tough crust.
   Our waitress, Sophia, was knowledgeable, friendly, professional, and just downright charming. She made the evening even more pleasurable.
   The Temperance House has a limited menu with familiar dishes, but what we sampled was so well-prepared and attractively served that we suspect we’ll grow to love the food more with each visit. We certainly look forward to returning.
For directions to The Temperance House, click here.