Revisiting the Ryland Inn

Amesse Photography

After a time away, the New Jersey icon proves why it is still well worth the trip.

It would be hard to overstate the significance of the original Ryland Inn, which had its run from 1991 to 2007. Patrons flocked to central New Jersey from Manhattan and Philadelphia; the 2000 New York Times review, titled “Reaching for Perfection,” opened with the line “Words fail me.” Chef Craig Shelton was the first to win a Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic James Beard award for the Garden State, thanks, in part, to the on-site garden he was cooking from two decades before farm-to-table became a cliché. Then, in 2007, a pipe burst in the middle of service. Debts mounted, permits expired; the place never got back on its feet. Five years and $2 million later, the Ryland Inn, an hour west of Manhattan, is back in every sense. Shelton handpicked his successor—a young chef named Anthony Bucco who had been moving from place to place and making fascinating food that was ready for a larger stage. Bucco raids the resurrected garden for the sliced peaches on a flawless fluke crudo, the muddled harvest cherries in a sake-and-Champagne cocktail and the fresh herbs and edible flowers woven into his signature intermezzo salad. A posh, polished and encyclopedically stocked bar occupies the space between the dramatic entrance and two serene dining rooms. It’s the kind of place where you can stop in for a Harvest margarita—which employs a shot of beet juice as an earthy, unexpected foil to the citrus and silver tequila—even if you don’t feel like a seven-course tasting. But the tasting is the thing. Forget the menu, forgo the wine list; let the Ryland call the shots and words will likely fail you, too. At 115 Old Hwy. 28, Whitehouse Station; 908-534-4011;