When a Gorgeous Setting Isn’t Enough

In a recent post that was partially about the lunch my wife and I enjoyed at the three-century old Spring House Tavern, I mentioned that there were several other historic taverns and inns within a few miles of there. We visited another from that group – the Joseph Ambler Inn of North Wales, Pennsylvania – for lunch Sunday to belatedly celebrate our anniversary.

Restaurant settings don’t get much nicer than that at the Joseph Ambler Inn. In fact, it’s an entire complex, with several extremely attractive colonial-era buildings and a lot of land. It still operates as an inn and also hosts weddings and other events in addition to serving lunch and dinner at the restaurant. 

The complex is so sprawling that it took my wife and I a couple minutes to figure out where we needed to go after parking. We walked in the direction of the largest set of buildings and I spotted people in what looked like an outdoor dining area in the distance. We correctly figured that was the restaurant and kept moving in that direction. Although that outdoor area is very nice – and also shaded – we usually prefer to sit inside at restaurants and Sunday was no exception.

The Joseph Ambler Inn of North Wales, PA
One of the complex’s side buildings. I would guess it contains guest rooms.
The Inn’s outdoor dining area is under that red roof.
The first room on the right after entering contains the bar. It’s where we were seated.

There are multiple rooms in the restaurant, one of which had a buffet set up. That could have been for guests. It appeared that there may have been a wedding there the previous night and that some of the guests and/or wedding party stayed over. 

In any event, we were seated in a lovely room that was dominated by the Inn’s large bar. 

There were dozens of these pitchers above the long window next to the bar.

As is often the case with nicer restaurants, the Joseph Ambler Inn has a reduced selection of offerings for lunch in comparison to what they serve at dinner. They also have a prix fixe option which included some of the menu items that most interested me. 

The price of that prix fixe used to be listed. I assume that with inflation driving costs up rapidly, it makes more sense for them to let customers ask than to keep reprinting the menus. I did inquire and was told it’s $30. That can be a good bargain or no savings at all, depending on what you order. It was the former, based on what I was eyeing. 

Their bread service was fairly impressive, both in terms of presentation and quality.

My wife passed up the prix fixe and started with a mixed green salad that included goat cheese, salt and honey pecans, and blackberries. 

Guess which one of us ordered this.

I selected the shrimp cocktail from the list of first-course options. The four jumbo shrimp were presented in unique fashion.

But I’ve had better shrimp cocktails. The flavor of the shrimp wasn’t that strong and a couple of them could have been prepped better. 

Still, it was a shrimp cocktail and it hit the spot. 

For a main course, my wife selected a mustard and herb crusted flat iron pork sandwich that reminded her of a Midwestern breaded pork tenderloin. She seemed to enjoy it and had no complaints about either the sandwich or her salad.

My wife’s pork sandwich

As was the case last month at the Spring House Tavern, I ordered a lobster roll sandwich, which came with fries and a cucumber salad; the latter going to my wife after I snapped this photo.

My lobster roll

The roll, although far from traditional, was quite good. It had a nice buttery quality. And there was more meat than is evident in the photos. Nor was there too much mayo. But to an even greater extent than was the case with the shrimp, the lobster meat was lacking in terms of the potency of its flavor. Overall, it was a somewhat disappointing sandwich. The fries were also nothing to write home about. I don’t mind frozen fries if they’re crispy enough. Most of these weren’t.

So we’ve got tremendous visuals, a mixed take on the food – and that brings us to the service. 

I am somewhat careful in terms of dishing out criticism here. As I always say, writing about food involves a ton of subjectivity. What works for me, may not for you. I’m also not looking to hurt anyone’s business. In fact, there have been a couple meals in recent months that were disappointing, and rather than give them a bad review, I decided to not write about them at all.

On top of that, I’m well aware of the staffing difficulties restaurants are still having following the Covid outbreak. And I sympathize with them enough to have significantly increased my tolerance for service that isn’t as efficient as what I had become accustomed to before 2020. 

They must have had a pretty bad staff shortage at the Joseph Ambler Inn Sunday at lunch time. I understand the circumstances and would have understood if it were just a matter of slow service. But it went a bit beyond that to unprofessional and – when we were waiting to be seated – discourteous service. I felt bad for our server, who didn’t have nearly enough help.

Here is the view we had of the closest large table throughout our entire meal. It still hadn’t been cleared when we left. 

It was supposed to be a special afternoon. And while the setting was beautiful, the rest of the experience came up a bit short. I’m not ruling out giving them another chance down the road. But it will be a while, and I’ll have to read some evidence online that their service situation is in order.


On a separate note, I don’t always finish the cheesesteaks I write about here in one sitting. Some of them are extremely large and heavy, including the one I had Friday at John’s Roast Pork. I threw the meat, cheese and onions from the uneaten half of that one into a frying pan with eggs this morning.

Cheesesteak scramble for breakfast with a nice chunk of Italian bread that our neighbor, Karl, baked for us yesterday.

Always imagine the possibilities.

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and fairly food-obsessed. Thank you for taking the time to share in that obsession. If you enjoyed this post or the blog generally, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

4 thoughts on “When a Gorgeous Setting Isn’t Enough

    1. That appetizer decision – between the shrimp cocktail and cheesesteak egg rolls – was not an easy call for me. The fact that the fries seemed like enough fried food for one meal in light of what I had eaten the previous couple days was probably what swayed me.

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  1. Were there a lot of young people working on the floor? I wonder if a lack of experience combined with possibly unrealistic expectations of the management played a part in the poor service.

    My first job was as a busboy, and being on that side of the restaurant business gave me a whole new perspective that I try to maintain to this day. I’m sure I’m much more lenient than most when it comes to tolerating service and food that could’ve been better.

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