Even most people in the Boston area don’t know about the Winsor House in the small but very expensive town of Duxbury, 35 miles south of Boston. It’s not because the place is new, it’s been an Inn (and still is, with four beautiful rooms) since 1832. And it’s not because it’s not good, because it’s very, very good.
Duxbury is a discreet town. There’s nothing flashy about it and if it wasn’t for the multi-million dollar homes and estates sitting peacefully and pastorally side by side, you wouldn’t take much notice driving through. It has an exquisite beach with a mostly calm ocean rolling up to it. Its town center has a few nice luxury shops and the requisite disorganized deli, and just 200 feet from the Inn, on the way to the perfectly quaintly named Snug Harbor, is a bakery and a fish store that are both perfectly adequate.
In Massachussetts a lot of old buildings were long ago turned into restaurants and few-room inns, and all have the right to call themselves cozy and charming. Most are not great, or more than passably good, they are perfunctory restaurants that would be indistinct if it wasn’t for their interesting vintage. But at the Winsor House the food is extraordinarily good. It’s a destination restaurant for my better half Liza and I (“better three-quarters,” I hear her shout in the background). We’ve been going for years, since stumbling upon it after the beach.
Thankfully it has survived the pandemic and operated through most of the summer, first just serving curbside, then when allowed outdoors, and now indoors with a limited capacity and outdoors with heat lamps and around a great fire pit (which is really the way to go). The bar, at which it is fun and lively and still strangely intimate to eat on cold winter evenings, actually even on sunny, post beach-blissed evenings, is off limits right now, but, if the Winsor House has made it this far, we can anticipate it will make it all the way back.
The best dishes are, to start, the blistered shishito peppers, the fried zucchini matchsticks, the fresh fish tacos that melt in your mouth and seep into the inner pores of your senses, and their version of tuna tartare, which is chunky, perfectly flavored and better than I’ve had it in the best restaurants in New York. Their main courses are diverse — the very Italian pappardelle with pork, veal and beef Bolognese, and the chicken Francese, the French, sublime Steak Frites, done as well as in Paris (he says snobbily), the repatriated-from-England Fish and Chips (I grew up in England, this I’m fiercely snobby about!) and the very American, perfectly juicy, cardiac arrest-inviting hamburger. They do fish succulently — in other words they deliver a dish that retains the flavor of the individual fish they prepared, without cooking it to the texture and taste of cardboard and drowning it in a flavor-orgied sauce.
You can’t order a bad thing here. Desert, which I almost never eat, is always resistance mocking and crushing. Right now they have a limited desert menu but, like I said, they’ve gotten this far back, have faith…
Chuck Weilbrenner, the owner with his wife and two sons, bought the Winsor House in 2013 when, like so many of these centuries old buildings, it was run down and tired and “had fallen into disrepair and the business was suffering” as Chuck says. He was retiring from being an industrial executive and lived a quarter of a mile from it.
The biggest challenge in renovating the property was “the expense, continuously improving the electrical, plumbing, and septic systems. The buildings constantly need paint and attention. Many of these things aren’t seen by the customers and you can’t add these costs into the menu price, so it is difficult for a historic building to compete with a new structure. But we are committed to maintaining the quaintness of the building with wooden floors and operating fireplaces. It appeals to people that value history and charm.”
They don’t cut corners in the kitchen, and it makes a difference of course. “We have our own herb and vegetable gardens that provide seasonable vegetables,” he proudly proclaims. “My favorite is our tomatoes which can be found in everything from cold Gazpacho to our tomato burrata salad with fresh basil,” although you might have to wait till next summer for those now, as the weather turns.
What’s the perfect night there, I ask him?
“During the colder months I think a perfect night at the Winsor House is meeting some friends or loved ones for cocktails in the pub, and dinner in front of one of the fireplaces. A long, casual night of good conversation, delicious food and wine, with flawless service.”
Been there, done that. He’s absolutely right.