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  • Writer's pictureBob Thomas

Chef's Best - Hill Top Inn

“Destination Dining” – one of those buzz phrases heard on Food Network or the Travel Channel. Here in Chemung County, one restaurant comes to mind that fits the bill, Hill Top Inn, atop Jerusalem Hill in Elmira.

Hill Top Inn is known for having, ‘the view that inspired Mark Twain.’ Twain spent 22 summers in Elmira and wrote many of his most famous works from East Hill, where the restaurant is perched.

More than just a view, Hill Top Inn is the “OG” of the restaurant scene in Chemung County. The doors opened in 1933, making it the oldest licensed restaurant in the county. Oldest does not mean old. Every year current owner Mike Sullivan updates and expands the facility, which has now become a local favorite for weddings, reunions, and special events.

“While we pride ourselves on providing excellent food and beverages, it is more than what is on the plate,” Sullivan said. “ Relax and dine overlooking the Chemung Valley while enjoying Irish Hospitality that goes back three generations.”

Hill Top Inn is about family, and for families. Family owned by the Sullivan family from the start. Now it is where families come to celebrate milestone moments and holidays. My wife Marisa and I made the short drive from our Horseheads home, East on I-86 and up Jerusalem Hill on a hazy and hot May evening for a Chef’s Best date night.

We entered the restaurant, took in the view and the day melted away. We opted for a cozy indoor booth in the bar area. There is a seating option for everyone, indoor, outdoor, intimate or open.

The place was alive, a beehive of activity. A wedding reception was ‘Electric Sliding’ their way across the patio, the first of the season according to owner Mike Sullivan. Beige and white clad servers were buzzing inside and out. They moved with a smile and a purpose. All the while Sullivan was working the room and ensuring no details was left unattended.

The wine list at Hill Top Inn is expansive, but the 85 degree day called for cocktails. The recommended drinks fit the bill perfectly; a cool and refreshing Cucumber Elderflower Gimlet and the Crab Trap, a beach-ready beverage with fruit juices and tropical rums.

Prior to the meal, Sullivan offered insight into how the menu was developed. “We strive to have something for everyone,” Sullivan said. “We incorporate locally grown and produced foods and beverages whenever possible. We have an amazing culinary team who work cohesively and take pride in every dish they create.”

My Chef’s Best meal began with the ‘Kickin' Calamari’. Delicate rings of squid, paired with hot cherry peppers and lemon zest, with chipotle remoulade and marinara for dipping. I am a calamari fan, and this dish did not disappoint. The pop of the peppers, offset the subtle sweetness of the squid perfectly. The batter was light and crispy.

Sullivan went over the top when presenting the entrée, putting two options on the plate.

Saturday is Prime Rib day at Hill Top Inn, something you have to get before it is gone. I was presented with a Queen Cut of Iowa Premium Beef, aged to perfection and slow-roasted for at least 14 hours. The beef was accompanied by seasonal vegetables and an Irish favorite, Colcannon Potatoes.

Not to be forgotten, the second entrée on the plate, the Orange Roughy special. According to Sullivan the special hasn’t been on the menu in more than 15 years. If you see it on the menu, get it on your plate.

Sullivan describes the dish as, “very light and mild in flavor, this deep-sea whitefish is a perfect light summer entrée. We top ours with a fresh tomato and basil bruschetta and serve it on cous cous.”

There were multiple stand-outs on the massive plate. I do love prime rib, and this version did not disappoint. I can understand why it is quick to sell out on a Saturday night. In all the times I have been to Hill Top Inn, this is the first time I have had their Colcannon Potatoes. To me, the potatoes were not just a side. They were 88 years of Sullivan Tradition on the plate.

The Orange Roughy was delightful. It was light, as Sullivan described. The fish was cooked to perfection, and the dish just made me smile. I am a meat and potatoes guy when dining out; thankfully I got the best of both worlds with the addition of this entrée to my meal.

Do yourself a favor, chose Hill Top Inn for your next special occasion, for any reason or for no reason at all. Their deck is open for dining Tuesday through Saturday. I personally recommend a visit on Wednesday or Friday night to their Tiki Deck and Raw Bar. Celebrate Family Tradition with the Sullivan’s as every Thursday night is Irish Night with entertainment and special menu features.

No matter the reason, or the season, take in the view that inspired Mark Twain at Hill Top Inn.

When you dine just ask for the Chef’s Best!

About Hill Top Inn

Address: 171 Jerusalem Hill Road

Elmira, NY, 14901

Phone: 607-732-6728





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