By Carolyn Sackstein
The universe works in mysterious ways. It embraced the Country House, located at the corner of Route 25A and Main Street in Stony Brook, on May 4, 2019, race day for the 145th “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky.
Owner Bob Willemstyn was preparing to open the restaurant when a friend informed him that one of the horses, running in the Kentucky Derby, was named Country House. Never a gambler, Willemstyn went down to the off-track betting to place a $100 bet to win on the horse bearing the name of the restaurant he had worked in since 1978 and owned since 2005.
Willemstyn was told, “The horse is a long shot with odds 65-1 against it.” Many tried to get him to reduce his wager or not bet the horse at all. “I really don’t care, I didn’t want to be cheap,” Willemstyn said. “I have lost a hundred dollars on other things before. So that was the year that it was a very rainy racetrack, it was mucky. The horses were coming around and something happened that has only happened once in 149 years of the race — the first-place horse got disqualified.”
The winner and 9-2 favorite, Maximum Security, was found to have violated rules against interference when he strayed into the paths of War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House. After race officials viewed the video tape, Country House, who never raced again, was declared the winner. Willemstyn’s bet and faith in Country House was vindicated.
The providential windfall from his bet came just in time to allow for renovations to the restaurant building when the COVID-19 shutdown occurred. Willemstyn was able to address structural issues in one of the smaller dining areas used for private parties. It also happens to be the room in which the spirit of former colonial resident Annette Williamson manifests itself.
The ceiling was removed along with the floor of the room above, and the beams were exposed. This process revealed the upper room and resulted in a more spacious feel to the dining room. The ceiling above was painted to suggest a blue sky. Other tweaks and repairs were done to the building and grounds, while keeping the traditional colonial look so beloved and expected by his patrons.
During the renovations a variety of artifacts and structures from the 18th and 19th centuries were found. Willemstyn is considering ways in which to display some of them. As in years past, he continues to refresh the interior decor throughout the year as seasons and holidays change. Attention to the smallest detail is paramount to Willemstyn’s hospitality.
Just as the building and grounds were refreshed, the menu was also revamped to appeal to family dining and bar patrons. Some 90% or more of all offerings are homemade, and farms from the East End bring their fresh seasonal produce to the Country House. Seasonal foods and bar offerings reflect holidays and special occasions. As an example, mint juleps were featured on the first Saturday in May, Kentucky Derby Day.
The Country House Restaurant is open Wednesdays though Sundays, from noon
to closing. Due to confusion about Country House on the web, Willemstyn requests that people
use the following websites: countryhouserestaurant.com or countryhouserestaurant.net.