V'ville builder opens Hamlet eatery

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Everyone welcome: Lance Moore restored the historic Freehold House for his restaurant, called Hamlet. “People will come in here and say, ‘Can we eat here? Are we dressed right?’” says Moore.  And Moore’s answer has always been: “Sure darn — come on in!”

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Well seasoned:  Lance Moore prepares meat for a patron’s 60th birthday party at his restaurant in Freehold. Leading a 13-person staff, Moore works mostly in the kitchen because he wants to make sure every dish is up to his standards. “Cooking is not my vocation but my passion,” he says.

Monday through Wednesday, Lance Moore is a contractor in Voorheesville. Thursday through Sunday, he’s a restaurateur in Freehold. People ask him how he can do both — build and cook.

“Over here,” he says of Freehold, “it’s brutal, and over there, it’s hot!”

But to him, building and cooking are both art forms. A house is experienced for decades, food, for a moment. About a year ago, the two art forms crossed in Moore’s life, when he opened the restaurant called “Hamlet” at the Freehold House; it’s an American bistro with a French flair.

The Freehold House, at the intersection of routes 32 and 67, used to be a stagecoach stop in the days of horses and buggies. The house itself was an inn, and bedrooms are still above the first-floor restaurant.

Built in 1791 with hand tools and before the advent of electricity, the Freehold House keeps its timber frame. Through the years, owners have redone and updated the house, but it maintains its original personality.

“It has a certain atmosphere that you don’t get from four walls in a new restaurant,” says Moore.

It’s rare that an inn this old is still standing, and even rarer that it’s still in business. The house “speaks volumes of history,” says Moore. “If the walls could talk, it’d be really interesting.”

But history comes with tradition, which is sometimes stubborn. Despite his naming the restaurant Hamlet, locals still call it the Freehold House.

“You’re not going to change history, no matter how hard you try,” Moore says. “It doesn’t matter what name you put outside; that’s what they know it as!”

Moore had his reasons for the Shakespearean name. His family has been involved in theater for many generations. His parents acted, and he was in a few plays when he was young. His daughter, Rachel, is a trained Shakespearean actress, who has performed at the Helderberg Theater Festival and with Shakespeare and Company.

The bard’s words run throughout the restaurant; its motto “…eat and drink as friends,” comes from The Taming of the Shrew, and many items on the menu are named after characters. At Hamlet, breaded chicken with sesame seeds is called “Polonius,” and a dish of broiled sea scallops is called “Bianca.”

On the other side of Hamlet’s parking lot is the Carriage House, a large red barn, where horses slept while their owners slept at the inn. The original wooden beams of the barn are exposed, and a staircase leads to a second floor, only half as big as the first floor. The loft was built to store hay; it’s open, with a railing, so you can lean over and look down to the first floor.

Today, Moore uses the Carriage House for banquets, conferences, and large dinners.

Opening Hamlet

Moore had been hoping to open a restaurant and banquet house for many years, but had yet to convince his wife, when a friend told him about the Freehold House. The abandoned property was in the hands of the Industrial Development Agency, which was looking for someone to re-open a business.

Moore is not new to the food business — now 62, he has spent much of his life cooking or serving food.

Moore grew up in Sayville, Long Island, and, when he was 13, he began working at the Islip Country Club to help support his family of 10. From 1960 to 1961, he lived in Europe, where he apprenticed under French Cordon Bleu graduates, and also learned North German and Southern Italian cuisine. In 1972, he opened “Justin’s” in Albany, a venue that mixed a bar, restaurant, and café.

The Freehold House turned out to be rundown, but Moore could see its potential. His wife, April, was reluctant. “She said, ‘I don’t agree with this, but I’ll support you,’” said Moore.

He visited Freehold a few more times, and saw that there was an abundance of fast food, some high end restaurants, but no place for casual, family-oriented dining. So, Moore decided he would fill this need.

“I’m not pretentious — I’m too old for that,” he said. “I don’t need the awards; I don’t need the platitudes.”

Moore said “yes” to the IDA. For a year, his contracting team fixed up the Freehold House, and then he opened the restaurant.

 “I wanted to come down here to open a reasonably priced establishment with really good food, good service, and a beautiful ambiance,” said Moore. A dinner entrée ranges from $10.95 for penne pasta with marinara sauce to $25.95 for filet mignon.

Hamlet serves a custom blend of Shapiro coffee, fresh ground every day, and all food is made from scratch.

“We have fine dining, just not all the frills,” said Moore. 

The present

Now a year in, Moore says running Hamlet is like going to college.

“Even with many years of experience, this is still a learning curve,” he said. And, like college, Hamlet is expensive.

“The hope was that I would be making money, but right now I’m not,” he said.

Moore wants to make Hamlet part of the Freehold community, but lacks a solid base of regular customers — most patrons this summer were from out of state.

But days when the place is full, it’s easy to remember why he opened his restaurant.

“There’s an adrenaline rush when the place is poppin’, and you hear the laughter, and you hear the kids running around, and you hear people eating and glasses clinking,” Moore said.

The Freehold House itself is reason for Hamlet. “This has been here for so long — I like to think that, when I exit it in a few more years, it will continue. This is history.”

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