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Recently, my Friday dining gang and I had an event later in the evening in Jefferson and that gave us the perfect reason to stop along Route 31 in Holden for some pre-event sustenance. I’d always wondered about what Val’s had to offer, and this was just the occasion to find out. As soon as we faced the challenge of finding a parking place it became apparent that most of Holden had shown up to dine with us. Dinner was very good and I decided to return soon to give Val’s a closer, more leisurely look.

On the weeknight my friend and I returned to Val’s it wasn’t as hectic as that previous Friday and we were immediately led to a booth in the main dining room. Jen, our server, welcomed us and took our drink order. It should be noted that on busy nights, waiting for a table is a pleasure in Val’s spacious, comfortable lounge; bowls of salty snacks are provided for nibbling as you talk with friends and anticipate the meal ahead.

Val’s previous incarnation was as a popular pizzeria in Holden; that history is still evident in the menu’s calzone and “specialty wraps” sections. But their current menu spirals toward extensive. Usually when I see such “menu reach” I steel myself for a freezer-to-microwave operation. However, that fear was laid to rest the moment our appetizer arrived.

We shared the Lobster & Artichoke Spinach Dip. A thick, savory sauce containing pieces of artichoke hearts and flecked with spinach was baked piping hot and sealed with a stretchy shell of melted cheese. Initially I watched my friend use one of the grilled flatbread wedges to haul out big chunks of lobster meat and feared I would get the short end of the lobster stick. Then I hit a lode of lobster claw meat! There was far more lobster than one would dare expect. Homemade? Decadent? Oh yeah! And easily enough for two.

We were off to an excellent start, especially when we paired the dip with the crisp apple and tropical fruit flavors of Oggi Pinot Grigio.

Then Jen brought a large plate of fresh garden salad layered with mixed greens, red onion and cucumber slices, grape tomatoes and black olives. Val’s stocks each table with a wine bottle of their own Italian dressing, allowing each diner as much dressing as they like. Herbal and zesty, on my previous visit even I enjoyed it on steaming hot yeasty buns.

My friend continued with Val’s Steak au Poivre entrée, classically inspired with a crust of cracked peppercorn and served with Dijon brandy cream sauce over baby greens. It was grilled exactly as ordered, juicy-pink in the middle and served with a baked potato outfitted with sour cream and plenty of butter. He thought the potato looked a bit small – but then anything seemed to shrink in the presence of my huge entrée.

I’d heard so much about the Fisherman’s Platter that I had to order it. The risks of the classic New England deep-fried seafood platter are many; most are too oily, some are primarily French fries with a veneer of seafood, and some are just…bad. But Val’s easily navigated from these treacherous shoals. Each of the fish ~ snow-white haddock filets, sweet whole belly clams and tender scallops ~ tasted as if it had been breaded and fried separately. Thus, each retained its individual delicate flavor.

One bonus of my daily running habit is a large appetite. But it shrank from the task of Val’s Fisherman’s Platter. There was just too much fish to finish and I made but a dent in the pile of tasty French fries and onion rings. At seventeen bucks, this must be one of the better deals around.

Even though Val’s has been in business for years, one doesn’t hear about them outside of Holden. With such quality cuisine, good service and value, they’re just too good to keep secret any longer.