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SAUCE

Stone's pub serves fine fare to go with its spirits

ASHLAND -- When we saw the Ouija board on the shelf next to the Scrabble and the book about Druids, we couldn't resist. Stone's Public House is said to be haunted, so why not ask the source?

''Are you there?" the experienced Ouija-er among us asked. We placed our fingers on the plastic triangle and waited. Nothing. ''Is this place haunted?" we asked. Still nothing. ''Will the Red Sox win tonight?" Seeing as the Sox were down by 5, this seemed like an easy one. But the triangle refused to budge.

Had we asked if this was an excellent place to spend the evening, however, the thing surely would have leapt to ''yes." A historic pub with its own Ouija board, live Irish and blues music, and double-thick pork chops -- what's not to like?

The former hotel was built in 1834 by a farmer and militia captain named John Stone, who glares down at patrons from an oval frame above the massive fireplace. It has a large patio, where bands play during nice weather, a formal dining room, and a spacious bar area. The place still has a 19th-century feel to it, with rough-hewn posts and beams, the smell of smoked meat lingering in the air, and, on Tuesday nights, people playing fiddles, flutes, and banjos. Every once in a while, a train rumbles past.

The atmosphere is inviting, but chef and owner Matt Murphy (who also opened Matt Murphy's Pub in Brookline but is no longer associated with it) also pays special attention to the food. After ordering an emergency helping of fries with warm curry dipping sauce at the bar, we moved to a table and got down to business with a soft-shell crab BLT -- a whole crispy crab atop the tried-and-true trio of bacon, lettuce, and tomato -- and a farmhouse cheese plate. The three cheeses -- a Vermont cheddar, an Irish blue, and a New York Camembert -- came on a long wooden cutting board with three kinds of lightly toasted bread, a roasted pear, a roasted peach, and a dish of chutney. The combination was melt-in-your-mouth good: smooth, creamy, crunchy, sweet, with a bit of a kick. We knew we would regret it when our entrees came, but we couldn't stop.

After we dived into the basket of dense, biscuitlike raisin bread the waitress brought to our table, it's no wonder none of us could finish our entrees. Not that they weren't worthy. The tuna was lightly cooked and bathed in a salty ginger-lemongrass broth, with a mound of crispy noodles. The shepherd's pie, from the bar menu, had tender chunks of lamb and roasted carrots under a mashed potato top. The huge slab of juicy, spice-rubbed chicken was accompanied by a spicy green bean salad and a sweet corn cake.

Our stomachs were groaning, but we somehow managed to put a dent in the chocolate mousse swaddled in rich whipped cream and the hot blackberry cobbler that tasted as if the cook had just picked the berries, thrown a dusting of flour and butter and sugar on top, and baked them. By this time, the broken clock on the wall still said 2:10, and the Irish musicians had left, leaving a solo guitar player singing ''Blueberry Hill" and ''Shame and Scandal in the Family" (with the unforgettable refrain, ''Your daddy ain't your daddy, but your daddy don't know"). The Red Sox were making a surge in the bottom of the ninth, and the few remaining patrons gathered around the TV with the waitstaff to watch the last-minute victory.

So is the place haunted? Who knows. Our waitress told us she'd seen things fly off shelves for no reason, but we saw no sign of ghosts. The pale-faced figures in the paintings in the upstairs function rooms, however, looked as if they might have.

Stone's Public House, 179 Main St., Ashland, 508-881-1778; entrees $8-$36.

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