What's new at Antrim 1844? Not much, really.
If it wasn't your thing then, it still won't be now. But If you enjoyed coming up to Taneytown for your 30th anniversary dinner at the Smokehouse Restaurant, you won't regret the drive up to northwest Carroll County for your 40th. For one thing, the fixed price for six-course meal is $68.50, which is only $8 more than it was in 2002.
The dining rooms, set on a lower level of the 1844 mansion, are as you remember them, formally set with pretty china and glassware, but cool and comfortable. As ever, the service is on point but not haughty, and the Antrim wine list, both in depth and variety, is still first-rate.
Michael Gettier, the popular Baltimore chef who arrived at the Antrim in 2001, is still signing his name to the menu — literally. Diners are given a menu signed by Gettier as a keepsake of their special evening.
Your entrance will be greeted, just as you remembered, with an invitation from the staff to "make yourself at home." In the spring and summer, you can stroll the pretty grounds, but in the late fall and winter, you'll gather for "cocktail hour" in the inn's formally decorated parlors with other guests, couples and families celebrating their own special occasions.
There are fireplaces and a pianist to distract you from thinking too hard about trying not to knock anything over while you're waiting to be called to your table.
This parlor scene goes on for about 45 minutes past your reservation time, which makes it feel more like a first act than a prelude. I'm not sure you could skip it even if you wanted to.
Waiters will be around to serve cocktails. These are added to your bill, even when they bring you scotch when you asked for rye. They come around with hors d'oeuvres, too, which are complimentary. There were several passes of a tasty artichoke tartlet and one pass of a fig and prosciutto stack that we wish had come back.
The hors d'oeuvre we were offered first and most often, though, was pigs-in-the-blanket. They were announced as Coney Island dogs, but they were plain old pigs-in-the-blanket. They were not, in case you're wondering, "house-cured bison in phyllo dough with stone-ground mustard." They were those hot dogs in pastry that you're happy to see at a wedding.
The menu's six-course format has remained consistent. Diners choose from five or so appetizers and entrees. The other courses are all predetermined. In other words, you take them or leave them.
We wanted to leave most of them. The opening amuse bouche of venison bologna and honey mustard was neither amusing nor a thing you could eat in one bite. A salad jolie consisting of lettuce, grape tomatoes, papadam crackers, and jaggedly cut cubes of smoked salmon verged on an insult. The iced intermezzo tasted like cranberry cocktail. The panache of chef's desserts, an arrangement of swan-shaped cream puff with balls and foam, came across as wedding food.
With four of the courses laying eggs, the appetizer and the entree have to work extra hard. The closest anything came was an entree of pan-seared, marinated lamb rib chops. Served with a white-wine demi-glace, the two chops were beautifully browned, perfectly cooked and handsomely presented over bacon- and sausage-braised cabbage.
There were other good moments. With the appetizers, I liked the grilled halloumi and roasted pineapple mustard on the fruit and cheese plate. The oysters in the crispy fried oyster appetizer were plump and pleasantly briny under a golden crust. They were presented oddly, though, on a piece of toasted bread that you could neither easily slice through nor pick up without getting sauce on your fingers.
Predominating the meal were things that were OK but not special. These included a grilled chicken corn chowder that offered little beyond its superficial flavors, as well as a pan-seared black Angus filet mignon, served with duchesse potatoes. Sliced and served with both a red wine demi-glace and a Bearnaise sauce, the steak was underseasoned and overcooked.
But there's still considerable pleasure to be derived from an Antrim evening, especially if you approach it not so much as a dinner as the performance of a dinner, in which you're both the audience and a willing participant.
Antrim's 1844 Smokehouse Restaurant
Where: 30 Trevanion Road, Taneytown
Contact: 800-858-1844, antrim1844.com
Open: Open daily for dinner
Prices: $68.50 per person
Food: What was once called gourmet fare, with French influences.
Service: Informed and professional
Best dishes: Lamb chops with braised cabbage, grilled chicken and corn chowder
Children: Young children will squirm waiting through the many courses.
Parking: Ample parking on the inn's property.
Noise level: Comfortable
[Key: Superlative: *****; Excellent: ****; Very Good: ***; Good:**; Promising: *]