Sometimes I am wrong. Yes, it is true. A few years ago, I wouldn't have imagined that I would be a fan of NPR, Lyle Lovett, and Joe Lieberman, but they all turned out to be great. Last month I found a couple of restaurants that confounded my expectations about Pennslytucky and North Avenue. This week I'll discuss the former and next week the latter.
Pennslytucky is the land in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that James Carville once described as Alabama. When it comes to food, it is the home such fine products as Lebanon bologna, shoe fly pie and Owl Meat Gravy. Sure, everyone loves them, but they're hardly gourmet.
Well, I found gourmet in Pennslytucky at the Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, which is about an hour north of Baltimore. Not only did I find gourmet, but I had one of the finest meals of my life. I've been to the Inn at Little Washington a couple of times, and I'm putting the food at the Sheppard Mansion in the same class.
I went with the Chef's tasting menu for $70 and the wine pairings for $45. At many places, this price would translate into three or four plates and maybe three glasses of wine. Here I ended up with about ten plates and around seven glasses of wine.
Now, I don't want to make this about quantity. The quality is why you need to drive up there. The dishes of Chef Andrew Little embrace the regional ingredients from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. From the northern side, I had local morel mushrooms stuffed with bone marrow. From the southern side, there was Virginia Rockfish wrapped in country ham served over greens. These dishes were well designed and the flavors really worked well together.
He also uses a lot of ingredients that challenge both the chef and the eater. In addition to the bone marrow, I also had rabbit prepared sous-vide with crispy gnocchi and baby vegetables, veal cheeks over langoustine risotto, and a fried baby frog's leg with Serrano ham. These are the kinds of meat where technique is very important, as it is quite easy to end with tough rabbit, greasy cheeks and gamey frog. This wasn't the case, as I was served some of the most tender, most succulent, most flavorful meat that I've ever had.
The dishes that I was expecting to be a little more routine had some great touches and surprises. The seared tuna wasn't served with some insipid wasabi sauce; instead, it came with pickled mushrooms. Cheddar gougieres -- light cheese biscuits -- had a subtle cucumber flavor. The cheese course of Stilton was served alongside a red wine-shallot marmalade. The bread was house-made pretzel rolls. The peanut butter mousse cup came with salted caramel and banana ice cream (why isn't Reeses doing this?). Even the cookies that came with the check were unique, with the most interesting one being white chocolate-dipped pork rinds.
For those who like looking a pictures of food, and who doesn't, here are some photos the wife took of the dinner.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent service and the beautiful mansion, but the reason I'm going to return is the food. Hanover has shown itself to be much more than Utz Potato Chips and Synder Pretzels. Now, if only those Pennslytuckians could learn how to drive, we would really have something north of the line.
Green Eggs and Ham at Sheppard Mansion. (It is asparagus, Surryano ham -- from Surry, Va. -- fingerling potato, caviar and brown butter mayonnaise.) Photo courtesy of Sheppard Mansion