Friday, March 1, 2019

A Stay at an Amish Tobacco Farm-Turned Luxury Inn, Paired with an Over-the-Top Meal

I'm a big fan of Valentine's Day, mainly because requests that are shot down during the rest of the year have a better chance of making it past the "absolutely not" stage. I have to thank my husband for his indulgences in this area and for recently treating me to an item that was on my bucket list--a dinner at TÈ restaurant at the Inn at Leola Village located in Leola, Pennsylvania.

TÈ is located within an hour's drive from me in Lancaster County and is particularly special because it is one of the few restaurants in the United States that holds both a AAA Five-Diamond Award and a Forbes Travel Guide 5 Star Award.

To further guild the lily, he arranged a stay at the Inn at Leola Village in one of the most unique rooms on the property, the historic "Wine Cellar," which dates back to 1867 and was once part of the original farmhouse which is still there to this day.

The Inn at Leola Village
The entrance to the lobby at the Inn at Leola Village.
The lobby at the Inn at Leola Village features beams original to the property.
When Deborah Shirk and her husband, architect and chef John Calabrese, announced that they would be creating an upscale inn and restaurant in the heart of Amish country, area businesses scoffed and told them it would happen when "pigs fly." The couple, undaunted, proceeded with the project and showing their sense of humor, even adopted the flying pig as a mascot. If you visit the Inn, you'll see the winged creature represented throughout the property, often in some unlikely places.

The Inn at Leola Village, listed among the Historic Hotels of America, has received its share of awards and accolades since opening in 1999. It was named Best Meeting Venue by Pennsylvania Meetings & Events Magazine (2017) and recently received the Four Diamonds Award of Excellence (2018). The Inn was also recognized by The Knot as a Hall of Fame Designee (2018) and was nominated as Best Historical Hotel by the Historic Hotels of America (2018).

Sixty-two guest rooms are spread across seven buildings, with four buildings original to the property. Overnight guests can select from several restored antique homes, a restored tobacco barn, and other tastefully appointed accommodations, including my favorite--the wine cellar.
Inn room
The "Wine Cellar" suite was once the stone-walled cold cellar of the original restored farmhouse. It includes original wood posts and beams, along with a whirlpool, a fireplace, and a separate entrance.

Inn room

book nook
My favorite part of the "wine cellar," is this adorable reading nook.
The property also features an onsite bar where couples can relax with their preferred libation before, or after dinner.
The bar at Osteria Avanti.

A room in a restored tobacco barn features a waterfall shower on the second floor. 
The waterfall shower on the second floor rains into a whirlpool tub.
Inn at Leola
All rooms are spacious, no matter which one you choose.
The Inn at Leola has two banquet facilities and is particularly popular with brides and grooms who come from miles around. Wedding parties often take advantage of the Forbes-rated four-star spa where they can choose from among a variety of services, from body treatments, to massage, facials, make-up and hair and nail care. The team of onsite wedding professionals includes floral designers, pastry chefs, a resident deejay, photographer and more so that all the wedding party has to do is show up.

wedding area
The wedding area.

wedding reception area

catering hall
Suites located in the catering hall where bridal parties get ready for the big day.

TÈ Raises the Bar on Fine Dining

Intimate and romantic, TÈ restaurant touts a mere six tables, with a staff the size of much larger restaurants.
The Inn at Leola Village features an upscale Italian restaurant which has earned its share of accolades. Since opening in 2012, it has consistently maintained two prestigious awards--the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbes Travel Guide 5 Star Award. Few restaurants in the United States lay claim to both.

TÈ,which means tea in Italian, offers diners a one-of-a-kind experience in an intimate atmosphere. Reservations aren't just recommended, they're mandatory, which is something to keep in mind, along with the fact that dinner is served on Friday and Saturday only.
sandwiches wrapped like presents
Two sandwiches wrapped like little presents came with melted cheese and raspberry sauce for dipping. This set the tone for other little surprises during the course of the meal. 
Guests can choose a five-course, or a nine-course dinner, with the concept of taking a leisurely journey through Italy starting in the northernmost part and working one's way down to the warmer regions in the southern part. Customers can add to the experience by opting for wine pairings and the cheese trolley, which features more than 21 cheeses from Italy and France.
The cheese trolley features almost two dozen cheeses from Italy and France. A fromagier is on hand to explain the various selections and to answer any questions.
If you decide to enjoy this incredible experience, be sure to set aside a few hours. Our five-course meal stretched out for four hours, although it didn't quite feel that long since most courses were introduced with an amuse bouche. Pacing was excellent and service was attentive, with at least five employees for every couple.

Special touches included a stool strategically placed at knee-height so I wouldn't have to sling my purse over a chair, or place it on the floor and a warm finger bowl containing mint and rose petals, which enveloped the table in a lovely aroma.

We opted for the five-course prix fixe menu, which included salad, appetizer, fish and main courses.TÈ has a certified sommelier on staff and each of our courses were paired with Italian wines. Highlights of this incredible meal included yellowfin tuna with deep-fried fennel in a 15-year balsamic reduction, butter-poached halibut cheek with mint in a duck egg yolk, lamb, scallops and pork belly and the grand finale: the dessert mat, which was absolutely wonderful, from the little tortes and cakes, to the chocolate cherries the staff set aflame as we watched.

Yellowfin tuna with deep-fried fennel in a 15-year balsamic reduction.
Butter-poached halibut cheek with mint in a duck egg yolk.
We each selected five cheeses and were served candied nuts, bread and fruit alongside.
One of many libations served during the course of the meal.
The spectacular, over-the-top dessert mat.



milk and cookies
There's the flying pig again. This is TE's version of milk and cookies, but by the time this course was served, it was 11 p.m. and we were stuffed, so they packed up a few of those chocolate-dipped, anise-kissed biscotti for us to take with us.
On our way out, we were helped with our coats and given a personalized menu with our names, the date and what we ate that evening to take home as a keepsake.

Part of our package included breakfast the following morning, so we headed over to the other onsite restaurant, Osteria Avanti, where I enjoyed a somewhat lighter meal of avocado toast. My husband ordered eggs and scrapple and we both laughed when the flying pig made yet another appearance.
Avocado toast served at Osteria Avanti.

The flying pig makes a final appearance in the form of scrapple.
I have to say I'm not likely to ever have such an extravagant experience again, but it certainly made Valentine's Day memorable--so that's a hint to the men out there--you have time to prepare for next year. An added plus is that if you live in Pennsylvania, you won't even need to hop on a plane.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Four Days in Columbus, Ohio

Ohio skyline
Columbus Skyline. Courtesy: Brand Columbus
Here in Pennsylvania, so many of us are looking forward to spring and making plans for warmer weather. If you're deciding where to go this year, you may want to check out what Columbus, Ohio has to offer. I visited the area last year and found plenty to do and see, but due to limited time, I had to pick and choose carefully. If you have the opportunity to visit, you may want to consider adding a few of these options to your list.

Arriving in Town
North Market
North Market. Photo courtesy Brand Columbus.

Because I knew I'd be hungry after a six-hour drive, I decided that the first order of business should be a visit to the North Market located downtown. Open seven days a week, the market welcomes one million customers annually.

Produce at the North Market. Courtesy: Brand Columbus.

Unlike many of the markets in the Central Pennsylvania region, you’ll pay for parking at the North Market, but not enough to break the bank. The first hour will cost you $1, with subsequent hours costing $2. Of course, you can avoid that through ticket validation and the vendors are always happy to provide that service.

Baked goods, Ohio-raised meats, pasta of all shapes and sizes, prepared foods and ethnic specialties engage the senses so lunch choices can be difficult. I settled on a tasty Greek salad from Firdous Express and was soon on my way to the next destination not far away at the “Arena District,” to check in at the centrally located Crowne Plaza. Staying in the Arena District is a good choice for anyone who wants to be within an easy drive of The Columbus Zoo (20 minutes), German Village (10 minutes), or Victorian Village (five minutes).

Visiting Victorian Village

To experience how the locals live, consider a visit to Katalina’s Cafe . Located in the Victorian Village in a renovated 100-year-old gas station, Katalina’s is known for its funky décor and its locally sourced, made-from-scratch cuisine. Breakfast specialties range from huevos rancheros, a hearty dish which I enjoyed, to various omelets and popular pancake balls made with local stone-ground flour filled with Nutella, dulche le leche, or pumpkin apple butter.

Katalina's Cafe in the Victorian district.
Huevos Rancheros served at Katalina's.

The quirky décor features chalkboard walls with an array of colorful designs. On nice days, diners can enjoy al fresco dining and socialization on the deck.

The surrounding neighborhood is a good place to walk off some of those calories and lay eyes on some of the best examples of domestic Victorian Era architecture in the country.

Get Up Close and Personal with the Animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

A trip to Columbus isn’t complete without a visit to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and if you’re lucky, you just might get a glimpse of President Emeritus Jack Hanna, who maintains a basecamp onsite and visits for special events.

The impressive collection of wildlife from around the world is separated by regions like the Congo, Asia, Africa and North America. Knowledgeable staffers are stationed throughout the park to help visitors navigate the territory, or learn more about the animals.
Flamingos frolic at the Columbus Zoo.
A lion takes a snooze.
A gorilla seems bored with being ogled.
Plan to wear comfortable shoes and to spend at least four hours viewing the exhibits. Not-to-be-missed is the $20 million “Polar Frontier,” where guests can view the polar bears at eye level, or observe them frolicking in the water from below, courtesy of a clear glass tank.

polar bear
Polar bear entertains onlookers.
Families often enjoy cooling off at the nearby 22-acre Zoombezi Bay waterpark complete with 17 waterslides. Lockers for storing gear like cell phones, credit cards and wallets are available for an additional $10.
water slide
Children whoosh down a water slide at Zoombezi Bay. Photo courtesy: Brand Columbus.

Visit the Historic German Village
German Village, Courtesy: Brand Columbus
During your visit, plan to spend some time exploring the historic German Village. For a self-guided walking tour, pick up a map and tickets at the Visitor’s Center in the German Village Society Meeting Haus located at 588 3rd Street. On the tour, you’ll learn about historic architecture and how early German residents lived and worked. Food and drink stops are recommended along the way.

For authentic German food, look no further than Schmidt’s Sausage Haus at 240 E. Kossuth Street, where Adam Richman once indulged in the Autobahn Buffet for an episode of “Carnivore Chronicles.” Visit during the evening from Wednesday through Saturday and step into an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere, complete with live oompa music.

For bibliophiles, a must stop is the Book Loft, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. Housed in multiple pre-Civil War-era buildings, it’s easy to spend hours browsing from among the plethora of titles in 32 rooms. Be sure to grab a directory located near the front register to navigate your way around the mysteries, histories, and many other genres available for your reading pleasure.
book store
The Book Loft is one of the nation's largest independent bookstores.

Behold the Beauty of the Topiaries

Located at the former site of the Ohio School for the Deaf, the Topiary Park of Columbus is described as “a landscape of a painting of a landscape.”

Scenes from the Topiary Park.

The brainchild of local sculptor James T. Madison, the Topiary Park was inspired by Georges Seurat’s Post-Impressionist Painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.” The garden is comprised of 54 human figures, eight boats, three dogs, a cat and a monkey and is best viewed in the summer months.

Enjoy an Educational Experience at COSI

The 320,000 square foot structure known as the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) is one of the largest, modern-built science centers in the United States and was named by Parents Magazine as America’s number one science center for families.

science center
COSI sign. Courtesy: Brand Columbus

butterfly art
Butterfly made from recycled materials.
During my visit, the science museum and research center was hopping as children dashed from one exhibit to another to experience hurricane force winds in a wind tunnel, play a laser harp, ride a unicycle and gaze at the "sky" in the planetarium. There were just a few of the many family-friendly educational activities available.

A child rides a unicycle at COSI. Courtesy: Brand Columbus.
Have a Laugh at Shadowbox Live

For a fun, adult night out, consider purchasing tickets to Shadowbox Live, the largest resident theater company in America. The non-profit, award-winning, performance troupe employs dozens of full-time ensemble members who entertain close to 100,000 patrons a year.  Theater lovers travel from miles around to visit the venue located in the Brewery District.
Comedians perform at Shadow Box Live.

Multi-talented troupe members wow the audience with original sketch comedy penned by a top-notch writing team. The house band, “Bill Who,” provides the musical backdrop for a variety of show-stopping song and dance numbers featuring the cast. Video shorts are shot and edited in house. The fast-paced show doesn't disappoint.

If you find yourself like me--unable to get away for an entire week, these are just a few suggestions to make the most of your time. I, myself, was glad to take a whirlwind tour of the area to get a feel for much of what the city has to offer and now I have an idea of what to see when I return.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Daytripping in Historic Lancaster

I'm always amazed at people who enjoy winter. To me, there's not much to like, from the frigid temps, to the all-too-short days, to the fact that many historic destinations close down for months. I often feel like I'm racing against the clock as fall winds down.

Just a few months ago, a friend and I made plans to visit the Hans Herr House and Rockford Plantation and it crossed my mind that they may have already closed for the season. Thankfully, they had not and we were able to arrange a quick tour of each historic property, plus visit a few other places as well.

Had they been closed, we would have had no trouble filling the time with other pursuits. Downtown Lancaster is chockablock with boutique shops, restaurants and galleries which you can count on being open just about any time of the year.

The Hans Herr House
The first stop on our itinerary was the "Hans Herr House." The 1.5 story sandstone dwelling is not only the oldest home in Lancaster, but also as the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in America. This well-preserved abode turns 300 this year and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Germanic dwelling
The Hans Herr House is known as the oldest dwelling in Lancaster and the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in America.
Built in 1719, the structure is purported to have been the home of Hans Herr and his wife Elizabeth. What's known for certain is that Christian Herr, his wife Anna and their children lived there. Both Hans and Christian served as Bishops in the Mennonite church. Several generations of the Herr family would call this their home until the early 1900s when it was relegated to use as a barn and storage shed. In the 1970s, the Germanic structure was restored to its original colonial-era appearance and is now part of a museum complex, which is operated by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. The complex is comprised of a gift shop, an agricultural implement shed, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse and bake oven, a Native American longhouse and a "Faith and Furrow" exhibit, which offers information on the rural life of the Mennonites.
My friend Craig coaxes water from a pump located steps away from the Hans Herr House.
During our visit, a group of school children arrived and we were summoned inside and asked to take a seat on the long benches provided to hear a presentation on life in the colonial era.
The inside of the Hans Herr House.
The gentlemen who addressed the group shared stories with details on how children of the era dressed and lived, peppering his tales with enough humor to keep the kids interested and amused. Afterward, we gathered in the kitchen to learn more about kitchen life in the days of yore.

colonial kitchen
A volunteer demonstrates how people cooked in colonial days.
colonial window
A window looks out on the fields of Lancaster County.
After leaving the house, we wandered over to the beehive oven and the smokehouse to watch demonstrations on food preservation before continuing on a self-guided tour to the various outbuildings.
squirrel tale oven
Beehive oven and smokehouse.

colonial outbuilding
The Blacksmith shop

The agricultural implement shed 
The Native American Longhouse was my favorite structure on the property and is also the newest, constructed in 2013. Located a short walk from the main property across a secondary road, it is intended to give both young and old an idea of what life was like for Native Americans. The dimensions and materials used in construction reflect that which has been discovered through archaeological research done in Lancaster County, making it an accurate representation of what sort of dwelling European settlers would have encountered in the area. The Native American guide who greeted us said that he grew up on a reservation and showed us around the structure, giving us tidbits of information on how Native Americans lived. He told us he spent a few nights in the longhouse during the summer months and had encountered several curious critters. "The raccoons and skunks sniffed every inch of the place," he said. I asked him if he was concerned about the skunks and he replied, "Nah, they get a bad rap," which gave me a chuckle.
The Native American Longhouse is a replica of what European settlers would have encountered in the area.
Native American longhouse
The interior of the Native American longhouse.
After touring the property, guests exit through the museum gift shop, which was built in 1892 and served as a farmhouse until the late 1960s. Items for sale include books, crafts and merchandise related to colonial and Native American history. This wood and coal stove, which is situated among the book for sale, dates back to 1890 and was used by a descendant of the Herr family.
old stove
A Bengal wood and coal stove circa 1890 was used by a descendant of the Herr family.
The Hans Herr House and Museum is located minutes from downtown Lancaster at 1849 Hans Herr Drive, Willow Street, Pa and is open April 1 through November 30.

The Belvedere
Next on our itinerary was a stop for lunch at The Belvedere Inn located just a short drive away in downtown Lancaster. Built in 1869 by Strasburg tobacco dealer John S. Rohrer, the Victorian Italianate mansion has been operating as a restaurant in the area since 1998.
According to their website, the restaurant is so named because Rohrer built a belvedere, meaning "beautiful view," atop the mansion for guests to look down upon the city.
The front of the Belvedere.
The dining room of the Belvedere.

The outdoor space at The Belvedere overlooks the street.

The upstairs jazz lounge at The Belvedere.
 The Belvedere Inn serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner seven days a week.

The Rock Ford Plantation

Next stop on the tour was the Rock Ford Plantation, home of General Edward Hand, his wife Katherine and their eight children. General Hand was born in Ireland and entered into medical studies at Trinity College in Dublin before enlisting in the British Military service as a surgeon's mate in 1767. He moved to Lancaster in 1774, married Katherine Ewing in 1775 and embarked upon a 25-year military career, which included serving as adjutant to George Washington. Upon returning to civilian life, he practiced medicine and served the public in various capacities.

Hand purchased the Rock Ford Plantation in two transactions: 160 acres in 1785 and 17 acres in 1792. He transformed the place into a working farm where he raised livestock and experimented in horticulture, cultivating a golden plum which still bears his name.

The Georgian-style house lacks a date stone, but it is estimated to have been built between 1791 and 1794. Speculation also has it that Edward and Katherine entertained President Washington there when he visited the area on July 4, 1791.

After the house was sold in 1810, it was owned by a series of absentee landlords and tenant farmers. During this time, few changes were made. In 1947, PPL bought the plantation to use as office space and plumbing and electricity were installed. It was later sold to the Lancaster Area Refuse Authority and was slated to be a trash incineration plant and landfill until historians, aided by the Junior League of Lancaster, stepped in and saved the historical property.  For three years, the groups embarked upon an extensive restoration project to bring the house back to its original splendor, using techniques like paint analysis and archaeological excavation. The house opened to the public in 1960.

Today, Rock Ford sits on 33 acres surrounded by Lancaster County Central Park and is operated by a non-profit foundation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known as one of the most important examples of Georgian domestic architecture surviving in Pennsylvania and the most intact building predating 1800 in Lancaster County. More than 90 percent of the shutters, woodwork, glass and floors are intact.

Rooms are decorated according to the inventory taken of the "Goods and Chattels" of Edward Hand after his death in 1802. Those items not directly accounted for in the inventory are based on letters or other details consistent with the Hands' financial and social circumstances.

The Family Parlor
Colonial-era parlor
The family parlor at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The family parlor portrays activities that were common 200 years ago, including sewing, tea drinking and embroidery. The walnut candle stand is a Hand family heirloom. Hanging above the fireplace is a portrait of Hand's middle daughter, Dorothy, painted in 1819 by Lancaster resident Jacob Eicholtz.

The Dining Room 
Colonial dining room
The Dining Room at the Rock Ford Plantation.

dining room

In the 1790s, the dining room was a rather new concept in America. The table in this picture dates to 1790 and is made of mahogany with walnut inlay. The yellow Windsor chairs were in fashion in the 1790s and reflect the Hands' familiarity with the trends of the day.

The Study

The study at the Rock Ford Plantation.

Hand used this room for his study and at the date of his death in 1802 was educating his son Jasper in the medical profession. In this room, visitors can see medical books, instruments and items used by persons working in the medical profession during the era.

The Master Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Master Bedchamber at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The Hand Estate inventory lists a dressing table, which was likely similar to the one here, situated by a window to take advantage of the natural light. The four-poster mahogany bed is hung with reproduction printed chintz, similar to that which is listed in the inventory taken upon the death of General Hand.

The Boys' Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Boys' Bedchamber.
The three Hand boys occupied this room, which features a mahogany stained poplar high-post bed popular in the Federal period and made in Pennsylvania. A woven, homespun checked mattress bag on the bed was made by grand-daughter Katherine Hand Brien and bears her initials.

A rifle, seen in the corner, was willed to the boys from their uncle. Males were expected to become proficient in shooting both for sport and for food and many began learning how to shoot a gun at the age of 12.

The Girls' Bedchamber
Colonial-era bedroom
The Girls' Bedchamber at the Rock Ford Plantation.
Both beds pictured here are draped in a reproduction glazed printed fabric. The trundle bed was probably used for young guests and was likely slid under the larger bed during the day and brought out again at night. The "dower" chest that is positioned against the wall is similar to one that boys and girls would receive around the age of 13.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen at the Rock Ford Plantation.
The primary kitchen for the Hand household is located in the basement, but was, by no means, the only space for preparing food. A bake oven, a root cellar and a stone spring house were complements to the kitchen, but are no longer in existence.

The fireplace that you see here was re-opened in 1997 and is in working order. It is pressed into service during special events.

The whetstone for sharpening knives and the iron crane are original to the house and if you look closely, you will see a sugar "cone" on the table. During the Hand era, sugar cane was boiled down and placed in molds, left to harden and then popped out in the shape of a cone. The processing was done in the Caribbean and brought to American ports. What I found particularly interesting is that the cones were generally kept under lock and key due to their high price.

You can learn much more about the Rock Ford Plantation by taking a tour of the property led by knowledgeable docents. The house is open to the public from April through October, Tuesday through Sunday. Tours start at the top of every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Historic Accommodations

The Lancaster Arts Hotel

The exterior of the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

sitting area at the Lancaster Arts Hotel
A sitting area in the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

The Lancaster Arts Hotel dates back to 1881 and once served as a warehouse where tobacco was stored. Over the years, tobacco gave way to paper, then twine and finally electronics. The hotel is comprised of 63 rooms and 1,100+ square feet of meeting space.
An antique rocking goat greets guests at the door.

Sitting areas at the Lancaster Arts Hotel.

sitting area

The boutique hotel stands out among its peers with unique furnishings and artwork that you won't see at cookie-cutter hotels. Amenities include free internet access, a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, Turkish bathrobes and nightly turn-down service.

hotel room

Each room is unique at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. (Room photos courtesy of the Lancaster Arts Hotel)

Located within the hotel is the award-winning John J. Jeffries Restaurant, named for a tobacco inspector who signed and dated one of the beams which was discovered during renovations. The farm-to-table restaurant touts local, organic fare, free from chemicals and hormones.
Another area lodging destination that has been re-purposed from an old warehouse is the Cork Factory Hotel. Located at 480 New Holland Avenue, it is comprised of 77 rooms and was once home to the Armstrong Cork and Kerr Glass companies.
hotel sitting area
The sitting area at the Cork Factory Hotel.
Cork factory hotel
The second-floor piazza where many wedding parties are held.

An onsite spa features a whole host of treatments, from facials to body treatments and bridal hair and makeup.

The Cork Hotel also provides guests with a convenient attractive onsite restaurant. Cork and Cap is known for its Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food prepared with a modern twist.
The bar at the Cork and Cap.

dining room
The dining area of the Cork and Cap.
Both hotels are located within minutes away from the Lancaster County Convention center, Pennsylvania Dutch attractions, shopping and art galleries.

My visit to Lancaster was a short one. There's much more to do and see in the area and I hope to visit again when the weather warms to share with you even more details of the many fascinating destinations located in Pennsylvania Dutch country. If there is anything in Lancaster that I should be visiting, please let me know in the comments.