The Antrim 1844 Country Inn Offers Luxe Fare in Lush Settings
The family had a special occasion, a 40th birthday, and the celebrant chose one of those restaurants, the Antrim 1844 Country Inn, that show up all the time on the best-of lists of glossier publications than this one. Taneytown is up there in Carroll County, about 50 minutes from downtown Baltimore, and Antrim 1844 turned out to be entirely worth the investment of time and money.
Set on what was a working plantation at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains, the inn itself spreads 29 guest rooms among the original Greek Revival mansion and surrounding estate buildings. I’ll say this much: It’s pretty, as lovingly restored inns go. (The country-inn gene is apparently recessive.)
A prix-fixe dinner ($65) is served nightly, with one seating, in the mansion’s original smokehouse, located down a flight of stairs from the stateliness above. One of your evening’s promised highlights is having cocktails and hors d’ouevre served to you in these formal rooms. Grounds-strolling is also encouraged, and patios are equipped with tables for al fresco swilling and nibbling. You’ll want to wander outside if you can—inside, with strangers stiffly congregating and the occasional brat, it feels like good-manners time. Missing out entirely on hors d’ouevre (and careful, those graciously offered cocktails will balloon your bill) would be no tragedy; we sniffed at the second-comings of breaded feta-stuffed olives and shrimp in phyllo pastry, announced to us as “porkypine shrimp.” The real drama is down in the smokehouse.
We were lucky, our family thought, to have a room to ourselves: the cool, thick-walled summer kitchen. Absolutely, this is a white-tablecloth affair but free of stuffiness and paced for pleasure over languid evening hours. The star attraction, though, is Michael Gettier, who earned a following in Baltimore with his work at the Orchard Inn, and later a namesake Fells Point restaurant. As Antrim 1844’s executive chef, it’s his constantly changing, precisely considered cuisine to which foodies flock. Diners choose from among four appetizers and entrées, but otherwise, the chef, abetted by an adept and pleasant serving staff, is in firm control.
Following an unbilled starter of mussels with red-pepper purée—palate-arousing morsels—came the appetizers. The salmon quennelles, poached dumplings of ground fish, were superlative among these. Served with a purposefully rich sorrel beurre blanc sauce, salmon flavor came through in every delicate bite, and the smooth texture won high marks. The Gulf shrimp puttanesca ran a close second. Battered very lightly and coated with herbs, the large, firm crustaceans were happy to be accompanied by such a fresh-tasting, zesty, caper-filled tomato sauce.
Gettier generally lets the food speak for itself; the salmon and shrimp were presented in a style that felt more classic than architectural, a welcome lack of gimmick. Chilled white cucumber gazpacho, garnished with crabmeat—all a little too subtle for me—was a small exception, served tritely in a martini glass. A fourth appetizer, the inn’s homemade country pâté, left the pâté lovers cool with its white-porky appearance and (who-asked-for-the) pistachios.
Then, more courses. A wild green salad arrived next—pert with slivers of roasted red pepper—followed by a palate-cleansing granité of watermelon and Champagne. Of the entrées, I scored precious few tastes of the roast emerald snapper in crispy crêpe, a fillet layered with pesto chèvre cheese, tomato, and chorizo. The two family members who owned this entrée swore it was flavorfully complex, but not overly so, the fish sweet and well-textured. Similarly, I’ll trust the indifferent reaction of a recent quatrogenerian to the pan-seared tuna, a fillet served on roasted shiitake mushrooms with a cognac-green peppercorn demi-glace. The dish’s owner deemed ordinary, and the bite I took didn’t suggest otherwise.
Far from ordinary were the filet mignon, topped with Boursin cheese and accompanied by Madeira demi-glace, a luxurious, aromatic, and woodsy triumph; and the sublime “duck in two fashions,” confit of duck paired with sautéed foie gras of duck, served on a bed of lentils. The confit, slowly cooked in its own fat, offered up impossibly crispy skin and succulent meat; the foie gras was filthy rich.
A “panache” of chef’s desserts arrived arranged among three identical plates. There were partisan sentiments for the Key lime cheesecake, chocolate tuile with berries, and chipwich (honey ice cream between small chocolate chip cookies). But you should hope for the chocolate pot-au-crème, a final grace note that will send you contentedly back to your car for your journey back home.