Color me awed. Last night, I discovered that the Gennett Mansion, a majestic historic Main Street home in my hometown of Richmond, Ind. hosts a series of absolutely awesome gourmet dinners open to the public. Seriously, how could I have not known about this before now?!? This was without a doubt the best food I’ve ever eaten inRichmond, and right up there with some of the best food I’ve eaten lately, period.
Here’s the skinny: the lovely and hospitable Donna and Bob Geddes currently own the Gennett Mansionand live on the third floor. This Colonial Revival mansion was originally built in 1897 as the home of Henry and Alice Gennett, who lived in the house for nearly 40 years. Scratch the surface of Richmond history and you’ll uncover a whole slew of information about the Gennett and their legacy — the family manufactured pianos and later paved the way for new recording technology. Some of the most prominent jazz, blues, gospel and country music recording artists of the early 20th century recorded right here in Richmond, including Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael and Gene Autry. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated Indiana Landmark.
Since taking possession of the property in 2006, the Geddes have painstakingly been restoring it to a renewed level of grandeur. Their efforts have paid off handsomely, and Donna and Bob have generously opened the mansion for tours, weddings, live music, private parties, corporate events and a series of Farm-to-Table dinners like the one my dad and I attended last night.
And what a dinner this was. The Geddes have employed the talented Chef Jen Ferrell to create sumptuous menus for these meals featuring locally sourced, organic products. Jen grew up in Brown County, earned a degree in environmental management from Indiana University before later easing her way into a cooking career, and moved to Richmond eight years ago when her husband took a job with Earlham College.
We arrived at 6:30 pm and had a chance to settle in and snoop around the house before the dinner began. Everything was gorgeous, from the fresh daisy centerpieces to the polished woodwork. The architecture and interior design alone is reason enough to come here. There’s a beautiful Starr piano standing in the main hall, a gleaming wood staircase and elegant furnishings throughout. Our dining room (one of several) was decked out with a beamed ceiling, bowed windows and a fireplace large enough to stand in. It was fun to see how the rich and famous of Richmond must have lived back in the early 1900s.
There were nearly 20 guests for dinner last night, although Donna said they can accommodate up to 40. Donna and Bob did all the serving themselves, and I spied on Chef Jen in the kitchen. This was an ambitious undertaking for only three people to pull off, and they did so flawlessly.
Our first course set the tonefor what was to come with a triangular polenta cake with braised local bison from a farm up between Lynn and Winchester, all topped with a roasted red pepper paprika sauce. The bison was flavorful and tender, and the corn cake light, fluffy and steaming hot. We were off to a great start.
Next up was a salad of greens from the chef’s very own garden — a mix of torn romaine lettuce, spinach and bok choy with a few shaved purple radish slices on top and a sprinkle of almonds. The dressing was a white chocolate citrus, which has to be one of the more unusual salad dressings I’ve ever tasted. It was really delicious; the white chocolate flavor was not at all overpowering, just an interesting and subtle note in the overall fresh mix of ingredients.
To cleanse our palates after that, we each received a small glass dish of mint julep sorbet. Made with fresh mint and top-shelf Kentucky bourbon and topped with a pink rose petal, it was as tasty for the eyes as it was the mouth. I drank a couple of mint juleps during a tour of Churchill Downs earlier last month and thought they were nearly cloyingly sweet, but as a little icy treat, the recipe worked perfectly. I even stirred a little bit into my iced tea to give it a slight minty kick. Perfection.
The main course was a real showstopper – beef croustade with roasted asparagus. Here’s the breakdown: take a tender piece of local steak, top it with porter roasted onions and gorgonzola cheese, then wrap the whole thing in phyllo dough like a little beggar’s purse and bake. It was soooooo delicious, like a beef Wellington but with phyllo instead of puff pastry. The asparagus on the side was perfectly tender; we also received a small basket of fragrant rosemary yeast rolls and a compound herb butter to spread on top.
Prior to bringing out the dessert, Donna served some wonderful coffee she’d brought back from a recent trip to Costa Rica (in addition to her Gennett responsibilities, she also works as an international flight attendant!), along with a cute trio of accoutrements to dude up our cups. What a fun and whimsical idea to stir in raw sugar, chocolate chips and fresh whipped cream.
Dessert was a picture-perfect slice of lattice-top sour cherry pie (I overheard Chef Jen saying the cherries had come from Wesler’s Orchard) and a little scoop of housemade coconut ice cream sitting pretty beside it. Wow. I couldn’t imagine a better end to a better meal. Chef Jen made the rounds to each table during dessert, I’m sure collecting compliments all along the way. This meal blew my mind.
Last night’s dinner carried a per-person price tag of $38, which seemed extremely reasonable for the amount and quality of food we received. There is no alcohol served, only water, coffee and iced tea, but diners are perfectly welcome to bring their own wine or beer.
The Farm to Table dinners take place once a month or so; watch the Gennett Mansion Facebook page for updates (http://www.facebook.com/TheGennett). I, for one, am thrilled to know these events are taking place in my little old hometown, and plan to make a return trip as soon as details are posted.
For more information:
GennettMansion, 1829 E. Main St., Richmond 765.935.0055; gennettmansion.com