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April 9, 2010

Pennsyltucky cuisine

AsparagusIn this week's Free Market Friday post, Robert of Cross Keys finds out there's more than Utz potato chips and Snyder pretzels north of the Mason-Dixon line. LV

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


Posted by Laura Vozzella at 11:24 AM | | Comments (27)


We are not amused

Lieberman? Great?!? Um... Bizarro World, maybe?

You realize that Pennsyltucky is meant as an insult, right? Feel free to call that part of the state Central PA instead.

Slamming Pennsylvania for no reason when you live in Maryland is pointless and absurd. It's just not funny and I don't get it.

white chocolate-dipped pork rinds.???

I can't even begin to guess how that would taste....


white chocolate-dipped pork rinds.???

I can't even begin to guess how that would taste....


I have lots of family in PA, so perhaps that gives me the right to slam it.

So when I think of Pennsyltucky cuisine, I certainly don't think of any of the above described dishes. I think of deer. And rabbit, squirrel, stuffed cabbage, apple dumplings, pot pie, and most importantly gobs. Yum.

Obviously, the food at the Sheppard Mansion is not Pennsyltucky cusine. That is the point of the piece. I had an expectation about what kind of food I would get in a place like Hanover, and that expectation is proven wrong by the gourmet fare I enjoyed at the Sheppard Mansion.

As to slamming Pennslyvania, is it a slam to say they are like Kentucky and Alabama? I love Kentucky. I was married in Kentucky. And while I've never been to Alabama, I think I would love it.

Ok, so I mention the PA driving ability. I can't help it that they drive 15 miles under the speed limit in the left lane. It is not my fault their cars do not come with blinkers.

Sheppard Mansion is one of the best places I think I've ever dined at. glad you found it too, RoCK. Maybe you can check out J's on the square in Gettysburg too sometime, another PA winner.

My partner would happily agree with you about PA drivers. If we are behind one that is driving in some stupid way she always says "oh what a surprise! they're from Pennsylvania!"

I agree about the Pennsylvania drivers, at least around York. I was nearly killed by one that entered I-83 and immediately veered horizontally to the left lane.

York isn't really Pennsylvania. It's the most northern part of West Virginia.

"Tough rabbit, greasy cheeks and gamey frog" ... sounds like the makings of a Lyle Lovett song.


Were you trying to be "sly" when misspelling Pennsyltucky? Or just trying to conceal the true location so we can't find it?

Oddly, the word "pennsyltucky" is not in the Word spell check, so I wouldn't be surprised if I spelled it a different way each time.

Oh RoCK, no no no. Did you check the license plates? I breathe a sigh of relief when I drive the Turnpike to visit my mom. Pennsylvania drivers are far better than Maryland drivers -- they know how to drive and are courteous. Everyone knows the worst drivers are from Ohio.

YumPo (miss the hat!), have you ever driven in Indiana?

If you want a real scare try driving in New Jersey. NJ is the state where everyone has to be first.

Indiana wants me. Lord, I can't go back there.

Two places I really don't like driving are Boston and DC. Wild traffic patterns, and the locals don't give the confused out-of-towners a break.

One thing that bugs me about many PA roads is that there are no merge lanes, so when entering the road (like on US 30) you pretty much have to wait and then stomp on the gas to get into traffic.

My brother lives in New Holland and its never fun when you get stuck behind an Amish buggy. They don't pull over and let you pass.

Last time we were in Boston, I was pulled over after signaling and making a lane change. When I asked the officer what the problem was, he said, "Sir, one of your rear lights appears to be malfunctioning. Back when you made that lane change, it started flashing in a manner I've never seen before."

You may want to know a favorite lunch place of RoCK's: here it is.

Colonel T, RoCK is a vet???

Colonel T, RoCK is a vet???

Does the Kiss Army count?

Tootsie Pop (consumer), yes he is. So am I. I am Air Force, he is Navy.

can RoCK do puppy perms?


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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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