Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

The Golden Lamb
Lebanon, Ohio
November 26, 2009

I don't know where our family tradition of going out to lunch for Thanksgiving prior to gorging ourselves for dinner at our family farm began, but it's happened since before I can remember.  When I was very small we ate with my father's side of the family and they have always loved convenience, so possibly it was their family way, and then the family dinner on the farm was my mother's family tradition?  I'm just not sure.  However, we have long ceased to celebrate with my dad's side of the family and yet we continue lunch out with our immediate family followed up by a large dinner on the farm with our extended family a mere few hours later.  Can't say I'm complaining, gorging yourself all day is part of what Thanksgiving is all about!  I'm just merely trying to determine this dining out tradition's roots (mental post it now written to myself to discuss this with my mother next phone conversation).

Anyway, long ago we ate yearly at a restaurant called The Hickory Lane which was in Metamora, Indiana.  It was buffet style, which the child in me loved because of all the different options and not having to wait for your food to be brought out!  Also, at a buffet mom didn't care if I wanted mashed potatoes, French fries, and potato salad; but just see if she'd let me order those options together at a typical restaurant...  But, the true draw of this place, to my child sized mind, was eating in the screened in porch back dining room.  The restaurant backed up to a wooded area and the porch was all glass and windows.  I loved watching the bright cardinals, sparrows, and chickadees flit about on the brown background fly about while the squirrels scurried up and down the trees.  I thought this was great entertainment as I sampled my chosen dishes and morphed into a carbohydrate stupor that surely ended in a nap on the way home.  Actually, maybe this was why my mother didn't object too much to those French fries and mashed potatoes! However, sometime around the age of 10 or so the Hickory Lane I knew became no more due to a fire.  Apparently, the restaurant was rebuilt in another location, but the charm of the old restaurant was lost and my parents decided to try another restaurant for our yearly feast.  A current internet search doesn't turn up much on the Hickory Lane, so I tend to think it must no longer exist in any capacity.  An unfortunate loss. 

But this allowed for The Golden Lamb to enter our lives.  We have now been eating our Thanksgiving lunch here since I was at least in junior high (that's going on more than 15 years!) and the restaurant has seen my change in long term boyfriends, the addition of my husband, and unfortunate loss of my father due to cancer.  While I (and my family) have changed a lot in the last 15 years, the restaurant has stayed relatively stable (with some minor changes, peaks, and valleys).  But I guess that is to be expected given the fact that this restaurant has been around, in some capacity, since 1803; and is known as the oldest continually operating business in the state of Ohio.

Since we have been dining here some traditions have stayed the same.  Apparently apple butter has been served since at least 1805, and continues today.  And we can always trust we'll get a curt welcome when we check in with our reservation.  Now, we know getting through a never ending sea of large parties on a holiday known for its food is daunting for a restaurant host staff, but it seems an area of improvement could be not letting your guests see how much it actually stresses you.  But we have experienced it for so long we now just laugh as we are quickly and curtly moved to our seats like cattle.  For awhile we were slightly offended and considered it fairly rude, but now it's just become part of the experience...Kind of like spending a holiday with the crazy uncle.  Now once we have gotten to our table, we have never had a problem with the service.

However, one of the unfortunate changes is the complimentary relish tray that used to be included with every meal.  There was a festive cranberry relish; a sweet and savory corn relish, thick cut bread and butter pickles; and our absolute favorite...pickled watermelon rinds.  I know they sound scary, but if you can ever find them, try them!  They're syrupy sweet and have this luscious mouth feel.  This is the only restaurant that I know of that served them and I looked forward to sampling them every November.  My mouth is actually salivating just remembering it all now.  However, about 3 or so years ago the relish tray was moved to  one of the salad or appetizer options, but beginning last year (or possibly the year before, things start to run together after so many Thanksgivings spent there) it was completely removed from the Thanksgiving menu.  We mourned then and continue to mourn now.  This fact, coupled with what seemed a decline in the quality of food over multiple years, and a decline in the upkeep of the restaurant's interior, even had us looking for a new restaurant to try out for Thanksgiving.  However, at least this year, I'm glad we stayed.   

I'm hoping we've just moved through one of the restaurant's valleys and are headed towards an upswing in the restaurant's caliber, because this Thanksgiving meal pleasantly surprised.  If only the watermelon rinds would come back, I'd know we were on an upswing!

This year, The Golden Lamb, added a new spin to the dining experience and had a very personable "historian" coming around the tables to share delightful stories about the restaurant's history.  He was respectful of those that were not interested in hearing about the history, but he made our lunch more enjoyable by telling us the tale of how the restaurant was started for $4 as a "house of public entertainment" and showing us where the original building stood and what had been added on when.  I wish we would have heard more stories about the 12 presidents and other various personalities who have visited the Lamb over the years, but maybe another time! 

After chatting with the historian for awhile our drinks were brought, a nice white wine for my mother (can't remember which one), and Cokes for Erik and me.  We had enjoyed a long traditional night out with old friends on Thanksgiving Eve (a bit of High School Reunion) and therefore were not up for wine. 

Thanksgiving meals at The Golden Lamb come with a choice of salad, entree with 2 sides, and dessert for one price.  There are appetizers on the menu, but they are at extra cost.  We opted out on the appetizers, knowing we would be completely full (and then some) by the end of the meal.  So we started with the salad.  Erik and my mother both got the hot slaw and I went with the house salad because their house dressing is a favorite of mine.  Keep in mind, this restaurant is about history and tradition.  You're not going to find the latest fad on the menu such as a lychee martini or herb infused oil for dipping bread; but you will find some long lost favorites.  Hot slaw is one of those.  (Pickled watermelon rinds were another, but I guess I've already gone over that ad nauseum!) 

The cabbage was freshly shredded and then topped with a vinegar based hot bacon dressing.  The dressing and slaw were combined just before serving so the cabbage was only slightly wilted upon arrival to the table.  It gradually wilts more and more as you enjoy the dish.  I know some prefer it served completely wilted, but I enjoyed the gradual change in texture.  I had never tried this salad option from the Golden Lamb because of my love for their salad dressing.  However, next year I'm really going to have a real debate on my hands!

My salad was fairly typical with iceberg based greens, shredded red cabbage, red onions, tomatoes, cucumber, and cheese.  But the salad dressing is what made it.  The dressing is a garlic herb ranch which seems common enough.  However, there is a fresh herbaceous flavor that is not often found in other ranch dressings.  Additionally, the garlic flavor was very subtle and blended in well with the other herbs.  Had the waitress not told me it was garlic, I'm not sure I could have pulled it out from the other herbs.  Additionally, the consistency of the dressing was not heavy like your typical ranches and coated the greens just enough to flavor, but not overpower.  The fresh herbs paired with the lighter consistency reminded me a bit of spring, which is nice when you're dining during a cold and biting late November day.     

Soft, light and buttery rolls were also brought out with the salad.  However, our server forgot to offer us some apple butter, but we decided we had enough other things and didn't ask for it.  From past experience I can tell you the sweet, but not too sweet, apple butter is a nice accompaniment when you're in the mood for something different paired with your rolls. 

After our salads were finished our entrees came out quickly.  Erik went with the duck and mom and I both decided to go with traditional Butler County turkey.

Erik and I had not tried the duck before and we both were pleasantly surprised.  The duck meat had a finer texture than your typical chicken breast and was not as dense.  The chef had done a nice job with the preparation and there was not the fatty/greasy layer that duck sometimes contains when not rendered correctly. The sauce was Grand Marnier flavored and added a nice sweetness.  Duck and orange are a wonderful and traditional flavor pairing.  The duck was served over wild rice with nice seasonings that were stronger in flavor than your typical wild rice mix.  However, we couldn't exactly place what those seasonings were.  Erik chose green beans with bacon and mashed potatoes as his sides.  The green beans had a strong bacon flavor, which reminded me of how my grandmother used to make them (high praise, indeed).  The potatoes were whipped, light, and buttery.  A nice change of pace from the smashed potatoes that are currently more popular.  Again, this is how both my mother and grandmother made them.  However, I'm pretty sure these had more butter than my relatives typically used, making them all the more yummy.

Like mother, like daughter; we both chose yams and mashed potatoes to go with our turkey.  The turkey also came with stuffing and a small side of cranberries. 

The turkey included 2 large pieces of white meat and a few bits of dark (choosing all white meat is an option for a few dollars more).  The meat was flavorful and moist.  The yams were candied and sweet.  They were not overcooked to the point they would fall apart, but a fork went through them easily.  The sage stuffing was dense, moist, and on the heavy side.  A gravy boat was also brought to share, but I felt there was enough on my plate as it was. 

I cleaned my plate, no problem, but that left little room for the apple cobbler I had chosen for dessert.  I opted to have our server box it up and I'm sure I enjoyed it more then next day than if I woud have forced room for it.  Erik and my mom were troopers, though, and ate it there.  Mom went with peppermint ice cream which she enjoyed because of the cool and refreshing notes that are always nice after a heavy meal.  Erik and I can't remember what he had, but he enjoyed it!  At this point in the meal I was more interested in sharing conversation with my family than I was in taking notes.  And given that this is what Thanksgiving should be about, I have no problem with it! 

From my family to yours, keep enjoying those Thanksgiving traditions whatever and wherever they may be (and wherever they came from)!

Bill total:  3 Thanksgiving dinners (including salad, entree, 2 sides, and dessert), 2 Cokes, 1 glass of white wine, and tip= $108

Overall Rating:  4 buckeyes 

As a side note, I'd love to try out some of their specialty dinners someday.  From their website it looks like they host a "Frohe Weihnahchten", a traditional "Mt. Vernon" Christmas dinner, and a traditional afternoon tea in May.  I love that they seem to have found their niche with capitalizing on history.  Historic rooms are also available for $107-133 a night, which could make for a fun weekend away. 

Golden Lamb on Urbanspoon

No comments: