The magic of our evening at Antrim 1844 started miles before we arrived at the gracious brick mansion in Taneytown. As we passed farms and meadows on a country road, our moods changed. Stress seemed to slip away. We were on a dining adventure.
Dorothy and Richard Mollett have turned the 23-acre former plantation in Carroll County into a country inn with 15 guest rooms and a restaurant serving an elaborate, five-course dinner nightly. There were a few uneven moments during our evening at Antrim, but they did not stand out -- not even at $55 a person.
We were told to arrive at 6: 30 p.m. for the hors d'oeuvre hour, before being seated for dinner at 7: 30 p.m. We wandered through the inn, and trays of skewered lamb, tiny crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops and other morsels somehow found us.
Sipping drinks and nibbling food, we admired parlors filled with antiques and strolled along gravel paths through the formal gardens.
Where guests are seated for dinner depends on the time of year and how many are dining that evening.
The setting might be the formal dining room with its crystal chandelier, or the veranda with wicker tables overlooking the gardens. On this night, we were led to the smokehouse, a series of three rooms with brick walls and floors, and a sunken, historic feel.
Once the summer kitchen and smokehouse for the plantation, the rooms were cool yet cozy. There were plump, high-back chairs in plaid, and paintings of Civil War generals on the walls. Gen. George Meade, who monitored troop movements at Gettysburg from the widow's walk upstairs, looked down upon our table.
The staff moved silently, often anticipating our needs. First they brought us a chilled peach soup -- sweet, but not as cloying as one might expect. Corn chowder was sublime, a thin, buttery broth with plump, sweet corn and lumps of crab.
A grilled vegetable and goat cheese terrine was served chilled on a coulis of yellow tomatoes. Layered with chopped tomatoes, eggplant and mushrooms, it had a mild, tangy taste.
Salad choices were arugula or mesclun lettuce. The latter was better, with tiny cubes of cantaloupe and prosciutto tossed in a kiwi-lime vinaigrette. All the flavors, from bitter to sweet to smoky, were perfectly matched.
The arugula salad, on the other hand, needed a stronger dressing. With bits of cucumber and bulgur wheat, it tasted like thinned-down tabbouleh on sharp greens.
Of the four dinner selections, the house-smoked filet of Angus beef tenderloin was the most exquisite, the best beef of recent memory. Crusty black on the outside, rare and meltingly tender inside, it was full of smoky flavor. It came with a dried-cherry sauce and roasted new potatoes.
Roasted pork tenderloin, brushed with a hoisin glaze, also was lovely and tender, matched with a creamy tropical risotto. Grilled salmon was just slightly overdone. It was nestled on top of a cold, wild-rice salad, and encircled by lemony vinaigrette.
Least impressive was the skinless, tequila-grilled spring chicken. The piece I tried was a bit dry, though it was laced with a nice lime-marinade flavor. There was ancho chili butter to spread on top.
Dessert arrived on a large plate for two. Our favorites were rich cherry ice cream with nuggets of chocolate, and a crisp, lace tower filled with chocolate whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
A creme brulee looked gray and tasted like burnt sugar, a lemony cheesecake was over-salted, and a moist chocolate torte was bitter. If we had ordered any of them individually, we would have been disappointed.
We left after coffee, but we could have finished with a port, a cigar, and a walk on the grounds after dinner -- just like antebellum gentry.
Antrim 1844 Country Inn
Where: 30 Trevanion Road, Taneytown
Hours: Open daily for dinner
Prices: Five-course prix-fixe, $55; major credit cards
Call: 410-876-0237 or 800-858-1844
Pub Date: 7/20/97