Inn's last supper is perfect -- as always

This Just In ...

October 02, 1998|By Dan Rodricks

Unlike the gourmet "last supper" it described, Friday's TJI column was not perfect. I referred to the owner of the award-winning Inn at Buckeystown, in Frederick County, as Dave Pelz. As all of his many guests know, his name is Dan Pelz. (I know a writer named Dave Belz, and apparently allowed the two names to become scrambled.) I regret the error. Just call me Bob.

Before we get started, allow me a word about yesterday's lunch with Joey Amalfitano. We went to a small-chain Italian restaurant, and Joey asked for a big salad. He asked the waitress for a side order of spaghetti in tomato sauce. He held his hands in such a way -- thumbs and index fingers touching at the tips -- to show the waitress how small this order had to be to make him happy. He was willing to pay for it, of course.

Well, you'd have thought Joey was asking her to sing the aria from the mad scene in "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Side orders of pasta were not listed on the menu, see. She'd have to ask the manager.

The waitress came back in a few minutes to announce that, no, Joey could not get a side of spags, sorry.


Which explains, in part, why I'm taken with Dave Pelz and what he represents. See next item.

Inn at Buckeystown

The light grows softer, more melancholy, this time of year, and Wednesday afternoon a slender column of it fell through one of the large windows of the Inn at Buckeystown in Frederick County. It made all the wine glasses sparkle.

A man sat across from a woman at a broad wooden table, and together they held the glasses by their stems and wiped them, enough for 26 guests and three courses, a scene out of "Babette's Feast." They placed the glasses on the handsome settings on the long tables in two dining rooms on either side of the center hall. Everything had to be perfect for the last supper.

Everything was.

The innkeepers served a grand meal to old friends and loyal guests, then said good night and goodbye, and closed the doors.

Dave Pelz, who with his original partner, the late Marty Martinez, turned this 101-year-old, nine-bedroom, 11-bathroom Victorian mansion on Route 85, south of Frederick, into an award-winning country inn, has decided to retire, along with his surviving partner, Chase Barnett.

The Inn at Buckeystown, rated among the best in the nation several times by various panels of food and travel writers, will be auctioned off a week from today. Almost all of its contents -- the elegant clutter of furnishings, collections and works of art that gave the inn its rich, Victorian atmosphere -- will be auctioned off as well. (Pelz, 64, chose the auction route after trying to sell the inn privately. The market for such properties has been considered flat for some time.)

On Wednesday, Barnett and Pelz, some friends and employees set about preparing for the last supper during an afternoon of mixed feelings -- the usual, excited anticipation of guests and a fancy meal, and the sadness associated with pending farewells. Pelz had put 18 years, his expertise in the kitchen and his love for antiques and collectibles into the place. Now, he's moving into a 19th-century church and parsonage down the street.

"But I feel fulfilled," he said. "When I went into the inn business I didn't believe I would come out of it feeling fulfilled. I have no regrets. I enjoyed every moment of it."

Pelz, who had retired from a long career in nonprofit fund raising, developed his inn in what he called "the true tradition -- bed and board for the traveler." People paid him well for special treatment, and that's what they got. He earned a reputation for his culinary talents throughout the region. He was the host to five weddings a month for years. Guests came back year after year -- for anniversaries, St. Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving dinners. Three sets of twins were conceived in a front second-floor bedroom of the house.

In the age of impersonal service, fast-food franchises and chains that don't serve sides of spaghetti even when the customer's willing to pay, Pelz stands out, perhaps anachronistically. His greatest pride is in the number of friends he's made as an innkeeper. He speaks of his guests as extended family. As he closes the door, he doesn't measure his success by how much profit he reaps but "by how much love I got out of it."

"Where else could this happen?" he says. "People come and stay with me, I feed them, I make them comfortable. Then they pay me, they compliment me, they write me love letters and, when they come back, they bring me gifts."

The last supper was a salad of greens tossed with the inn's honey-garlic vinaigrette and topped with poached pears stuffed with berries, walnuts and Saga chees; a chunky lobster bisque; chateaubriand and garlic mashed potatoes; sliced tomatoes and basil; French breads; pumpkin pie for dessert, along with goat Gouda and grapes. Pelz and Barnett served a Chablis and a Burgundy. There were many toasts, and at the end of the night, the 26 guests gathered on the carved chestnut staircase and their old friends serenaded Pelz and Barnett with a funny song called, "Battle Hymn of the Innkeepers."

The "good nights" were spoken after midnight.

"What a wonderful way to go out," Pelz said yesterday morning. "Everything went perfectly."

One last time.

Inn walk-through

Pelz and Barnett will charge $15 for walk-through previews of the inn from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. They'll give the proceeds to the Hospice of Frederick County.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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