First published in Recreation News
It was a dark, cold night in Valley Forge in 1775. The Marquis de Lafayette and General Von Steuben, weary from spending the day drilling the Minutemen, stumbled into the room where General George Washington sat near the fire, musing over whether he should have his portrait painted before he got those blasted wooden teeth fixed.
“Yo, George,” Von Steuben said in his heavy German accent. “Vat ist you doing for dinner tonight?”
“I haven’t thought much about it,” Washington answered. It’s got to be something soft, he thought. The last time he bit into an ear of corn, his incisor broke, and he caught a splinter in his lip.
“I could go for some bratwurst and sauerkraut myself. Ach, but I miss the beirgartens of home,” Von Steuben sighed wistfully.
“Bratwurst! Mon Dieu! Eeet is not as though there are not manifique inns where we can dine right here!” chimed in LaFayette.
“You think so?” Washington asked. All he’d found while looking for a place to camp his army for the winter were a couple of rough-and-tumble roadside taverns with moldy cheese, stale beer, and surly waiters.
“But of course. Two hundred years from now, Americans touring the sites in the Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge that will then be historic will be able to enhance their experience by eating at the same places we did.”
“And where are these wonderful places where the future Americans can dine on excellent regional foods, enjoy classic wines, and indulge in decadent desserts?” Von Steuben asked as he settled his hefty frame into a creaking chair.
“They are all around us” LaFayette exclaimed. “Right here in Chadds Ford, practicalment within sight of Brandywine Battlefield and the Brandywine Museum – filled with the artwork of the Wyeths, who will be famous then – there is the Chadds Ford Inn. Zee British trashed it so badly after the battle that the owner was exempt from paying taxes, but no one will notice that two centuries from now.”
“What’s on the menu?” Washington asks.
“Owner Vaughn Letts offers an American menu with some regional dishes. He tinkers with his entrees through the year, making seasonal changes, and he adds a personal touch to traditional entrees. At lunch, for example, his Chadds Ford Club sandwich uses grilled turkey, smoked bacon and a soft cheese – zee alloutte – on honey whole wheat bread.”
“Sandwich? Pah!” snorted Von Steuben. “It is vintertime, Marquis. Ve need some meat-und-potatoes.”
“But of course. A rack of lamb, perhaps, with a minted Maderia sauce, or pan seared pork loin served on a bed of apples, sage, bacon and chive potato dumplings?”
“Is it very fancy?” Washington asked. As a Southerner, such social niceties were important to him.
“Vaughn says his clientel are very eclecteec. He welcomes tourists, construction workers, and millionaires.”
“I liked The Blue Bell Inn,” Washington said. “We stayed there from October until mid-December, when we moved to Valley Forge, remember?”
“An excellent choice,” LaFayette said. “The Lamprecht family take over in 1945 and will be running the place three generations later. Monsieur John Lamprecht, the executive-chef, has followed the tradition started by his father, and his son is also now involved.”
“The food?” Washington asked.
“Ah.” LaFayette brought his fingertips to his lips and kissed them in a Gallic display of appreciation. “It is a delightful merger, combining Asian influences, seasonal ingredients, and healthy eating habits.
“Fish and seafood are very popular here. Chef Lamprecht created, for example, swordfish with a chimichuri sauce and wasabi mashed potatoes, or snapper with a port and sherry reduction sauce served with shitaki mushrooms.” He bowed slightly towards Von Steuben, who had lit his pipe and edged his numb feet closer to the fire. “He also
excels in roast prime rib of beef, escalope of veal sauté, and roasted free range chicken. And his wine cellar has over 325 selections.”
“That’s even more than Jefferson has at Montecello,” Washington said.
“C’est vrai. And zee deseerts… The pastry chef would be welcome in Versailles.”
“We can always go back to the White Horse,” Von Steuben muttered.
Both of the other officers winced. Late in 1777, the Continental army confronted the British near the tavern. The British were outnumbered, and if Washington could whomp the Brits, the English would probably pack up and leave. Unfortunately, a terrific thunderstorm soaked the gunpowder of both armies, dousing Washington’s hopes.
“The British were pretty upset about that,” Washington sighed. They’d wrecked the White Horse Tavern as badly as they had the Chadds Ford Inn.
“It will prosper after the Revolution,” LaFayette claimed. “Eet weel become a waypoint for stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons traveling from Philadelphia to Lancaster and points further west. The family Sheraton will eventually build an inn with dozens of sleeping rooms overlooking the hills.”
“Won’t that destroy the original inn?” asked Washington.
“Non. The modern building will be cleverly built behind the inn, allowing it to appear as it does now, both inside and out. Zee kitchen, however, will promise appetizers
like warm caramalized Vidalia onion tarts with goat cheese, and fresh rigatoni tossed with Basil Pesto.”
Von Steuben’s round belly rumbled with approval. “Und for the main course?”
“Steak au Poivre, chicken breast stuffed with lobster tail, or Cajun grilled swordfish with smoked tomato coulis.”
“What’s a Cajun?” Washington asked. “Some sort of mercenary, like the Hessians?”
LaFayette looked offended. “Not at all, Mon General. They live in Louisiana and they speak French!”
“My apologies,” the Commander in Chief murmured.
“Then there is the magnificent Dilworthtown Inn.”
“Owned by true patriots,” Washington said. When the British moved into the area before the Battle of Brandywine, they’d held Colonial sympathizers in the inn’s cellar to prevent them from warning the rebels. During the battle, retreating Americans made a last stand against the British near the inn. In retaliation, the British plundered it.
“Zee cellar now houses perhaps the most extensive wine inventory in the Valley. Zee wine list is 16 pages long.”
“What about the menu?” Von Steuben asked.
“Nearly as extensive. Zee Dilworthtown paté of creamy duck liver with black truffles and port wine syrup is an excellent appetizer, then a soup made of a creamy blend
of shiitake and crimini mushrooms with a touch of dry sherry. A Stilton and spinach salad to follow.”
“T’would get me started,” Von Steuben admitted.
“And the choice of main courses. Consider breast of Hudson Valley duck, skillet seared jumbo sea scallops, or a grilled New Zealand Venison Loin.” He smiled in a coy Gallic fashion. “And eef you have something more intimate planned, perhaps Chateaubriand for two at a quiet table in the candlelight.”
“Wonderful,” Washington said. “Martha couldn’t cook up anything like that.”
“She could learn, however,” LaFayette said. The Dilworthtown Inn recently opened The Inn Keeper’s Kitchen. It is a state-of-the-art culinary demonstration kitchen with cabinetry from the Winterthur Collection. Zee visiting chefs teach professional techniques that can be mastered by any interested cook. There are classes nearly every night.”
“One place we cannot visit is the General Warren Inne,” Washington said.
“So true,” Von Steuben nodded. It was in Malvern, and was the hang-out for local Tories and British patrols from Philadelphia. They’d used the inn as a base of operations for the ambush of General Anthony Wayne in nearby Paoli. Word was, they’d arrested the local blacksmith, who was known to have American sympathies, and beat him up until he told where Wayne was camped.
“They won’t take American Express in 1775, but think of the future. It will be an elegant country inn and restaurant. The future tourists might choose to opt for one of eight suites with sitting rooms, fireplaces, four-poster and canopy beds, even a Jacuzzi™ in one suite.”
“Sure beats camp cots and tents,” Washington said. “Martha isn’t much on roughing it.”
“And she would love the food. To sit by the comfortable fire on a cold evening and enjoy the snapper soup served with sherry, sautéed salmon filet in a wild mushroom crust, or a Beef Wellington. And for you, my dear General Von Steuben, Weinerschnitzel. For dessert, Bananas Foster Flambé for two, prepared at tableside.”
“Ach, it is raining, and cold, and dark. It is too much for me tonight. I think we
should just send out for a pizza. What do you think, George?”
Washington checked his purse. Yes, he had enough to cover a tip for the delivery boy.
“No anchovies, ok?”