Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

Historic Lancaster Tavern
A Step Above the Ordinary  

As customers walk through the doors of the Historic Lancaster Tavern, they are usually met by owner and proprietor, Brenda Lee Jackson. Brenda, drawing from her many years of experience in fine dining and wine, is a rare beacon of style and hospitality. Her presence and poise hints at a style and level of service that, in some respects, has been long forgotten in modern restaurant culture. To her credit, the dining room is immaculate. The wine glasses are pristine. Brenda does whatever it takes to make sure her guests leave happy, full and ready to return. It’s her combination of service and attention to detail that has made The Historic Lancaster Tavern such a respected landmark.

The Historic Lancaster Tavern is a place that is as hard to describe, as it is unique and charming. Like one of their delicious recipes, the Tavern delicately and tastefully combines a restaurant, bed and breakfast, art gallery and historic museum. A tour alone is liable to leave a patron breathless; every corridor, hallway and staircase leads to yet another beautiful, elegant surprise. The Tavern’s motto is suitable, “A Step Above the Ordinary.” In the colonial days, the basement of a restaurant was referred to as “The Ordinary” because if was for everyone. The main level was reserved for more elite members of society. “A Step Above the Ordinary” has two meanings: one literal, one sweetly apropos.

The food is eclectic and draws from many culinary styles. There are separate lunch and dinner menus as well as a variety of selections for Sunday Brunch. The “Christopher Newport” is a breakfast special that features smoked Salmon, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and capers, served atop a bagel covered in rich cream cheese. To even the most discriminating food critic, that sounds like a great way to end a weekend. The lunch menu has a dazzling array of seafood specials and unique sandwiches. This Tavern’s take on a Monte Cristo sandwich is enough to warrant a trip.

Executive Chef Adam Ginsberg decided that this particular classic deserved more than plain white bread and the slightly clichéd dusting of powered sugar. Instead Ginsberg places the meats and cheeses between a sugary donut. That’s just one example of how this restaurant is constantly putting their signature spin on old classics. Furthermore, the lobster bisque is flawless, the oysters are fresh and the bread pudding is one of those rare dishes that manages to walk the line between dessert and out of body experience. Even without its other charms, the food alone makes the Lancaster Tavern a trip destination.

And although Brenda Jackson is the owner, all employees take pride and care in running the Tavern as if it was their own place. Here, the staff feels like a family. And they take care of their customers as if they were family also. The waitresses are kind and thoughtful. The floor manager, Sue Murray, is organized and diligent. Each Chef holds themselves to the highest standards. Even Mr. James Dennis, one of the Tavern’s investors, makes almost daily visits to make sure each customer is content.

The bed and breakfast sits atop the dining area and is accessed by a central hallway. As it sits now, after considerable renovations, there are two spacious master suites. The rooms are tastefully articulated with elaborate tapestries, paintings and cozy sitting areas. Each suite also has its own bathroom with Jacuzzi. Although equal in beauty and luxury, each room has its own feel. Some are adorned with colonial artifacts. Some rooms showcase personal memorabilia from the Jackson family. One room in particular houses the loveseat on which Brenda’s grandfather, Gustav Jackson, proposed to her grandmother, Susie Pearl Southard. It’s that kind of love and openness that sets these rooms apart from most bed and breakfasts. These rooms are just a backdrop to the ongoing love story that has been running through the walls of this landmark since 1790.

But the real history lesson comes from a trip to the basement. A short staircase leads to the bottom level, the “ordinary level.” Every step along this corridor has the distinct pleasure of reminding guests that they are walking through time. If these walls could speak, they would recite American history as told through the eyes of the first Americans. 300 hundred years ago, this was where the common man would stable his horse, have a drink and meet up with friends. The trees that support the Tavern are still visible from this level. The score marks on these hand-carved pillars are still clearly evident. Each etching helps create a kaleidoscopic pattern that makes the air of history as palatable as the smell of the daily specials being made in the kitchen. Brenda Lee has plans of turning these rooms into a wine cellar and a wine-tasting room. She also wants to model these new rooms in a fashion that pays homage to the original Ordinary. But right now, these rooms are shown on the Tavern’s much worthwhile historic tour. This tour also features a beautiful 250-year-old Sycamore tree that holds a place in the National Historic Registry.

In addition to its other accomplish­ments, the Lancaster Tavern is also taking a bold initiative with regard to the quality of food they serve. In a most impressive approach, all of the produce served at the Tavern is organic. Everything is locally planted, grown and harvested. Soon, the Tavern will branch out by selling their own organic brand of house made dressings, applesauces, fruits and fresh eggs. Each product will be made with the same organic goods the Tavern has cultivated and incorporated into its delicious menus. The Tavern also offers spectacular catering services that make use of these same wholesome ingredients.

All and all, the Lancaster Tavern holds true to its roots. It’s just a comfortable place for people to meet and share a meal and a drink. And that’s essentially what it has been since it was founded in the late 1700s. During that time, it has had many owners. It has gone through many changes. But in the visionary hands of Brenda Jackson, it is likely that this landmark will see another 300 years of history.  

By Cori Healy, Yours Truly Photography