A Civil War cannon greets visitors as they enter the lobby of the Wyndham Gettysburg Hotel. It is an original artillery piece with its muzzle marked ‘No. 85, PICo 1861, 815 lbs TTSL.’ The barrel of the 3″ ordnance field piece, on its carriage wheels, faces the door of this luxury hotel located just off Route 15 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
A momentous battle of the Civil War was fought nearby that marked the high water mark of the Confederacy. It was the real turning point of the war. General Robert E. Lee, commander of Confederate armies, reasoned that if he could strike at the north and win decisively that would pave the way for meaningful peace talks and the end of hostilities.
While the Battle of Gettysburg left 51,000 casualties on both sides, it was not decisive. Lee’s surviving forces made their retreat during torrential rains on July 4, 1863, after three days combat among the rolling hills, pastoral farmland and orchards of this small Pennsylvania town. The Civil War dragged on two more years bleeding the nation, until Lee’s ultimate surrender on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
The Wyndham created its 1863 Restaurant off the lobby. Specially loomed carpets set the décor with bright gold and blue seals of the United States embellished with eagles, crossed sabers and gold stars. Two grand fireplaces grace the lobby. Oil paintings of General Robert E. Lee and General George G. Meade hang above the tall mantles. A large oil painting entitled ‘The Peacemakers’ is hung in another room that gives off to elevators. The oil depicts President Abraham Lincoln conferring with his military commanders Generals Sherman and Grant and Admiral Porter.
Décor inside the 1863 Restaurant is equally appealing. Chandeliers are hung from the ceiling, the magnificent carpeting continues inside and light beige painted walls offer a relaxing atmosphere. Windows give off to gardens outside. There are comfortable alcoves for intimacy and gracious tables set with linen cloths and napkins with fine silverware and china. Fresh flowers grace every table. A basket of country made hard rolls and butter is brought hot to the table.
First to greet us, after being seated by a hostess, was Restaurant Manager John Mejias. He, along with a cordial staff of servers, made the introduction pleasant and welcoming. We were offered a wine menu, complete and unpretentious, with selections for every taste.
For those that like sparkling wines, the list includes Chandon brut from California, $18.50 for a 187 ml bottle, $59 the bottle. Piper-Heidsiek Champagne from France in a 187 ml bottle is $18.50 and a bottle of Moet and Chandon Imperial from France is $115. White wines on the list include Reisling like Hogue from Washington State, $35 the bottle. Pinot Grigio Stellina di Notte from Italy is $7 a glass and $33 a bottle. New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Brancott Estate is $7 a glass and $35 a bottle. Red lovers will find Cabernet Sauvignon Clos du Bois from California’s north coast at $49 the bottle. California’s Canyon Road Cabernet is $5.50 a glass and $28 the bottle.
We chose Champagne. It was expertly chilled in an ice bucket and poured skillfully by John Mejias. Born in Hawaii, his family was in various businesses. They traveled the globe settling for a time in the Philippines. John came to New York and worked for a major cruise line for five years. He settled on a job with a famous New York restaurant on the Hudson River until he came to the Wyndham Gettysburg.
The 1863 Restaurant changes their menus as Chef Claude Rodier and Chef Andrew Ernst design new offerings for diners using fresh products from local producers. “You have to try Chef Claude’s crawfish bisque. It is new and amazing,” the Wyndham’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Hans Schreiber, told us in the hotel.
The crawfish bisque was first on our list of starters at $8. “We take the crawfish bodies, celery and other ingredients, grind everything up, even the shells, that gives it taste. Making it is easy. Straining it is hard. We strain it and strain it. The bisque is thickened with rice. It is served with a risotto ball, thin sliced chorizo sausage and a line of tomato powder. These are the crawfish tails,” Chef Andrew Ernst explained.
The crawfish bisque was every bit as delicious as Hans Schreiber described it. The menu has other starters that include Gorgonzola salad with Bibb lettuce, grapes, shaved red onions, kettle cooked walnuts and balsamic dressing,$10.
Small plates on the menu include poached shrimp with endive $11, flash fried calamari $10, steamed mussels in white wine with garlic and tomato, herbs and butter $8 as well as crab cake $12.
We chose a special duck tartine prepared by Kitchen Manager Sam Strock. Thinly sliced duck prociutto on carrot butter melted in the mouth with a blending of tastes that opened with each sip of Piper-Heidsieck. Each bite changed the taste on the palate so that the duck and the carrot butter paste blended pleasantly.
The steamed mussels came out like a plate of flower petals simmering in white wine and garlic butter. We ordered mozzarella salad with prociutto and Madori vinaigrette. The sweet chilled melon changed the palate’s taste for what was to come.
“This is my signature dish,” Sam Strock said. He served diver scallops on a tastefully prepared plate of tomato fondue with fennel, arugula and bits of bacon. The scallops were fresh caught and browned to perfection, firm yet tender with a wonderful salt water taste that mingled with the tomato fondue. The scallops are $28.
Butter basted rib eye with asparagus and mashed potatoes is $26, farm raised trout with leeks, spinach, mussels and chorizo is $22 as is pan seared duck breast. Chicken with wild mushroom gemelli served with tarragon, shallots and a cream reduction is $15. Salmon Caesar salad is also available at $17.
The 1863 Restaurant offers elegant fine dining. Families can call ahead to have family style dinners prepared. The family style dinner includes salads, meats like slow roasted rack of pork, prime rib and citrus and herb roasted chicken. The table includes vegetables, potatoes and hard rolls with country butter as well as dessert. Family style dinners run from $29 to $35 per person.
“The Wyndham sent us to Spain for two weeks,” Chef Andrew Ernst said. “When I came back I wanted to put blood sausage on the menu, but no, they didn’t let me. We learned cooking skills in Salamanca, Valladolid and Segovia.” Chef Andrew delights in the use of fresh ingredients that are locally grown and produced.
The 1863 Restaurant’s kitchen is ultra-modern and spotlessly clean. Stainless steel gleams and the service lines are orderly. The kitchen is directed by Chef Claude Rodier and Chef Andrew Ernst. Sam Strock works as kitchen manager with cooks Jake Cottman, Ryan Bream and Robert Newlin.
“We have a wedding tomorrow. There will be 180 guests for dinner,” Restaurant Manager John Mejias said. “We do a lot of weddings and catering for affairs in the ballrooms,” he added.
Leave room for a special treat, the chocolate lava cake. It is a creation of wonderful warm chocolate that seeps out once the cake is cut. Coffee from the restaurant’s espresso machine caps a wonderful meal in a historic setting where a fierce battle changed the course of the Civil War and American destiny forever.
For more information visit www.wyndhamgettysburg.com or call for reservations at their 1863 Restaurant 717-339-0020.