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Where: Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn
Address: 10150 Plymouth St., Hanoverton
Hours: Monday-Sunday, lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, dinner 5-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, dinner 5-9 p.m.; and Sunday, dinner 2-6 p.m.
By: Rebecca Nieminen
As a lover of local history and gourmet dining, I was delighted to discover the Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn in Hanoverton.
Nestled among the gently rolling hills of rural Columbiana County, this 1830s inn and restaurant is a rare gem.
The first thing that struck me upon arrival was the inn’s prestigious presence. Elegantly restored by owner David Johnson, the three-story brick structure is a fine example of Federal architecture dating back to the 1830s when Hanoverton was a bustling stop on the Sandy and Beaver Canal.
“There’s a tremendous amount of history here,” said Joel Feicht, the inn’s manager. “[The Spread Eagle] was a part of the Underground Railroad, former U.S. presidents have visited here, and it even has a few resident ghosts.”
More about the inn’s history (and the ghosts) later. First let’s talk about the food!
During my visit to the Spread Eagle, Chef Dave Gabbert served me a sumptuous five-course meal that I’m still thinking about a week later.
Gabbert completed an externship at the Spread Eagle back in 1994 and recently returned as head chef. He is currently revamping the inn’s menu but said many of its celebrated favorites will remain.
I started my meal with one of those signature favorites—the New England clam chowder ($6 per cup). The steamy chowder made a tasty first impression with its creamy broth, savory slivers of clam and generous chunks of potatoes and celery, as well as bits of bacon.
The inn is also famous for its Liberty Onion soup ($6 per bowl), which features sherried onions in a beef broth served with croutons and gruyere cheese.
Either one is perfect for a wintry afternoon, and seated in one of the inn’s stately rooms near a fireplace, watching fluffy snowflakes swirl through the air through a first-floor window, I knew this was going to be a very special dining experience.
The next item Gabbert brought to my table was the well-known Sierra Salad ($9 for a small, $11 for a large). This delectable salad, which is named after Gabbert’s daughter, combines fresh field greens, roasted pecans, Chinese noodles and feta cheese and is tossed with a lime vinaigrette. The sweet pecans, crunchy Chinese noodles, creamy feta, delicate greens and tangy dressing create a perfect blend of tastes and textures.
Because I am a seafood lover, I was thrilled by the third item in my five-course dinner: a Maryland Crab cake appetizer ($15). This starter is not yet featured on the inn’s menu, but Gabbert said it soon will be. Served in a white wine beurre blanc sauce, the tender cake is rife with lumps of crab meat. Gabbert said the beurre blanc sauce is made from European-style butter that has an extremely high fat content and is very rich and creamy.
Just when I was sure nothing could top the dishes I had already sampled, Gabbert presented me with a grilled pork loin dinner ($30). The pork loin was served with a gromulata infused parsnip puree, honey poached carrots and pickled pears. Everything about this entree was perfection — from the tender, savory pork loin, to the tangy pickled pears, to the sweet carrots and whipped parsnips.
Some of the inn’s other signature entrees include the Chicken Wellington ($14), the chicken pot pie and the prime rib on sour dough sandwich ($14).
I couldn’t depart without sampling one of the restaurant’s desserts, and thus Gabbert served me a mixed berry tart ($7). This pastry masterpiece was as lovely to behold as it was to taste. It featured fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries atop a sweet, creamy filling and delicate flaky crust.
After finishing my fabulous five-course meal, I decided to explore the inn and photograph its beautiful guest and dining rooms.
The inn offers five guest rooms on the second and third floors. With canopied beds, cozy fireplaces, period furnishings and private baths, the guest rooms emit charm and luxury.
One of the rooms is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Olevia Nicholas, a daughter of one of the inn’s early owners. Olevia traveled to New York City to pursue an acting career but returned to Hanoverton after her fiance left her. Broken-hearted, she eventually succumbed to depression and committed suicide. She is said to sometimes pull the covers from guests as they sleep.
A more jovial spirit rumored to haunt the inn is that of a little girl who perished in a fire. Feicht said a member of the inn’s management recently spotted the young specter tossing a doll into the air.
The ghost of a runaway slave also supposedly haunts the inn. Hanoverton was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and nearly all the homes on present-day Plymouth Street were stations on the railroad.
The brick tunnels under the inn that once concealed runaway slaves have now been renovated and converted into basement dining areas.
First- and second-floor dining rooms include the rustic Barn Room, the intimate, elegant Taft Room and the McKinley Dining Room, which features twin fireplaces and a view of the inn’s courtyard and smokehouse. Meats served at the inn are smoked there using hickory, sassafras and apple woods.
In addition to the inn’s guest rooms, patrons can also reserve the Hanover House, a private guest house with a master bedroom and guest bedroom.