The Courthouse Inn & Restaurant

By AMANDA C. DAVIS

 

LISBON – Art is in every detail at The Courthouse Inn & Restaurant.

That’s a pretty broad statement, I realize.

Although I consider myself a pretty good writer, I know my words will fail me at capturing the magic of this place. But bear with me – hopefully you will come away with some idea of just how brilliant it is.

After staring at my computer screen for much longer than necessary I realized the complexity of this restaurant is best captured simply. The food is great, the vibe even better.

image5Located in Ohio’s oldest brick building at 116 W. Lincoln Way, this restaurant and inn offers vegetarian comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, along with brunch Sundays. Four guestrooms upstairs overlook a courtyard with a fountain, brick pizza oven and tables made from jade imported from China.

I hesitate to call this place ‘fancy.’ It’s eclectic, with details so rich they could’ve only come from the brain of an artist.

“Restoring the building was an 11-year adventure,” owner Renee Lewis said, explaining there were no initial plans for a restaurant or inn. But coming back to town to visit family, she said she realized there was nowhere nearby she wanted to stay.

Lewis, a Salem native, has had wild, yet somewhat quiet, success designing jewelry you’ve seen on A-listers and red carpets around the world. Think “Sex & the City.”

She lives in Manhattan, but travels often to Columbiana County to visit friends and relatives. She wants to be close to the action so the building’s toIMG_3159p floor is all hers.

I find myself making the 15-minute drive from Canfield to Lisbon more often than I have time for, just for the experience. Whether I dine alone or with friends, I’ve found the food to be better, the company more interesting, all because of the details.

I went back in early April with my friend Mary Hall and fellow reviewer Michelle French.

Michelle and I started with a simple house salad ($5) and tried three dressings – balsamic, cilantro-lime and roasted onion, which we liked best. The lettuce, red onion and other vegetables were crisp and flavorful. The dressings were light, homemade and refreshing.

IMG_3161For lunch, I had the bruschetta cavatappi ($12) with blistered grape tomatoes, spinach, onions and black olives tossed in a white wine garlic sauce. The meal combined all the elements I like in a pasta – al dente noodles, a light, fresh sauce and a sprinkling of
flavorful vegetables. I was not disappointed.

Mary chose the mac & cheese ($12), a hearty portion of cavatappi pasta in a creamy English cheddar sauce with pickled jalapenos and seasoned, toasted breadcrumbs.

“It’s like takingthe best of mac & cheese and jalapeno poppers and combining the two,” she said.

Michelle had a bowl of creamy tomato soup and the southwestern veggie burger, a house made black bean burger seared and served with image1 (1)corn salsa, avocado garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion on a toasted brioche bun. This was $14 and included a side of fries.
She was impressed with both the food and atmosphere, saying, “The food was delicious, and saying the décor was beautiful is an understatement – I would definitely go back, even if it was just to look around.”
Assistant chefs Tiffany Littleton and Diane Lehman came out of the kitchen to greet us. Lewis called them both exceptional and said she’s excited a new executive chef is joining staff in the next few weeks.

It was refreshing to see the menu had no “fake meats” made from soy or other protein IMG_3162alternatives. Lewis said she wanted recognizable menu items that meat eaters would understand.

The focus is on fresh, organic, farm-to-table ingredients. Pies and cakes are made from scratch.

Many ingredients are sourced locally and menu offerings are based on availability and the season. Appetizers include three cheese and arugula quesadillas ($12), risotto cheese bites ($11) and Welsh rarebits, which combine English cheddar beer cheese, toasted sourdough bread and grape tomato salsa ($12).

Breakfast options include Belgian waffles ($11), biscuits in roasted corn gravy ($12), apple pie oatmeal ($5), a loaded omelet ($13) and deep fried French toast served with Ohio Valley maple syrup, powdered sugar and seasonal IMG_3160berry jam ($12).

Dinner selections include lasagna ($18), roasted corn risotto ($21), eggplant parm ($20) and potpie made from braised Yukon potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, mushrooms and roasted corn in herbed gravy ($17).

Lewis credits her husband Michael Spirtos for being every bit involved in the project as she has. “He’s my magic,” she said.

A room with a king size bed is $250 per night and features mattresses hand sewn in Germany, heated towel racks and inspiring artwork. A room with a queen bed will set you back $225 and includes the same amenities. Both prices include breakfast.

Lewis praised contractor Don Dunlap and his crew from North Lima for their work on the project. “They make dreams come true,” she said. “They’re artists and they hire the best subcontractors.”

Aside from loving the place, I go there to repay the kindness Lewis showed Mary and I years ago when we were fresh out of college. After I wrote a story for a local newspaper on the success she found in New York, Lewis extended a very generous invite for us to stay in one of her unoccupied brownstones during a trip we planned.

There was artwork and detail in every square inch of her property.

Though I had been to the restaurant a few times, Mary was not surprised by what she saw when she first stepped inside.

“The overall theme is love and warmth,” Mary said. “She’s fully passionate with what she’s doing here and there’s not a doorknob in the place that hasn’t been given careful thought.”

Perhaps most impressive for Mary was that, in a place covered in glass and mirrors, she didn’t spot one fingerprint.

I haven’t eaten there at night, but I take assistant manager Cami Barnes’ word for it when she says the place turns magical after dark.

“The lighting is amazing,” she said. “This place glitters in the evening.”

For more information, visit thecourthouseinnandrestaurant.com.  

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Ely’s To Go… Plant-Based Fare Is Catching On For Valley Diners

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By AMANDA C. DAVIS
BOARDMAN – More people are looking beyond the pasture when it comes to dining out.
For proof, stop by Ely’s To Go any day during the lunchtime rush. The Western Reserve eatery serves up delicious vegan fare that’s about as far from mass-produced as it gets.
Ely and Jim Pugh

Ely and Jim Pugh

Owners Ely (pronounced Ay-lee) and Jim Pugh said business has tripled since it opened in 2008 inside The Bread Chef a few doors down from its current location. Once the concept of nutritious, take-home food caught on, Ely’s expanded into its own space in 2011, offering seating for 15.

While this space is usually dedicated to reviews for die-hard meat lovers, Rust Belt Dining has decided to branch out, covering more of the Mahoning Valley’s delicious dining landscape.
At Ely’s, the focus is on local and organic ingredients. Ely, who is from Vietnam, said whenever possible, she and her husband source ingredients close to home to reduce environmental impact.
There isn’t a set menu at Ely’s, but rather a revolving schedule of soups, salads, baked goods and “lunchboxes,” a daily special packaged to go. People who dine in can reheat meals in a microwave at the restaurant.
The brilliance of a place like Ely’s lies in its simplicity. The staff artfully prepares the food, cutting fresh fruits and vegetables and arranging them like artwork in recyclable containers. And when the daily specials run out, that’s it. The staff begins working on the next day’s meal.
photo (1)Staffers get to know their customers and believe in what they’re selling – a gourmet experience in a low-key setting that keeps people coming back.
The Urbach family of Cornersburg – Ralf and Angela, and kids, Reese, 9, and Rowan, 7, dined at Ely’s recently when the kids were on spring break.
The Urbachs said they like to support local business and dined on salads while the kids ate “chicken” nuggets.
Rowan said he enjoyed the meal and liked the idea behind the restaurant. “They kind of think out of the box and they don’t use meat from animals,” he said.
The Urbachs like to expose their kids to new experiences, and Ralf said a community table at Ely’s is perfect for that. He also likes that the menu is limited, forcing customers to try new things.
The Pughs previously owned Lock 24 in Elkton, where the menu was heavy on wild game. Ely went vegan, followed soon after by Jim, and the two decided it was time to switch gears.
The day I popped in, I ordered Russian cabbage soup – a rich, savory broth with cabbage, carrots, celery, fire-roasted tomatoes and raisins for a hint of sweetness. Jim said the recipe was adapted from one used at a hotel on Capital Hill where the couple met in the 1970s.
The soup, which I plan to recreate at home, was perfectly seasoned and served with a piece of crusty bread. Drink choices included house-brewed iced coffee, iced green tea, coconut water, raw vanilla date almond milk, an exceptional green smoothie made to order and a seasonal lemonade.
In warmer months, it’s lavender lemonade, which is kind of like a beautiful summer day in a glass, both bright and tart. Introduced more recently is a very popular winter lemonade called “Kapow.”
This $3 shot, alone, is reason enough to stop at Ely’s. The warming elixir combines lemon and lime juice and gets a kick from turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne. Its gentle sweetness comes from agave nectar.
“I do believe in the yin and yang of things and we do eat according to the seasons,” Ely said.
I rounded out my meal with a gluten-free muffin studded with juicy chunks of champagne mango and strawberry. Baked goods without gluten have a reputation of being dense, dry, and even crumbly.
I wouldn’t have known this muffin was gluten-free if Jim hadn’t pointed it out. It was moist and held together well. There was a generous portion of fruit from top to bottom and the sweet, crumbly top was just enough to give me a sweet fix.
The day I visited, Ely’s menu included a cilantro-pesto “meatball” sandwich with pear-ginger slaw on ciabatta and a veggie supreme sandwich with BBQ cauliflower, mesquite chickpeas and spinach on ciabatta, both $7.75. The “lunchbox,” also $7.75, included whole-wheat pasta, white beans, zucchini, sundried tomatoes and a cashew “alfredo” sauce. Quinoa salad, spring rolls and a house salad were also on the menu.
Ely’s is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday at 850 E. Western Reserve Rd. The daily menu is posted on Facebook and Instagram, and the restaurant’s website has links to both.
Even if you like a hunk of meat with your vegetables, step outside your comfort zone and stop at Ely’s. I promise you won’t regret it.