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.
Located 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 top 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.
For 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 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 alternatives. 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 berry 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.