Why haven’t YOU experienced one of Maryland’s finest places, Antrim 1844?

Surely the gem of Carroll County, Maryland — and really, one of the whole state’s — is the gorgeous, historic inn and restaurant, Antrim 1844. But strangely enough, so many people in nearby Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties don’t even know it exists! We’re talking about sophisticated globe trotters. Now, of course, there are the cognoscenti in Baltimore, up in Pennsylvania (they’re 15 minutes south of Gettysburg) and even a beloved statesman from DC makes special trips. If I could have the Antrim lifestyle — perhaps an Antrim condo? — I would pick up and do just that. It’s a magical place that’s so much more than a place to eat. I was happy to be hosted to experience it and meet their new chef, Ilhan Erkek!

Erkek is Turkish and began his culinary career at five-star rated Ritz Carlton, Istanbul. From there, he served as Executive Chef at other luxury properties, garnering Michelin and Forbes 5 star awards. So, to a modern American classics menu, utilizing the freshest produce and top quality meats and seafood, he adds Mediterranean and Turkish touches. He breathes new, interesting touches into dishes. What’s that intriguing fruit on the plate? A wine-soaked fig! It’s things like that making you eager to experience more, as his command of Antrim’s cuisine continues.

Did you know, City Mouse, that Antrim has the 2nd largest wine collection on the East Coast? They’ve got 20,000 bottles, between the cellar and various other parts of the property. The cellar can be rented out for a private party of up to 14, with a minimum $750 wine purchase for the evening. The cellar — and everywhere else, for that matter — has been lovingly and artistically been decorated and painted by Dort Mollett, who co-owns the property with her husband, Richard. She has even hand-sponged and traced lines in the paint to create texture and a vintage feel. The cellar has a Middle Ages look. Because their Sommelier, Sarah, is such an expert and is training for even greater knowledge, I put myself completely into her hands.

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The Federalist style parlor is the location of the loveliest dinner experience: a half-hour before your dinner reservation, you gather in the parlor with the other diners booked at that time, for cocktail time! You might meet someone interesting, you never know. Piano music plays while there are a few rounds of passed hors d’oeuvres, like heirloom tomato Caprese skewers, rich spanokopita triangles, sweet chili sauced spring rolls, mini crab cake bites with red pepper coulis.

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Then, you are personally escorted down to what was the smokehouse of the mansion. The lighting is low, with handsome portraits of Civil War generals (both sides) on the walls. During colder weather, the massive original hearths are lit. The piano player comes down to play light tunes.

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Malbec is a rich, inky dark wine. The French variety was very nearly obliterated in the 1950’s, while in the mid-1800’s, a French vintner had planted wine stock in Argentina. While the French variety is extremely rare, it is possible to taste it. Most people are familiar with the Argentine wines that saved the variety. I got to try both! The French wine is more austere, has an elegant finish. The Argentine wine has a big, bold presence, a big punch of flavor.

The bread service is fresh ciabatta-type rolls with Vermont Creamery butter. I’ve been to the Vermont Creamery — they have fine products.

The amuse bouche was a lacy shelled fried oyster with corn salad and crunchy bread crumbs. This might sound funny, but you could really take a bowl of those crumbs and have yourself a great tv snack!

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A fresh, tender little burrata disk was presented with a baby fig soaked in wine, with a fig drizzle, alongside Parma ham and micro arugula: a more exotic take on a favorite appetizer.

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A strip of roast duck breast was presented on parsnip puree and perfectly crisp roasted Brussels sprouts.

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A simple salad was a sophisticated match of flavors: the crispest Bibb lettuce with a few slices of feta cheese and pickled onions.

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Just like the fine dining experiences of old, they served a palate cleanser of lemon basil sorbet: a good mix of sweet and savory. Of course, they had just the perfect demitasse spoon for it. All of the Antrim’s dinnerware doesn’t feel like restaurant supplies . . . it has more of the charm of an elegant host and hostess pulling out all the stops at their home.

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For an entree’, I had the most tender filet I’ve ever tasted, accompanied by their most-requested potato Dauphinoise, layered with Gruyere cheese. The meat was glazed with a wine sauce, with a rich mustard cream to dip.

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Dessert was in three stages! I’ve had many cheese platters and you probably have, too. But this one was simply perfect: a wedge of Brie, a caramel with volcanic salt, quince paste, a piece of honeycomb and some fresh edible flowers.

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Next came a chocolate pastry wedge and a rich chocolate peanut butter macaron.

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With coffee, a martini glass was filled with house-made caramel truffles: dark cocoa powder and chocolate shell with oozy caramel inside!

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After dinner, you should check out the congenial Pickwick Pub, serving the finest Scotches, whiskeys and after-dinner drinks. The little jewel box of a room has a hearth, cozy leather sofa and red Stewart tartan walls.

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