Food and phantoms at a historic Lebanon landmark
By Tom Baker
In December of 1803, Jonas Seaman opened a “house of public entertainment” in what is now downtown Lebanon. Fast forward 200-plus years, a dozen presidential visits and perhaps a handful of ghosts and haunted rooms, and you have the contemporary incarnation of the Golden Lamb. It only seemed fitting that we visit this historic landmark as Halloween approached to see if, in fact, the food or the building are truly supernatural.
I’ve driven by the Golden Lamb many times and always looked at it more as a museum than a restaurant. I’d also heard that it was haunted. There is the story of the little girl named Sarah, the niece of a manager who is rumored to show up, stomp around, and knock things off walls — her room is now closed to use and on display. Her rocking chair and bedside table are original (the antique doll on the bed was definitely disturbing). We also heard about Charles Sherman, the Ohio Supreme Court Justice who died there in 1829 — at times people say they see an apparition of a man in the building or smell his cigar smoke. What we do know is that the Lamb is, in fact, a functioning inn with a fairly well-known restaurant that materialized in its current form in 1926. They have, however, been serving food since 1803 and it is claimed that the location is the oldest hotel as well as the oldest continually operating business in the state. Sometime prior to the 1820s, the logo of the inn was chosen because at that time, many could not read; instead, they could look for recognizable symbols, and the Golden Lamb was born.
These days, since more people can read and write, and write about things — especially restaurants — they do. The Golden Lamb has been a favorite topic of online reviewers, and I had some doubts going in based on some of what I’d seen. Regardless, we made the drive down to Lebanon to see what it was all about, partially invigorated by a press release on their website indicating the Phoenix Group, a Cincinnati company operating the downtown Phoenix as well as The National Exemplar at the Mariemont Inn, had come on in 2010 to improve quality and service. We also watched a few questionable YouTube videos of ghost hunters at the inn, and it further piqued our interest.
Upon entering the Golden Lamb, you travel back 100 or so years, the interior full of period decor. You have the choice of eating in the main dining room, divided into three parts, or, if you walk straight back, you end up in the Black Horse Tavern, a more casual dining area that often features live music and a bar. Each space has its own menu, but the Tavern menu is essentially a more casual version of the main menu. This is an old school meets new situation — old school ambiance and menu offerings such as fried chicken, prime rib, shaker sugar pie (a 183-year-old recipe) and beef tips with gravy, coupled with some more contemporary touches such as the almond tuile on their crème brulee or their local/organic sourcing of chicken, turkey and salmon. They offer a full bar with a small, somewhat pricey and less than inspiring wine list, considering the menu.
For dinner we decided to go with something old and something new — the Gerber Farms Fried Chicken (out of Ohio Amish Country), one of their signature dishes, and the Salmon Po-Boy, something more unique. The chicken included a house salad of iceberg, shredded cheddar, candied pecans, bacon and “Chef’s Dressing.” The salad was tasty, but the lettuce disappointing — mesclun, romaine or other greens would have been preferred. On the other hand, their homemade yeast rolls with apple butter and whipped butter were fantastic, and it was a struggle not to ask for more so as not to lose vital stomach real estate. The chicken itself was a bit dry but very tasty, and they could benefit by reducing the salt in the recipe. The Salmon Po-Boy, wearing garlic aioli, brie, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a bit of pickle, was served on a soft roll with French fries and was the winner of the evening — a great twist on the New Orleans classic. Finally, and through strict discipline after the rolls, we opted for two of their desserts — the highly recommended carrot cake, and the Sister Lizzie’s Shaker Sugar Pie, an Amish/Shaker recipe of old. The carrot cake was very good, but I wouldn’t call it memorable. The Sugar Pie, a throwback to early Shaker communities in Ohio and Indiana was good — basic, but in its simplicity (only a handful of ingredients, similar to the base of pecan pie) almost better than the much-touted carrot cake.
After a satisfying dinner it seemed that the scariest thing about the place was the fact that it was so empty. Service was friendly and efficient, and our server pointed out that if there were any ghosts in the building they certainly hadn’t been down for dinner lately. We were invited to head upstairs to check out the historical rooms and investigate any paranormal activity — it was certainly a bit on the creepy side, especially on the fourth floor where you’ll find Sarah’s room and the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, both said to be haunted.
Although there were no orbs in our photos or apparitions joining us at dinner, it was a pleasant and educational experience, and those rolls alone will have us coming back for more.
The Golden Lamb is located at 27 S. Broadway in downtown Lebanon and is open seven days a week. Call (513) 932-5065 for more information
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.