Chef Charles Rollins at the Hart Mansion Restaurant caught my attention with his pumpkin soup with a hint of nutmeg and a kick of cayenne, then won me over completely with his Purple Crab Soup, a creamy lavender-hued bisque. So it came as no surprise when the sauces drizzled over the entrees were richly complex and thoroughly satisfying.
The Hart Mansion Restaurant is in a 140-year-old Italianate-style home perched on a hill overlooking Minerva. Pat Miller bought the local landmark at an auction in 2003 to save it from demolition. She planned to donate it to the local historical society, but that group couldn’t afford the upkeep. So Miller and her niece Vicki Phillips restored and renovated the historic building to create a fine-dining restaurant.
“The residents were very glad to see that someone took it over, cared for it, restored it,” said Phillips, restaurant manager since it opened one year ago.
“If you opened a restaurant in just any place in Minerva, it might not have flown, but people want to come and see the house. They love old historic homes.”
Narrow arched windows reaching nearly floor to ceiling are an architectural focal point of the main floor dining rooms. Through them, diners can enjoy a soothing view of trees and gardens and a glimpse of the rooftops of Minerva’s main street of shops.
The undraped windows, while dramatic, combine with bare wood floors and largely unadorned walls for an effect that is a bit spartan. Then the food arrives, and artwork is of no consequence.
One of chef Rollins’ signature dishes is the orange roughy topped with a crab cake. The thick piece of pristine, fresh fish was cooked to juicy perfection and topped with a tender crab cake. But the sauce, ah, the sauce. Buttery, silken, lemony. A perfect complement to the seafood.
At $20, this dish is the most expensive on the menu, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming the most popular menu item. I would order it again on my next visit if I hadn’t fallen madly in lust with the chicken Marsala. The sauce, ah, the sauce.
Earthy, tangy, balanced. Everything Marsala is supposed to be, but rarely is.
The menu features an array of steaks, seafood and pasta dishes. Dinner comes with a soup or salad (no contest, but if you aren’t sure, they will offer you a small taste of the soup) and a basket of house-made artisan breads.
Save room for dessert, or you’ll be kicking yourself. Pastry chef Mark Zimmerman is a wizard, mixing and matching flavors to create such temptations as a peach melba cheesecake and a cranberry and white-chocolate bread pudding.
The most popular treat is the Russian Cream, an oversize parfait with a lavish pudding-like texture, the tang of yogurt, and fresh berries tucked in the center. My favorite was the Kahlua Torte, which must have taken Zimmerman hours and hours to make. Twelve impossibly thin layers of moist cake alternate with Kahlua-enhanced chocolate ganache.
Service was impeccable the evening we visited. For a slightly less-formal dining experience, consider the upstairs bar.
411 N. Main St., Minerva
Open: Every day except Tuesday. Lunch served on Wednesdays and Fridays. For current hours, directions and menu, visit www.hartmansionrestaurant.com.
OTHER HISTORICAL PLACES TO DINE OUT
In addition to Hart Mansion, other restaurants have moved into historic buildings, choosing to renovate rather than raze. Here are a few more that serve a dollop of local lore with their food:
37 First St. SW, Massillon
During the canal era of the early 1800s in Massillon, a canal ran through town where First Street is today. The building that now houses Kozmo’s Grille was a canal warehouse. Later the building was home to Happoldt Electric and other businesses. A glimpse of the building’s history is revealed by the exposed brick walls inside the restaurant. Kozmo’s is known for its specialty pizzas cooked in a wood-fired hearth oven. Try its signature steak pizza, topped with thinly sliced rib-eye, Roma tomatoes, red onion, mushrooms, horseradish sauce and a fivecheese blend.
427 Tuscarawas St. E, Canton
Peter Shear’s restaurant is named for the original owner of the 137-year-old building at that address. The stone-walled basement of the building was completely renovated in 2001 for the fine-dining establishment. Current chef/owner Nathan Mushrush says he’s offering “New Age food in a vintage setting.” He recommends the tuna lollipops for an appetizer, and the lavender-and-fennel-crusted salmon as an entree. Above the restaurant, on the first floor, is the elegant First Ladies Tea Room, which capitalizes on the striking architecture of the building. (330) 458-4832.