Warsaw's historic Barbee Hotel offers haunts and an extensive menu

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By: Loren Shaum

Loren Shaum/Lake Country Escapades

The Barbee Hotel was first built in 1897, and through seven owners and one rebuild, it has survived for the ages.

Nestled between Big and Little Barbee Lakes in Warsaw (2620 N. Barbee Road, 574-834-1111), the hotel has attracted many characters over the years.

The hotel became a bustling resort with many famous and infamous people as frequent visitors. It was not uncommon to see the parking lot filled with limousines complete with uniformed drivers.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard reportedly visited often to get away from their hectic Hollywood pace. An uncle of Lombard lived nearby and advised them this would be a perfect hide-out to wind down.

The infamous likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger and “Baby Face” Nelson all made their presences known, as well. Rumor has it that Capone would often move in and move everyone else out. The story goes, he always stayed in room 301 because that room had a connecting door to another room allowing for an escape route, if needed. 

In summer 2014, The Travel Channel’s “The Dead Files” investigated the hotel and interviewed owner Dan Signore, who bought the property in 2006. Tales handed down over the years indicate a young boy died on the property and still roams the premises. The episode aired November 15, 2014, and waitress Leslie, who has been at the restaurant for 18 years in many roles, became a local rock star when she was interviewed by the crew. 

The hotel has six standard rooms, two adjoining rooms with beds and three suites. There is the Barbee Suite with all the amenities including a kitchenette complete with microwave, refrigerator and table. The largest suite is the appropriately named Gable & Lombard Suite.

The property is managed by local Stefan King, who graduated from Jimtown High School. Since he arrived more than a year ago, the menu has expanded, craft beers have been added and a selective wine list was created.

In 2008, Danny’s Sports Bar and Pizzeria opened as an upper-level, back porch affair that seats to capacity on most weekends and features six gourmet pizzas, burgers and lots of cold beer. The Meat Lover’s pizza is the signature pie featuring five different meats. Danny’s is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. 

Downstairs is the real deal: the hotel’s restaurant. Executive chef Nick Furney and sous chef Ken Haach serve up some very attractive dishes full of flavor.

Nick is a graduate of Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky., and earned his culinary spurs at many top restaurants in the Louisville area, including the Cameron-Mitchell restaurants. Since Nick has family locally, he chose to move back to the area and landed at the Barbee Hotel, Restaurant and Bar.

Nick says his specialty is “meats cooked to the perfect temperature.” He uses an infrared grill to make each steak unique and to the customer’s liking.

Ken spent 30 years at the popular Wolfgang’s in Warsaw and still has Wolfgang’s famous kraut and sausage soup recipe, but he won’t give it up. For Lake Country locals that remember the Wolfgang era, this soup has become legendary! The restaurant serves this famous soup, on occasion, as a special.

Stefan’s mantra for the restaurant: “Do what you do best: Steaks, seafood and pasta.” He’s been expanding the focus on craft beer offerings — besides the three on tap at Danny’s, there are alway six on tap in the restaurant and at least thirty others that rotate in periodically. The wine list is simple but adequate and the menu offers something for everyone.

Meanwhile, Donna, the mixologist behind the bar and veteran of 18 years at the restaurant, masterfully mixes her specialty: The Donna Summer Cocktail: a concoction of Malibu rum, a banana liqueur and cranberry juice. Sounds like a real temple-throbber to me! Donna tends to a bar area that seats about 25.

All steaks are hand-cut in house daily with the feature steak being the boneless ribeye. Prime rib has become a weekend special, cooked each Friday and Saturday at 450 degrees in a convection oven for fifteen minutes, then low and slow at 250 degrees for three hours or until the center reaches no more than 140 degrees.

The menu totals 36 items now with several appetizers, including an outstanding shrimp cocktail with a sauce that has some fire, and an occasional special. (We had an extraordinary scallop-spinach appetizer during the latest visit. It was adequate as an entree for us.)

The signature salad is the arugula-prosciutto salad complete with parmesan and citrus vinaigrette. The signature soup is French onion, but they always have a fresh-made, daily soup and feature clam chowder on weekends.

My favorite entree is walleye, very lightly coated with a spiced rub, pan-fried to a golden goodness and, on this night, served with a vegetable medley of asparagus, carrots and a red potato mash. The mash was so light and creamy and paired unusually well with the delicate fish. That and a nice pinot grigio made for a very happy time!

Besides the steaks and two or three seafood dishes, the menu includes 11 pasta dishes with a couple including shrimp and/or scallops. One evening last winter, the restaurant offered veal piccata with pasta as an evening special and it was one of the best ever!

Starting in May, Stefan introduced a weekday Wine and Dine Menu for couples, which offers a choice of two entrees from a menu of six and a bottle of wine from a special list for $30 total. The special is offered Tuesday through Thursday each week through the summer.

The restaurant seats 75 but is only open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. We always sit at the bar, but if you want a table, reservations are highly recommended.

The operation employs 30 staffers, and many of them have been there a long time. Stefan has a good thing going as he spends his evenings roaming the restaurant and talking to guests. He says he has to “make direct contact with all tables.”

They are getting it done at the Barbee Hotel, Restaurant and Bar…well worth the drive into Lake Country.
 

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