The Charley Creek Inn is a must visit spot in downtown Wabash

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By: Loren Shaum

Flavor 574 photo/Loren Shaum

Situated on Market Street in historic downtown Wabash is Charley Creek Inn. The circa 1920 brick building opened as the 80-room Hotel Indiana.

In 1946, ownership changed and the hotel was renamed the Red Apple Inn. The hotel operated under this ownership for 60 years, but left it in conditions not favorable to new ownership. However, seizing upon an opportunity with a vision for the future, Wabash philanthropist, Richard E. Ford of the Ford Meter Box family, purchased the hotel and invested $15 million in a renovation, turning the hotel into a quaint, small town destination. Boutique throughout, Charley Creek Inn opened in May 2010 — so named from a creek running through town named after a Native American chief from the Miami people.

The renovation was extensive. Rooms were reduced to create more spacious quarters, providing 23 superior guest rooms and seven suites. There are no two rooms alike, and many rooms are named after Indiana Universities, local celebrities or by local historical significance. Each room is furnished with antiquities or replicas of the Victorian, French and Regency styles. There is no commercial furniture in the hotel.

The mezzanine lobby is named after Richard Ford’s sister, Virginia. A second floor balcony surrounds the entire lobby, characteristic of the architecture of that era.

The Cloud Club is green

The Cloud Club was added during the renovation to provide space for private events and is unique to the extent that it has a truly green roof. Low maintenance vegetation is planted on the roof to enhance energy savings. Each year, the Cloud Club hosts wedding receptions, corporate meetings, showers and special dinners. In 2013, the chef at the hotel restaurant Twenty did his own version of recipes from my book, Seasons in Lake Country, each with a wine pairing from the hotel wine shop. The Cloud Club was the final station in a series of stations.

Shopping

Charley Creek Inn has two shops open daily for guests and the public.

The Ice Cream & Candy Shoppe takes guests back to that early era, offering:

  • Old-fashioned sodas and other drinks
  • More than 500 candy varieties
  • South Bend Chocolate Company chocolates
  • Specialty popcorn
  • Multiple ice cream choices
  • Gift items

The Wine & Cheese Shoppe just across the hall offers:

  • Nearly 500 boutique wines from Indiana and major labels from around the world
  • Craft whisky, bourbon and rye
  • Craft beer
  • Cheese from Indiana and Wisconsin
  • Unique culinary gifts
  • Regional cookbooks

Many of the selections in the shop cannot be found anywhere else. For example, before Breckenridge bourbon became nationally distributed, the shop had it on the shelf. Recently I purchased “B” bourbon from Dancing Pines Distillery in Longmont, Colo. The single-barrel small batch was so smooth, I think it could be one of the best bourbons out there!

Twenty

Executive Chef Jason Winterfeld took over Charley Creek Inn’s Twenty in June 2015 and has been on the fast track since. Jason grew up in Huntington County and has honed his skills at many area restaurants, particularly in Fort Wayne. He emphasizes local farm sources and makes most everything from scratch.

Jason reduced the menu to focus on upgrading several menu favorites, and changes the menu twice a year based on seasonal ingredients available. Being an inn, the kitchen has to be at the top of its game for breakfast, lunch, dinner and the many special events the inn hosts.

The new breakfast menu includes a build-your-own skillet, where you can choose from a myriad of ingredients. There are also three-egg omelets, which include the beast called Gravy Train. This omelet is stuffed with bacon, sausage, caramelized onions and cheddar then topped with the house-made sausage gravy.

The new lunch menu features a Greek chicken nacho appetizer, a salmon burger and a portobello burger. There are seven additional specialty sandwiches, including the smoked barbecue pork sandwich.

There are three side salads and five unique entrée salads. I particularly enjoyed the Saigon salmon salad. A large slab of perfectly grilled, Asian barbecue glazed salmon, served over a bed of fresh spinach, chickpeas, celery, chow mein noodles, sweet corn and carrots with a roasted garlic dressing. Simply delicious!

Half-pound ground sirloin burgers are always featured, including the burger of the week. There are also four pasta dishes, including the popular lobster mac and cheese; four pizzas, including a pizza of the week; and five wraps.

The signature soup is Twenty’s baked French onion soup, but a soup of the day is also offered.

Cleverly crafted dinner menu sets Twenty apart

The day I visited, the dinner specials included a soup of the day — a can’t miss smoked ham and green pea soup — as well as Boursin duchess Yukon Golds, sautéed zucchini with red onions and roasted peppers, smoked pork nachos and three other appetizer specials. Special entrées included slow roasted prime rib, Milanese Osso Bucco and Maple Leaf Farm duck breast.

Another item on the new dinner menu is a monster basket of Jason’s take on the French-Canadian poutine dish called Rueben fries. A basket of steak fries is topped with a gob of Rueben sandwich fixings. This heaping pile of goodness includes sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and thinly sliced bites of corned beef (Jason cures the brisket for three days), all topped with house-made thousand island dressing. This cleverly conceived dish is enough for two or three people.

Another featured appetizer is the Blue Duck Flat Bread, featuring house-made duck confit, bourbon fig jam, crumbled bleu cheese and topped with fried sage leaves. In all, there are eight appetizers this evening — most created from Jason’s imagination.

There are four dinner salad choices, plus you can select from many options to build your own. Guests can then choose from 11 different dressings.

Dinner entrees stand out. Their steaks are all cooked to your liking. There are also original dishes like lamb morello and honey-apricot cedar salmon as well as six other entrées including a smoked pork tenderloin. The latter uses a technique called hot pan smoking. Jason heats an iron skillet, adds soaked apple wood chips, places a pierced aluminum pie pan on top containing meat or fish, covers and smokes it to the guests chosen level of cooking. He can serve a one-inch thick tenderloin in 10 minutes using this technique by finishing it in the oven.

Desserts are another matter

Pastry chef Megan Smith bakes fresh burger buns daily and creates some highly unique desserts. The classic crème brûlée is the most popular, but the molten cake is also highly recommended. Charley Creek Carrot Cake and caramel apple cheesecake stand out as well. And there is always a weekly dessert special.

The restaurant and lounge seat approximately 150 people, but for overflow and special occasions, the Richard E. Ford Dining Room seats more than an additional 50. The room features an elegant wine cellar décor and three temperature controlled wine cabinets.

Green Hat Lounge is classic retro

The Green Hat is a Hoagy Carmichael-Cole Porter influenced lounge that comes complete with a grand piano for entertainment on weekends. With 1920s era murals, it’s a classic speakeasy-style bar.

Bar and restaurant manager Christy, along with bartenders Tom and Austin, serve seasonal $6 martini specials. This winter the Wonderland is the most popular. This delight consists of whipped cream vodka, sweet and sour mix and pineapple juice topped with an abundance of whipped cream. For Valentine’s Day, the lounge offered a chocolate porter raspberry concoction that was a hit.

Besides the specials, the lounge offers 20 wines by the glass, over 200 bottles from the wine cellar, eight IPA’s and four draft beers. Then, there is the Awesome Coffee. Christy adds about an ounce of Bacardi 151 to a stemmed glass, ignites the rum and then shakes powdered cinnamon over the flame, creating a string of sparkling cinnamon bits. Then she adds Kalua, amaretto, Bailey’s Irish Cream, coffee and tops it with whipped cream — truly an awesome creation!

Award winning destination

The staff of Charley Creek Inn consists of 60 full-time employees and as many of 30 part-time employees for banquet and other special events. In 2015, the inn hosted 356 special events, including five weddings and 19 wedding receptions. Twenty served more than 45,000 meals. The Wine and Cheese Shoppe sold 567 cases of wine, mostly as bottles, and nearly 1,200 cheese blocks and boards.

Trip Advisor has awarded the inn a certificate of excellence for the past four years, and Twenty received the same award for the past two years. Readers choice awards have come from several surrounding newspapers, and Booking.com awarded the inn their certificate of excellence.

Charley Creek Inn is a place to visit more than once, especially with a seasonally changing menu. There are constantly concerts and plays at the Honeywell Center just a block away.

On March 10 we stopped to the inn for dinner, a concert from the Wabash County High School Honors Choir (our grandson, Eli, was a participant) then headed back to the lounge for a night cap and a great night’s sleep in one of the spacious rooms. A light breakfast in the morning was a fine way to start the day for the short trip home. Everyone should try this!

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.
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