Henkleman is rated as one of the top ten restaurants in the US. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. Really.
The place has a soul. A soul that can’t be conjured from a snappy logo, a celebrity chef, or a burst of social marketing. Soul takes time, consistency, and love. And to anyone that has had the honor of passing behind the doors to see what goes on behind the scenes, it only gets better. I hosted my son’s fifth birthday there last week (rest assured it was mid-week, and mid-day), and here’s what we experienced:
- TH (it’s both “The Homestead” and “Thomas Henkleman”) has a glorious old porch (sorry, verandaaaah) that is perfect for drinks, cigars, or if you are entertaining a five year old at 11am… for opening a few presents. Theresa, our friend and gracious host let us set up in a sunny corner and rip apart some wrapping paper with reckless abandon. As she said, “what could be more dear”. Her sense of place and purpose is impeccable.
- Theresa also
keeps a beautiful garden, which is nice for a quite stroll, or some target practice if your birthday booty happens to include a genuine indian bow and arrow (with suction cup tips). No piece of art was sacred, and we went shooting with abandon. We could hardly believe our good fortune, having passed a half hour at this venerable institution without being scolded or kicked out, we headed to lunch.
- Thats the best part; Lunch for us didn’t mean the dining room. It meant heading right into the kitchen and being greeted with by the eponymous chef, Thomas (aka Relais & Châteaux— Grand Chef, Tradition et Qualite — Les Grandes Tables du Monde and Extraordinary (4*) by the New York Times). His words were: “Sir Grayson, the Kitchen is yours today”. Grayson composed a menu on the spot: carrot salad, granny smith apples, pizza and steak. Chocolate raspberry gateuax to finish. Balanced, in a five year old kind of way. He sliced apples. He rolled out pizza dough with Thomas. He filmed Thomas and I at the stove, dancing between extra layers of pizza cheese and a searing steak. He set the table with linens and cutlery. He poured his own Pellegrino. And we sat, father and son, at the staff table outside and talked about what he had learned.
- Behaving with good manners in the front of the house is key. There’s no getting past Theresa on etiquette.
- Respect in the kitchen is likewise key, as Thomas runs a tight ship.
- Making things by hand is perhaps a lost art, but one that rewards with good taste and good health.
- Cleaning up your mess is a sacred rule in the kitchen. And in life.
- Sharing with a small group of close friends is better than bouncing off thirty friends you hardly know.
Most Father’s would love to get two mid-day hours on a Wednesday with their son. I am blessed with much more. TH had the soul to deliver a birthday experience my son will not soon forget. Nor will I.