4 minute read

Sampler at Ferguson House

Sampler at Ferguson House Bistro

Everything about the new Ferguson House Bistro is fresh, bright, modern, and new.

Despite its landmark Nashville location, laden with antique memories and a bona fide Brown County pedigree, the new bistro at 78 West Franklin Street breathes fresh air into the local dining scene.

The old house has been completely renovated inside and out—actually elevated to a high fine polish it has probably never known. The floors, the fixtures, the delicious paint job; it’s all very bright, modern, and upscale.

The roofed front porch provides very comfortable seating, ideal in fine weather for people watching and enjoying a meal al fresco.

The menu is slim but satisfying, with an Italian bent.

Mrs. Sampler and I began with the Spanakopita dip made with spinach, sweet Vidalia and green onions, Feta, Ricotta, and shredded mozzarella and provolone. This deliciously gooey hot creamy dip is served with smoked paprika pita chips. There was also an alluring “Charcuterie Board for Two” on the appetizer menu, but I left it for another day.

The salads looked strong—spinach salad with mushrooms, egg, feta cheese, roasted pine nuts, and pickled onion and “The Fall Salad” with a cornucopia of ingredients ranging from roasted butternut squash and Granny Smith apples to grape tomatoes, red onion, and candied pecans.

I passed over “Our Signature French Onion Soup” and instead had the soup of the day—a creamy mushroom, potato, and carrot concoction that satisfied the palate and soothed the soul.

The remainder of the menu divided neatly between flatbreads and paninis, masterfully made and expertly arranged.

Mrs. Sampler opted for the vegetable flatbread smeared with basil pesto and topped with a medley of roasted red peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, Roma tomatoes, Vidalia onion, and garlic, then slathered with shredded mozzarella and provolone, sprinkled with fresh basil, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.

The flatbread was cracker thin and the whole concoction entirely tasty.

Also on offer: the “Three Meat Flatbread” with salami, prosciutto, capicola, shredded cheeses, tomato, pepperoncini, and basil; and the “Fall Flatbread,” featuring house-made onion jam, pears poached in white wine, bacon, red onion, and arugula with goat cheese crumbles.

I love a good panini (Italian for small bread), a pressed sandwich made with grilled Italian bread and stuffed with deli meats, and cheese.

I could have chosen the “Italian Melt” layered with Capicola, Genoa salami, shaved ham, and provolone cheese. It was seasoned with pickled red onions, Roma tomatoes, and pepperoncini.

Instead, I ordered the turkey melt—a French roll topped with basil pesto, mayo, and layered with baby spinach Roma tomatoes, and oven roasted turkey with Munster cheese. It was wonderfully warm, cheesy, and gooey, but tough and chewy in all the right places. Kind of like a romantic comedy.

The veggie panini had squash and the other aforementioned veggies on board and the “Our Fall Panini” featured house made fig jam, caramelized onion, mushroom and spinach, and a grilled chicken breast topped with Gouda cheese.

Since the menu was headlined “Fall Menu,” I expect that other delectable offerings will arrive as the seasons change.

The table service was excellent, and the ambience was charming. As I contentedly munched my sandwich, I studied an abstract painting of a school of fish, and admired the sharp new style of the Ferguson House.

The walls of the two small dining rooms are graced with Brown County art—Fred Rigley and Patricia Rhoden, among others. In the saloon, large black and white photos by Frank Hohenberger echo the Ferguson House’s key role in Brown County history.

The Victorian-style building was built as a private home in 1873. Allie Ferguson ran a boarding house there in the 1920s and 30s, when the artists who often stayed there were making Brown County into an object of national attention and interest.

Hohenberger lived there for some time and later took his meals there where he undoubtedly gleaned from Ferguson much of the town’s gossip for his Indianapolis Star column “Down In the Hills of Brown.”

After serving as a boarding house the building housed a memorable antique shop, crammed to the gunnels—upstairs and down—with an astonishing variety of interesting items.

Now, it has been completely transformed. Some of the building’s original windows and the trim along the front porch have been preserved, but nearly everything else about the building has undergone a major modernization.

There’s a cozy, well-appointed little pocket bar in there that deserves closer attention on some lazy afternoon—perhaps another day.

There were desserts, of course—crème brulee and a bread pudding—but I was completely satisfied and had left no room for the sweet tooth.

The new eatery also serves breakfast in the morning, and alluringly offer “Biscuits and Gravy All Day.”

It appears the Ferguson House is just getting underway, like a newborn colt finding it legs, and it seems likely that we shall see many more changes, improvements, and experiments as time goes on. Based on my first visit, an expansion of the menu and into the dinner hour would be most welcome.