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September/October 2007
An Imaginative Menu: The Press Room
Innovation Paired with Fresh Fare Adds Up to Creative Cuisine at The Press Room in Historic Shepherdstown.

by Bob T. Epstein + photos by Jason Turner

• • •

When I enter The Press Room in historic Shepherdstown, W.Va., through an old-time weather barrier entryway, proprietors Michael and Deborah Luksa greet me warmly. Deb offers me a cold glass of Pellegrino — a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the afternoon. I notice that the original brick walls, wire-brushed clean of their plaster during the Luksas’ “deconstruction” and renovation of the space, are matched in their warmth by the cheery yellow walls. A doorway crowned by a thick wood beam marks the entrance to a cozy side dining room — complete with a fireplace — which opens to the intimate bar area. The faithfully maintained historic touches are complimented by black wainscoting, sleek tall-back chairs, and the rich hues of the wood tables — creating a look both welcoming and sophisticated.

Mike and Deb carefully chose every detail of the décor, including still-life paintings of vegetables and fruit commissioned from local artist Susan Carney. “Before we went ahead [with renovations and decorating], we thought very long and hard,” says Mike, also the restaurant’s chef. The couple spent time researching and visiting other restaurants, determining what they liked and how they could incorporate those features into their own establishment. For their efforts to keep their building’s facade in tune with the historic nature of the surrounding architecture, the Luksas were honored in June with an award from Historic Shepherdstown. Mike and Deb were flattered by the recognition, which is usually reserved for homeowners. “We feel we’ve brought the place back to life again.”

The building, circa 1793, has had many lives. The Luksas believe it was originally a dry goods store. From 1906 to 1975, the building housed the Independent newspaper and later became a bank. Deb and Mike, formerly the executive chef for The Yellow Brick Bank restaurant in Shepherdstown, purchased the building and named their restaurant with a nod to the structure’s newspaper days. Today, where local newspapers once covered layout tables, menus dress The Press Room’s tables, which are ready to receive Chef Mike’s culinary creations. Open for a year this September, The Press Room is already a favorite for locals.

The restaurant’s country-style free-formed bread, which is baked in a hearth stone oven, tells me I am really in for a great experience. The aromas coming out of the kitchen second that impression, tempting me with the fragrant spices wafting toward me. I begin my meal by sampling a couple of appetizers, including the Fresh Figs and Mountain Aged Gorgonzola. This palate-pleasing combination of sweet fruit and salty strips of speck, rounded out with the ripeness of the cheese, is a credit to Chef Mike’s skill in showcasing complementary flavors in his cooking. Three freshly opened Malpeque oysters from Prince Edward Island are served with a side of the chef’s own sauce — chopped fennel, carrots and red peppers in cider vinegar. The Press Room offers the option of mixing and matching oyster varieties, depending on availability. The House Made Mozzarella with fresh tomatoes and basil is a delicious trifecta of tastes and colors. The dish’s simple presentation reflects Chef Mike’s desire to showcase the freshest ingredients. “If you have a really good tomato, you want the customers to know they’re eating a good tomato,” he says. Other tantalizing starters include the Little Neck Clams with Marquez Sausage in spicy tomato broth, the Roasted Beet Salad with balsamic vinegar and gorgonzola cheese, and homemade Sweet Corn & Clam Chowder.

Though Chef Mike’s focus on showcasing quality ingredients results in a menu that is always evolving, some customer favorites remain. For our main course, the chef presents a house favorite: Chilean Sea Bass prepared half crispy with orange vinaigrette and locally grown root spinach. The cooking process allows the skin to crisp in the pan while the fish steams, reminding me of the finest broiled cod, but even lighter and flakier. Deb says the dish is a hit with customers, who frequently remark, “Some day I’ve got to try something different.” Fish and seafood are strong focal points on The Press Room’s menu, and Chef Mike illustrates this aquatic affinity by presenting two other delightful dishes from the sea. I am always a fan of a well prepared and executed lobster dish, and the chunks of heavenly lobster that heavily peppered the top of the Black Fettuccine — tossed with roasted red peppers, tomato, basil and fresh oregano — reinforced that love many times over. A cooked-to-perfection filet of Wild Alaskan Salmon, prepared with a balsamic glaze and maple syrup, rounds out the afternoon’s seafood showcase.

Chef Mike also prepares a New Zealand specialty: a succulent Grilled Rack of Lamb accented with a light drizzling of pomegranate molasses baked over and onto the rib bone-bridges of the meat. The lamb is served with a simple mint pesto. It’s hard to describe just what the palate experiences while sampling this dish, so let me just say WOW! A glass of “El Portillo” 2006 Malbec from Argentina serves as an ideal companion to the luscious flavors of the lamb. Other come-hither sounding offerings from the menu include the Penne Bolognese, a traditional Italian favorite; Penne with Salmon, combining fresh and smoked salmon, cream, tomato, capers and salmon caviar; Grilled Duck Breast with duck comfit hash and fruit compote; and London Broil (my favorite meat dish) with sautéed mushrooms.

Though sated by the seasonal bounty presented by Chef Mike and his staff, there is no passing up a dessert menu that includes true Italian Cannoli, Chocolate Amaretti Torte and Zabaglione. I have the pleasure of tasting the Panacotta — a smooth and dense Italian custard flavored with vanilla and orange, topped with juicy sliced strawberries and drizzled with vincotto. Then the fabulous Lavender Crème Brulee came into my life and nearly made me swoon. Its creamy texture and memorable flavor enlivens the senses with both flavor and aroma. “People hesitate to order it, but they come back because of it,” Deb says. For that divine dessert and all The Press Room has to offer in welcoming ambience and superb cuisine, I know I’ll be back. And I hope to see you there.

Need To Know …
The Press Room
129 W. German St.,
Shepherdstown, W.Va.
The prices are mid-range and the food is Northern Italian with an emphasis on seasonal flavors and fish. Hours are 5–9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and 5–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. Reservations are recommended.

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   Copyright 2008. Ridge Runner Publishing.