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Mining from the Menus: A Delicious Tribute to Wentworth’s 150 Years

Wentworth by the Sea, a Grand Dame Hotel perched on a seaside bluff in New Castle, officially turns 150 years old in June of 2024. In addition to paying tribute to the landmark birthday with special historically-themed programming, the hotel is also serving up a June 14 marquee reception dinner that recreates – while also reinventing – signature Wentworth dishes from 100 years ago.

When it comes to working with non-traditional ingredients or thinking outside the culinary box, Wentworth by the Sea’s Executive Chef Lee Michael is not one to shy away from a good challenge. In fact, he welcomes it, embracing it as an opportunity to flex his creative culinary muscle. It’s why the menus he dreams up for various specialty dinners – whether that’s a beer dinner or one of the famous Winter Wine Festival Vintner Dinners – are so highly sought after. In a nutshell: You’re not going to find this kind of gastronomic ingenuity in just any Portsmouth or Seacoast restaurant.

So, naturally, when Michael was tasked with concepting the menu for the June 14 reception that would serve as the marquee event commemorating Wentworth by the Sea’s 150th anniversary, he thought “go big or go home.” And then he thought “go downstairs” – particularly, to a bottom-floor room where much of Wentworth’s archives are housed.

“We’ve managed to keep many of the old dining room menus from across various Wentworth eras – some of the earliest dating back to 1932,” says Michael. “So I decided ‘what better way to pay tribute to Wentworth history than with a menu that tastes of its history?’”

With that in mind, we take a look at how this concept comes through in the final June 14 menu – including a peek at some of the twists on Gilded-Era dishes he’s planning – as well as other special 150th-anniversary programming to base a visit around.

A Special $150 for 150

A special anniversary year calls for a special anniversary offer. When you book a stay at Wentworth by the Sea during select dates (June 1 and on), you’ll receive a $150 resort credit to be used toward dining at Salt Kitchen & Bar, retail, treatments at the Opal Spa, and more.
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Chef Lee Michael reviews an old menu.
Chef Lee Michael analyzes one of Wentworth’s most ornate old menus for inspiration. This particular menu was from Avenida Terrace, a former dining parlor.

While leafing through roughly a dozen old menus, dating from 1932 to 1965, he saw items like “hot clam broth,” “boiled ox tongue,” “jellied beef bouillon,” and “broiled schrod” – the kind of concoctions that a former nineteenth- or early twentieth-century guest would hardly bat an eyelash at back then, but pretty unusual for today’s modern standards.

“I knew I couldn’t put these exact items on the menu – it would be too intimidating for the masses,” says Michael. “But I could understand the flavors and create elevated takes on them that honor that old style of cooking, but still have it be approachable.”

He also saw a lot of root vegetables – radishes, parsnips, potatoes, onions, carrots – as well as pickled items, like eggs, beef, peppers. “Root veggies are hardy and could withstand frosts while pickling items preserve them for a longer shelf life,” explains Michael. “Remember, this was in the days prior to nationwide food distributors. You couldn’t just order something from several states away. You had to work with what you had and you had to make it last.”


Two old lunch and dinner menus from Wentworth by the Sea.
Two companion lunch and dinner menus dated July 18, 1932. There were no prices as meals were all-inclusive (with the exception of alcohol).

Whereas other chefs would certainly have their work cut out for them, Michael actually had a leg-up. “Having grown up in Mississippi and also working in restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina, a lot of these older styles of cooking and flavors are still alive and well down there and were already very familiar to me – things like cubed sirloin, baked oysters, fritters,” he says. “I really love this older style of cooking and have always really admired those who have based restaurants around it.” In particular, he references one of his favorite southern chefs and James Beard award-winner, Sean Brock, who once opened a restaurant in Nashville, called The Continental, that was purely based off the idea of grand hotel dining during the Gilded Era. “Things like pâté en croûte, tuna terrine, Oysters Rockefeller would come rolled into the dining room on carts and served with tableside presentation.”   

As for Michael’s June 14 menu, a few of the items he is most excited about include the variety of pickles (green beans, beets, onions, and more) (“When I was a kid, my father and I would pickle together.”); the asparagus and cauliflower fritters (“I’ve always loved a good fritter.”); and the lobster mayonnaise on toast points (“It’s a lot like shrimp toast, just using a lobster salad.”). So, in a way, the menu coincidentally also doubles as a tribute to his own cooking roots.


The baked oysters at Wentworth by the Sea.
An example of an item that will be on the June 14 menu: a creamy baked oyster, a modern twist on the classic Oysters Rockefeller, invented in the 1880s.

While the above samples may not sound that obscure, you can certainly expect a few not-so-traditional ingredients by today’s standards, like beef tongue, chicken liver, and salt cod (a dried and preserved version of the fish). But, again, they’ll be prepared in more familiar ways, like the cod presented in a croquette and the chicken liver wrapped in bacon and cooked as a brochette. “They are true to flavors of the past, but accented with other flavors and treatments that give it a fresh, modern spin,” says Michael. “My goal is to have some people trying things that they might not have on their own. There’s no fear factor element.

For those who still may be a little hesitant, there are also plenty of not-as-surprising items, especially if you’re from New England, like the creamy baked oyster (pictured above), which is very much like Oysters Rockefeller; a carved roast leg of lamb (with mint sauce, of course); and cozy and comfort-dish, crab au gratin.           

150th Anniversary Reception

From 6 to 8 p.m. on June 14, you’ll be able to dig into this unique menu across multiple stations in one of our historic grand ballrooms. Cash bar, drink specials, and live music are also a part of the event, and period dress is welcome (and encouraged!).
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The gnocchi oxtail special that will be served in Salt Kitchen & Bar.
The dinner special in Salt Kitchen & Bar is a tribute to a popular turn-of-the-twentieth-century New England protein staple: oxtail. Similar to short rib, it’ll be served with pan-seared gnocchi and spring vegetables.

The June 14th reception – which will be held in one of the historic ballrooms – is not the only way the hotel’s food and beverage team is celebrating the landmark anniversary. Michael has also designed one dinner special that will be available for the duration of June in Salt Kitchen & Bar, Wentworth’s signature on-site restaurant. No surprise then that this item also harkens to history: braised oxtail served with pan-seared gnocchi, baby spinach, English peas, aged cheese, and topped with arugula salad.

“As you can see on the old menus, ox tongue and oxtail were popular back in the day, probably because it was a more versatile and abundant meat,” explains Michael. “When braised, oxtail tastes very similar to short rib – a robust, beef flavor that’s also fork-tender.” Because it’s richer, he’s complemented it with peas and arugula for a nice spring feel (not too heavy) and soft and light gnocchi.

In terms of what to wash it down with, Salt is also serving up a classic cocktail menu for the month showcasing tipples popular in times past, like Gin Rickeys, Sazeracs, and Mint Juleps. It will also be accompanied with a scotch whisky flight, featuring the chance to sample three rare and aged options:  Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Macallen 18, and Laguvilin 16. So be sure to secure your table for June as soon as you can.


A woman sits infront of the historic Wentworth by the Sea.

Since June is the actual month Wentworth by the Sea – then known as “Wentworth House” – first opened in 1874, there’s also a roster of free, weekly on-property programming planned exclusively for guests who book a stay during this month. That includes croquet on the Grand Lawn, weekly “Menus Through the Years” cooking classes with Chef de Cuisine Zach Hoefer, hotel history tours, and – perhaps the one most reminiscent of a bygone age – high-tea in the lobby.

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