Wednesday Dinners at Sandscrest
Chef Sarah Lydick blends old country charm with exotic gourmet meals at this breathtaking Wheeling retreat.
Are you a foodie? Then Wednesday Dinner at Sandscrest Conference and Retreat Center is the dining experience you’ve been waiting for. Located in Wheeling, Sandscrest is a spiritual retreat and conference center that welcomes all religious denominations and nonprofit organizations for one or two day retreats, conferences, workshops, and celebrations, but on Wednesdays, the property is transformed into a fine dining experience. The original house, built in 1852, can accommodate up to 50 guests for seated at private tables placed throughout the two spacious dining rooms and living room, and when weather permits, on the front porch or back patio.
The conference center is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia and operated by a board of directors and co-managers Sarah and Rod Lydick, who work with a small staff. Sarah, head chef at Sandscrest, moved to West Virginia during high school, and after college, decided to pursue her culinary dreams. “My grandma was a home economics teacher and my dad was always cooking, so cooking has always been important in my family,” Sarah says. “When I found a culinary school in Paris, I figured, if I am going to do this, why not do it all the way?” After completing the curriculum, Sarah interned at The French Laundry in California and worked as a private chef in Pittsburgh before coming to Sandscrest.
Wednesday Dinners at Sandscrest are prix-fixe, meaning diners are served from a fixed menu with a fixed price. Sarah posts the menu online as early as a month or two in advance so guests can plan accordingly. She elaborates, “Our menu varies from pushing the envelope and introducing guests to new dishes and different cultural dining experiences to offering very classic comfort foods.” On any given Wednesday, diners might enjoy a Spanish paella, meatloaf, or, what Sarah declares is undoubtedly a Sandscrest favorite, chicken pot pie. “Last year, we started our own garden on the grounds and are hoping to incorporate that into our meals as much as possible.” Though the dinner menu includes beverages of water, iced tea, or coffee, guests can also bring their own wine or other refreshments.
Guests are, according to Sarah, a driving force in the success of Wednesday Dinners. “Our diners are a very diverse group of people—from neighbors who have known each other for years to new friends who meet over a glass of wine on the front porch before dinner,” she explains.
“‘Unique’ is absolutely the key word when you’re describing the dining experience at Sandscrest,” says Ron Mauck, a Wheeling resident and Wednesday Dinner regular. “The experience begins as you drive up the old-country lane to the house. You’re then greeted as soon as you walk in the door and see all the authentic furnishings and old photographs and paintings. And then the food—Sarah offers meals I wouldn’t normally eat at home or even order if I were eating out somewhere else, but the food is always excellent.” Ron praises the superior service he continues to receive at Sandscrest and commends Sarah and her husband on their presentation at the facility. “Sarah and Rod are very nice, hard-working people, and as soon as you walk in the door, they make you feel like you are part of their family.”
Wheeling resident Linda Myers and her husband attend Wednesday Dinner nearly every week. “The atmosphere and the ambience are what really make dinners at Sandscrest so wonderful. It’s so relaxing to sit on the porch enjoying the view and a glass of wine before dinner,” Linda says. What she is most taken with, however, seems to be a common theme for patrons of Sandscrest: “The food is absolutely delicious. The variety Sarah offers has really encouraged us to try different foods we wouldn’t normally try. She does everything from Asian to Italian to more traditionally American-style foods, and we’ve loved everything we’ve ever had there.”
For Chef Sarah, it’s like inviting friends over to your own home. “There’s no stress about what to order because that decision has already been made for you,” she elaborates. “You can bring your favorite bottle of wine, maybe one that’s not usually available on a restaurant wine list. And the views around here are spectacular.”
Open to the public, Wednesday Dinners at Sandscrest begin April 13 and are offered through October. Menus are available online on the Sandscrest blog: wednesdaydinnersatsandscrest.blogspot.com. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. and the cost is $18 per person. Reservations are required.