Dominick Cerrone has turned a Wheeling landmark into a food lovers’ haven.
A stop at the L.S. Good mansion reminds a visitor of old Wheeling’s wealth and refinement. Built in 1905 by the prominent downtown department store owner and philanthropist, the townhouse features a three-story stairwell atrium, 28 stained glass panels, parquet floors, and lush woodwork throughout.
It’s also a mouth-watering introduction to the refinement of today’s Wheeling. For the past 11 years, the Good mansion has hosted Good Mansion Wines, a top destination for foodies in the tri-state region.
Proprietor Dominick Cerrone tells the shop’s origin story as a series of accidents. An engineer by trade, he was living in East Wheeling in 2003 when the mansion came up for sale in his neighborhood. He made a lowball offer without any real intentions and, to his surprise, his offer was accepted. He found the stately interior intact and mainly just had to do some work on the mechanical systems to bring it up to date.
Still, he had no real use for the mansion. Then one day in 2006, he and friends were lamenting the lack of a comprehensive wine seller in Wheeling, and he came to think his mansion might make a good wine shop. “The state wholesalers had a pretty handsome selection of wines, largely because of the demand at The Greenbrier, most of which had no exposure here in the northern part of the state,” he says. “I realized I could bring something new to market.” He opened Good Mansion Wines in 2006.
Good Mansion’s wine selection is more European-focused than the typical California-centric American wine store. “My shop probably represents a more international palate—we’ve been told by importers who visit that we have the most comprehensive selection of Italian wines in the whole mid-Atlantic region,” says Cerrone. “We have over 500 varieties.”
It’s not just because his parents came over from Italy. In Cerrone’s view, Italian and French wines are the most versatile. “I’m not a sipper. I think it’s best to appreciate wine with food,” he says. “Something reactive happens that’s greater than the sum of the parts. You don’t understand a wine until you understand its reactive potential with fats and sauces and other components.” German and Spanish wines round out the shop’s Old World offerings, and there’s a good selection of New World wines, too, including wines made in West Virginia.
Good Mansion offers wines for every occasion and pocketbook, with its wide selection and price range. “We have lots of expensive wines, and the interior can be intimidating, like a museum, but customers can also get their $10 favorites here,” Cerrone says. The shop also educates customers’ palates through Friday night tastings that he started soon after he opened—a new theme every week, no reservation required. “We make a great effort to expose customers to wines that your average consumer would not have access to or ever think of purchasing,” he says. The shop’s customer base has become more sophisticated over time. “We have regulars now who, when we’re busy, they’ll just cut loose and help other customers on the floor. It’s a real family. And I can probably say that we’ve really changed consumers’ tastes over the years.”
Like Cerrone, Good Mansion’s customers like to experience wine with food. Over years of tastings, they kept asking for cheese, and eventually he started offering imported cheeses. “We now have 100 varieties, the complete anthology of European cheese.” His selection has grown to rival the popular cheese room at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, he says, and includes some cheeses that aren’t available even there. Then he got into salumi—cured meats, both imported and domestic—so, since 2014, Good Mansion has offered an extensive charcuterie.
Why stop there? “Everybody loved that so much that the natural extension was more imported food products. We got into it because the availability of good Italian products is so sparse.” Here he talks about that rumor so many of us have heard: that the mafia controls the distribution of Italian specialty foods, and that the Italian products Americans have access to are low-grade industrial versions.
“I’m in Italy often, meeting with people, and I started importing foods from small family producers,” Cerrone says. “These are truly 100 percent artisanal foods from families that are rooted to their land for many generations. They’re growing and producing in a tight food chain, very, very good quality products that are awarded and written up by Italian food media. Some products, we’re the first U.S. importer, and that’s something you don’t see in Pittsburgh.” Even the shops in Strip District, known for its wide range of specialty Italian products, don’t import directly, he says—they buy from U.S. importers that get their goods from larger producers. Good Mansion’s inventory of top-shelf products includes internationally awarded olive oils, traditional balsamic vinegars, regional pastas, sweet panettone and pandoro loaves, truffles and truffled product, specialty condiments, and more.
All of that, of course, just begged to be accompanied by bread. “We did a kitchen addition and put in French bread ovens back there,” Cerrone says. “We got trained in breadmaking, and we buy imported French flours.”
It’s hard to imagine that an authentic French bread could be a hard sell, but he has found that American dietary preferences can be grounded in strong beliefs. “People are afraid to death of carbohydrates. They’re going on gluten-free kicks and trying to eliminate breads from their diets, just when we’re saying, ‘Let’s perfect bread—this newly declared evil in people’s lives,’” he laughs.
But what Cerrone and his staff have learned about flours and bread raises interesting questions. “When you use the mother yeast, that’s the sourdough, and the flour that’s intended for baguettes—flour is a much more precise science and passion in France—the yeast is providing probiotic benefits, and you’re reducing glycemic spikes.” He wonders if the pesticides used on American wheat fields and additives like folic acid in American flours might contribute to what we call gluten sensitivity. In any case, his breads have won a following. “We introduced the most pure, elemental French baguette and we sell hundreds every week.”
That baguette serves as the basis for Good Mansion’s long list of sandwiches made from the charcuterie: sandwiches like Le Parisien, with Creminelli prosciutto cotto and Normandy butter, or El Manchego, with Serrano ham, aged manchego cheese, olive oil, and greens. “We feature six of our sandwiches every day, with different salumi and cheese from France, Italy, and Spain on our baguettes,” Cerrone says. “They’re fantastic.”
Also coming out of Good Mansion’s kitchen these days are pastas, quiches, and fresh sausages. They bake a range of pastries—French croissants and palmiers, Swiss brioche, and others—and serve those up alongside Italian coffee.
Visitors from larger cities across the U.S. tell Cerrone there’s no shop where they live that sells the variety and quality Good Mansion Wines offers in a city of 27,000. “In their defense, it’s our small market that has allowed for this kind of diversity in one shop,” he says. “If I had a wine shop in New York City, why would I bother making bread or selling cheese? The market here has kind of forced us to be innovative and do the whole 360 experience.”
Good Mansion’s ongoing expansion continues next with a meal kit service. “We’ve got so many foods we want to help people feel comfortable using—regional foods, traditional staples in good Italian grocery stores,” Cerrone says. “The Good Mansion Wine Supper Club is an opportunity for us to push our imported products with a recipe and a story about the foods, and we’ll be working with local produce and meat sources where we need those things.” Look for that in the fall of 2017. 95-14th Street, 304.233.2632, goodmansionwines.com, “Good Mansion Wines” on Facebook
Photographed by Nikki Bowman