The Grove: American Fare with a Latin Flair

         Tucked away on a side road running parallel to Lake Michigan, the Gordon Beach Inn is nestled in a copse of woods. Entering, it’s the type of place with a screen door that rattles as it closes, the floors are shined to a dark rich gloss and the large stone fireplace dominates the large room in the center of the building. To the right are the series of rooms for overnight guests. And to the left is The Grove, the inn’s restaurant, a long room and doorways leading to the small cozy bar area and two enclosed porches overlooking the gardens. A defining feature is Jo Hormuth’s botanical themed and local Native American pattered hand-stenciled designs decorating walls, ceilings, and corridors.


         A classic beach resort for the last century, the inn was a built for a purpose beyond just summer fun.  The 1920s was a time in American history not only for bootleggers and bathtub gin but also when a second wave of popularity for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in positions of power. And Indiana, just a border away from Michigan, had the largest Klan population in the U.S. with a peak of 250,000 around the mid-1920s. That was when Edward Jackson, a well-known Klan sympathizer, was elected to serve as Indiana’s 32nd governor. To make it worse, over half of those elected to the Indiana General Assembly that year were members of the Klan. In Valparaiso, the Klan attempted to buy what had been the Valparaiso Male and Female College that opened in 1859 and now was struggling financially. It was to become “Ku Klux Kollege.” The deal was almost done but then the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod stepped in to stop the Klan. Purchasing the college, they changed the name to Valparaiso University.      

         The Klan was an equal opportunity hater, besides African-Americans, they hated Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics, Italians, and Jews. Anti-Semitism was a big deal which was why Louis Gordon, a Jewish physician decided to build a resort in Union Pier for Jewish guests. Purchasing land near Lake Michigan that had been an apple orchard, the building construction began in 1925 with completion in 1929.

         Later it would be bought by a Chicago alderman who catered to African American guests before being purchased by Devereux Bowly who also owned the Lakeside Inn, another venerable old-style resort. After Bowly’s death, both resorts passed to his sister Judy and her son Zach.

Latin American Roots

         For a long time, Timothy’s Restaurant was located at the Gordon Beach Inn and then it stood empty for a while. But always adaptable to change, the Gordon Beach Inn now is home to The Grove, a restaurant that emphasizes its Latin flair, reflecting the heritage of Executive Chef Eduardo Pesantez’s Latin American roots.  Born in Ecuador and raised in Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, known for its sophisticated European style culinary style. It’s located in the Andes Mountains in southern Ecuador where his family owns a large farm in and so Pesantez has long know how to cook using local and seasonal foods.

         Some 35 years ago, Pesantez moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America and then worked at several high-end New York restaurants as well as the executive chef at Pepsi Co. He is also the owner of Cravings, a catering company that he runs from the kitchen of The Grove. Joining Pesantez at The Grove is his wife, Maira Pinargote, who lived in Manabí Province located on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. The foods differ. Where the more mountainous region where Pesantez grew up is more meat oriented, Pinargote, whose father owns a large seafood company, dined to a large variety of fresh fish and seafood.

Flavors of the Sea and the Mountains

         Both come into play in the international dishes found on the menu and in their specials. Pesantez serves a variety of paellas. Their Signature Paella is a mixture of seafoods, the House Paella is meats—chicken, chorizo sausage, pork shoulder and jicama and the third is all vegetables. Other South American meals on the menu include Bistec al Caballo (Steak on Horseback), a black angus ribeye steak with a Spanish tomato onion sauce, fried plantains, rice, and beans and Enconcado de Camarones, sautéed shrimp in a creamy coconut sauce with rice and beans.

         Beyond such Latin American fare like Chicken Mole, Pesantez also goes international with Moroccan Lamb and Mushroom Truffle Ravioli and American for those who like hamburgers, smoked brisket, and grilled chicken breasts.

         “I think people are surprised when they first taste Latin American foods,” says Pesantez. “Many expect it to be spicy hot but it’s more about flavors and seasonings—some different from what we eat here in America and if also can be about cooking techniques as well. And it’s very different from region to region in Ecuador. The foods they eat in the mountainous areas differ from those along the coast or the plains.”

The Grove’s Signature Paella

4 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and then loosely measured

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion finely chopped

1/2 red Bell pepper, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 ounces mild dried chorizo sausage, sliced into thin halfmoons

3 cups short grain rice, such as Spanish Bomba rice or Italian Arborio

14-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup frozen green peas

1 pound large (21-24 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on

1 pound mussels, rinsed and scrubbed

1 pound littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed

1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat the grill: Heat a gas grill to medium high heat (375° F) degrees or light a charcoal grill and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with gray ash.

Steep the saffron: In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the sand from saffron and salt. Turn off the heat and let the saffron steep for at least 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

Assemble the ingredients by the grill: On a table next to the grill set the skillet with the sofrito, the rice, tomatoes, stock, salt, peas, shrimp, mussels, and clams.

Begin cooking the paella: Set the skillet with the sofrito on the grill. Add the rice, and cook, stirring often, for 45 minutes or until the rice is coated with oil and lightly toasted. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, and peas. Taste for seasoning and add more if you like. Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan. Close the grill cover in simmer rice without stirring for 15 minutes or until the rice absorbs most of the stock

Cook the sofrito base: In a 12-to-14 inch stainless steel skillet or cast iron pan, heat the oil over medium heat on top of the stove. Add the onion and red pepper and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic. Sauté the shrimp and chorizo and then add to the pan with the rice along with the rest of the seafood. If the paella looks dry, add more water. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and the clam and mussel shells have opened.

Serve immediately with slices of thick bread.

Smoked Brisket garlic powder

1 brisket, 5 to 6 pounds

2 tablespoon garlic powder

2 tablespoon onion powder

½ tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Gently rub garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper on all sides of the brisket 

If using a smoker, place meat in smoker and, with a mixture of such hardwoods as cherry and hickory mixed in with the coals, set temperature for 205-220° F degrees. Place brisket on rack and cook for six to seven hours or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 190 degrees. Remove from her and let rest.

If cooking brisket in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make a dry rub by combining garlic and onion powders, salt, and black pepper. Season the raw brisket on both sides with the rub. Place in a roasting pan and roast, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Add beef stock and enough water to yield about 1/2 inch of liquid in the roasting pan. Lower oven to 300 degrees F, cover pan tightly and continue cooking for 3 hours, or until fork-tender.

Trim the fat and slice meat thinly across the grain. Top with juice from the pan.

Sautéed Sweet Plantains

(Tajaditas Dulces de Plantano)

¼ cup peanut oil for frying

2 tablespoons butter

3 medium ripe yellow plantains, peeled and cut in 1-inch-thick slices

 3 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Heat peanut oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the butter begins to sizzle. Gently toss plantain slices with brown sugar, then place into hot oil. Fry until the plantains begin to turn golden brown, then turn over, and continue frying until they have caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.

Drain plantains on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt before serving.