The Royal Treatment
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
June 10, 2004 -- For a feast fit for a king, go to the Celtic Queen Country Inn where you'll experience a culinary extravaganza in a setting of elegant sophistication and quiet country charm.
The Celtic Queen is no ordinary restaurant, according to owner Wally Jones, who along with his wife Eleana, purchased the inn and its 125 acres of rolling meadows in June of 2003. It's an exclusive dinner club offering a fine dining experience that requires a membership and 48-hours notice for reservations.
"We're not like a restaurant where you eat and have to get up so someone else can have your seat," explained Wally. "Here, you can relax, drink coffee, play chess, visit or take a stroll on the grounds."
The $300 annual membership fee gets you a one night stay at the inn, which always includes a gourmet dinner, lunch and breakfast for two--plus the right to call and make reservations to dine at the Celtic Queen anytime throughout the year.
Both Wally and Eleana are experts when it comes to fine dining and superb service. With 30 years of experience in the restaurant business, including positions as former chief executive officer and chief financial officer, respectively, for Consolidated Restaurant Operations, the couple oversaw 165 restaurants in 22 states and Canada.
"We've been around a lot of culinary people and gourmet chefs--I guess you could say we picked up a few tricks of the trade," Wally said.
The "CELTIC QUEEN DINNER" consists of an eight to 10 oz. center cut tenderloin steak trimmed and cooked to perfection.
"We don't even have steak knives in the house," said Wally. "You don't need one--they're that tender."
Along with the steak comes their own special off the cob cream corn.
"We buy fresh ears of corn and shuck them and cook them in a special blend of cream, sugar, butter and a few secret ingredients," he explained.
The dinner also includes mashed potatoes, homemade rolls and a CELTIC QUEEN SALAD" made with their own distinctive dressing, and dessert.
Desserts vary, according to Wally, who described one of his favorites as a molten cake that "oozes chocolate" when you cut into it and served with homemade ice cream topped with butter pecan bourbon sauce.
Though no strangers to the kitchen, they sing a different tune when it comes to country living--the theme from Green Acres to be exact.
After years of heading up operations such as El Chico, Spaghetti Warehouse, III Forks, and others, they said they were burned out and looking for a new business venture when their friend Dale Wamstead, of Del Frisco's and III Forks, called with a business proposition they couldn't refuse.
Wamstead had devoted three years to a "cost-is-no-object" development project in Hopkins County that included the three story Inn, a 2,000 square foot cottage, carriage house and stable, before discovering his daughter was allergic to certain elements in the East Texas air.
"It was like a business in a box," said Eleana. "It was fully furnished, all new restaurant equipment--it was ready to go. We truly believed we had to give this a shot."
But on their first night at the inn, Eleana said she began to have serious doubts.
"I said, 'I don't think i can do this,'" she recalled. "You know the saying, 'You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl.' Wally said, 'Let's just let the Lord decide and see how it goes. Then we started singing the song from Green Acres, 'You are my wife, good bye city life...,'" she added laughing.
Eleana said it wasn't until she brought her mother out to look at the inn that she received the confirmation she needed. However, it didn't come from her mother's approval, but rather from an uncanny discovery.
While helping her mother up the stairs, she noticed, for the first time, a piece of art work.
"I just stopped in my tracks," recalled Eleana. "I told Mom, 'There is Maxine's puzzle.' I just couldn't believe it."
Maxine was Eleana's sister who had just passed away that March from breast cancer.
"The night she died we were working on a puzzle in her hospital room," explained Eleana. "The puzzle was a print by an artist I had never heard of, but we chose that puzzle because it was so her. Now here it was, hanging in the stairwell with three other pieces by the same artist. That's what cinched the deal for me. I said, 'OK--I get it.'"
According to the Jones', the Celtic Queen is now home.
"We open our home to people," said Eleana. "At least that's what we hoped it would feel like. And it must be working."
"Everyone who comes out loves the experience," said Wally. "Folks have been so gracious and neighborly."
But cordial habits aren't the only things they have had to get used to. Business suits have been replaced by blue jeans, overalls and aprons. And Wally said his vehicle of choice is no longer his BMW, but an old '95 Ford pickup that came with the place when they bought it. They have even come to accept that hometown football takes precedence over everything.
"Our business cards got bumped for the high school football programs," laughed Eleana. "We never would have thought we would want to live in a small town. But here we are, and we love it."