Gather 'round the table

A picture of guests enjoying The Golden Lamb restaurant.

The Golden Lamb is Ohio’s oldest continually operated business.

Pumpkin pie may rule on Thanksgiving, but at Lebanon’s Golden Lamb, Sister Lizzie’s Shaker sugar pie gives it serious competition. The cream-style pie, a perpetual customer favorite, is based on a recipe that was accidentally discovered after Robert and Virginia Jones purchased the Golden Lamb in 1926.

“The Joneses found the handwritten recipe inside a Shaker cabinet they got at a yard sale and gave it to their chef,” says General Manager Bill Kilimnik. “They liked it, and patrons liked it so much that Shaker sugar pie has lived on at the Golden Lamb ever since.”

Considering the Golden Lamb’s history dates to 1803, though, the recipe seems like a modern addition. The Golden Lamb is Ohio’s oldest continually operated business and also holds at least the unofficial state record for consecutive years serving Thanksgiving dinners. The staff has dished up Thanksgiving spreads every year since at least 1870, when Congress officially made Thanksgiving Day a federal holiday. “President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in the 1860s,” notes Kilimnik. “The Golden Lamb obviously was open and serving dinners on that day too.”

For many people, going to the Golden Lamb for Thanksgiving has evolved into a tradition. “About 50 percent of our Thanksgiving dinner guests have eaten here for multiple years,” says Kilimnik. “We have fourth and fifth generations of families coming throughout the holiday season.” This year, he expects between 1,450 and 1,650 guests on Thanksgiving Day, plus many more who prefer to observe the holiday on the preceding Wednesday or the following Friday and Saturday. “Altogether, we’ll prepare more than 2,000 pounds of turkey and at least 30 gallons of turkey gravy,” Kilimnik says.

The Golden Lamb’s multicourse Thanksgiving dinners always begin with the signature relish platter, which is served family style and features house-made specialties such as pimento cheese and pickled watermelon rind. Subsequent courses are a la carte, and diners choose from three different entrees — oven-roasted turkey with all the trimmings, carved beef tenderloin accompanied by seasonal vegetables and cabernet jus, and a vegetarian dish such as mushroom ravioli that gives a modern twist to the Golden Lamb’s traditional fare.

The folks at the Golden Lamb pride themselves on procuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and the kitchen makes virtually everything from scratch. Stock for their turkey gravy starts with bones and is cooked for two days, while cranberry sauce is made from a tried-and-true recipe that includes whole berries, cinnamon sticks, and orange peel. “Our cranberry sauce tastes so good,” says Kilimnik, “it’ll make your socks go up and down.”

Lebanon was a newly platted town when Jonas Seaman started the Golden Lamb as a “house of public entertainment” in 1803. A Shaker community soon sprouted nearby, and thanks to Lebanon’s location on a stagecoach route between Columbus and Cincinnati, the Golden Lamb thrived as a travelers’ hotel and restaurant. After a fire in the 1930s, the Joneses needed to refurnish the Golden Lamb’s guest rooms on a shoestring budget, so they began buying old, unwanted items that had been made and used at the Shakers’ failed settlement.

Today, the Golden Lamb anchors downtown Lebanon and is a historical gem that offers guests an incomparable experience: fine dining and unique lodging against the backdrop of a priceless collection of those Shaker antiques and artifacts. During its 200-plus years, the Golden Lamb has hosted a bevy of U.S. presidents and notables — including John Quincy Adams, Charles Dickens, and Ronald Reagan — as well as untold numbers of everyday travelers, businessmen, tourists, and Sunday drivers hungering for their famous chicken dinners. Robert and Virginia Jones’ family still owns the Golden Lamb, and their remarkable furnishings range from an original stagecoach bench to the simple wooden cabinet that once held the recipe for the Shaker sugar pie that is now a must-have at the Golden Lamb’s Thanksgiving feasts.