Bludau's Goetchius House, Columbus, GA
When I was much younger, my father would occasionally take my mother and myself out to dinner with one or more of his business clients. The restaurants would vary, but my two favorites were the Mom & Pop Japanese restaurant - blandly named Tokyo, but that was the only bland thing about it - and Bludau's Goetchius (Geh chus
) House. Being the adventurous sort as well as virtually unafraid of all things culinary unlike many children my age, I would order things off that giant menu that I'd never even heard of before, just to have the experience.
The Goetchius House is owned by a rather serious and abrupt Alsatian chef by the name of Werner Bludau, whose temperament (in the grand tradition of every European chef I have ever met or worked with) was legendarily nightmarish. One moment he's perfectly charming, the next an abject demon. The house was originally built in 1839 by a Dutch architect named Richard Rose Goetchius, a member of an old Dutch New York family, who came to Columbus and built a home for his bride. It was located on the corner of 11th Street and 2nd Avenue. The house was designed in the popular style of the second era of New Orleans. The wide front veranda was decorated with the typical, intricate, iron lacework of the period. Carved double doors, flanked with stained glass panels, form the entrance. From the center hall, double doorways open into high-ceilinged parlors decorated with ornate plaster cornices and wood carvings over the portals. Chandeliers were suspended from elaborately-cast plaster medallions.
The back garden, featuring the veranda and the fountain.
In 1969, The Goetchius House was moved to lower Broadway in the Historic District, several blocks away. The one-level house was cut into seven sections and the veranda was taken apart in order to move the sections and leave uncut the many old and stately oaks along the route. The new location had an entire ground floor built beneath it as a foundation along the riverbank, and the original house elevated on top of this brick structure. The main dining rooms are named for those men who played an important part in the creation of Columbus and for whom the original six Avenues of the old city were named. They are: Oglethorpe, English general and founder of Georgia; Troup and Jackson, early Governors of Georgia; Forsyth, Governor when Columbus was chartered; Mercer, early philanthropist in education and McIntosh, half-breed Chief of the Lower Creeks and friend of the settlers. The Captain's Table is in the lower level. The Out-Building is a period structure similar to those known to have stood behind the original home. It was customary to have servants quarters and service buildings located in the gardens of large town houses. Beyond the back of the property is the Chattahoochee River, visible from any window in the back of the house as well as the veranda.
There was a beautiful and smoky voiced waitress that worked there when I was younger, a gorgeous black lady named Mary that I would always run up to and hug as soon as I saw her in our wait to be seated. My father being a very important man and considered a favored guest there always got the royal treatment by the staff, all of whom were well compensated for their labors. I learned early on that when the bill arrived after the last dessert dishes had been cleared away and the adults were lingering over coffee, brandy, cognac, and/or the Frangelico my father favors, it was customary to hold the hand of the server that brought the bill to you, thank them for the service and whisper to them to add 20-25% for themselves. Mary would crouch down while hugging me and ask me questions about school and my pets, music and just about anything we'd discussed before. She always knew what sort of things I liked to eat and would be willing to try, and marveled to my parents about what a well behaved and well mannered child I was. Mary was the one who first served me baked escargots, succulently baked in garlic butter and nestled in an inverted mushroom cap; clams casino on the half shell, baked with onions, peppers, applewood smoked bacon, and blanketed in a parmesan crust; pâté de foie gras; chateaubriand, she crab soup, and the tableside flambeed spectacles of bananas foster and cherries jubilee. She would also be completely taken with me while I would follow her around when the restaurant wasn't busy or we were the last table, helping her to dress the tables with new linens and endless pieces of silver and wine glasses. I suspect I was the only 12 year old she knew that was allowed to drink coffee and had already developed a sensitive palate which craved adventure and richness.
I loved wandering around the garden in back of the house, making wishes while throwing pennies into the giant fountain, and admiring the well manicured lawn with its stations of lillies, creeping ivy in the numerous trellises and wrought iron gates, and the enormous boughs of the majestic magnolias gracing the riverbank. The sound system was terrible and crackly, which was perfect for the Jazz and Blues that poured from the speakers nonstop, mostly Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. The well stocked and poorly lit bar in the bottom floor of the house smelled of old wood, dank humidity, and pipe tobacco. That entire floor smelled the same. Upstairs, the rooms were all grand and appointed with antique chairs, sideboards and buffets, floor to ceiling mirrors, and assorted other finery. The beveled glass in all of the front windows had the habit of making everything outside wave at you as you moved along from room to room. The floors creaked appropriately and the gas lit exterior lamps made everything look straight out of the pages of all things Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, and Columbus' own Carson McCullers. Some years later when I took a second job as a waiter there, because the money was so good and because I wasn't making what I wanted to make at my then day job, I would spend my time in between jobs on cool days on that upstairs veranda with one of the books of the aforementioned writers as well as my much beloved John Kennedy Toole and Pat Conroy (my all-time favorite writer) engrossed in the pages and ensconced among the creeping vines of confederate jasmine. The river would turn to flame with the setting sun, a signal that it was time to get to work. The staff in the evenings after we closed and cleaned up/reset the restaurant would all congregate around the bar or one of the larger tables - chain smoking and drinking wine. Mary was long gone in search of greener pastures in Atlanta, but the other staff were a good bunch of people.
Once, in the beginning of Spring, a relatively wealthy family had booked the entire restaurant for their daughter's reception. We labored for two days to have everything just-so, and on the day of the reception a call was placed to then-manager Joan, a woman who seemed charmingly saccharine and clever enough to throw off any trace of her true mawkish nature. Joan was in her late 40's and drove a Porsche, did little work other than smile and act grand in her gaudy outfits and costume jewelry, and occasionally give anecdotal luminaries about her complete hatred of her elderly mother and her sincere desires for the woman to die soon, and of her ginormous English bulldog named Pearl - her only real love. The incoming call, placed to us on that fateful Saturday afternoon served to announce that the wedding had been postponed and that the expected flood of guests were to only be phantoms in our imaginations. I forget the details, but suffice it to say that Werner (as was to be expected) exploded and began carrying on a hissy fit of Naomi Campbell like proportions. He insisted that Joan immediately inform them that the food had been prepared, the wine and champagne ordered and awaiting toasts, and the entire business shut down for that day just to host this event - and that they were going to have to pay the full bill for it. After much stomping and snorting about the place, he left in a huff. Joan decided that in the best interests of the business, she would only bill them for the things that could not be used in regular service - ice sculptures, fresh fruit and boiled shrimp, cheeses and the like, and the fee for closing the restaurant to the public. Also, the wine that was special ordered for the occasion - a very heady, seductive, and relatively young Château Mouton-Rothschild Paulliac. She offered for it all to be packaged up and the family to come and pick it all up, which they kindly refused and said to give it to the staff.
We all kicked back, feasted on prosciutto wrapped melon and figs, handfuls of boiled shrimp with remoulade sauce, mini quiches, clams casino, cucumber sandwiches, and endless glasses of sweet tea that had been brewed for the anticipated guests in gallons. Joan, craven bitch that she was, decided to resell the wine and champagne - but we still managed to persuade her to let us open one of the Paulliacs. It was a fantastic wine, I could only imagine what it would have been like had it been one of the older vintages. Thus began my admiration for the more stately Bordeaux wines. The best part of the feast was always my personal favorite, when the last glass of red wine is filled and the fruit and cheese arrive. We had a well ripened brie that creeped out of its snow white prison of molded rind, a mountain gorgonzola that I savored with a glass of port and some black figs, and an extremely old alpage gruyere (close to 2 years aging time qualifies as antique) that made me fall in love with alpage cheeses. The term alpage connotes a qualitative difference from other cheeses. Alpage means mountain pasture and when used to describe a cheese, it means that the milk is taken from the cows only during the warmer months when the herd is able to graze on the wild flowers, herbs, and grasses of the alpine pastures. This type of diet makes much more complexity in the resulting milk and therefore a much more interestingly flavored cheese. It was heavenly with the wine and a few fresh strawberries.
It was one of my favorite meals ever at the Goetchius House. If you're ever in Columbus and have the inclination to get dressed up and spend some money on a fabulous meal and a great time making memories before heading out that evening, I reccommend it.