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International chef gives historic inn a makeover

Harvey's at The Henderson is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Harvey's at The Henderson is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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Harvey's at The Henderson is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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Michael Gilligan is serving up tasty plates at the former Inn on Church, bringing back the Roaring Twenties as the historic building approaches its 100th birthday.

“I just felt that it was a shame that a building that was approaching its centenary, the public wasn’t allowed in it,” Gilligan says, describing his effort to make the place more inviting. “They couldn’t sit on the porch. They couldn’t walk around. Because this is the seat of Henderson County, The Henderson just made sense.”
“This was built in 1919,” he said. “This was the start of the Roaring Twenties, when people started having fun.”
Fun and nostalgic at the same time. The walls are decorated with posters of “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” and, of course, Gilligan’s favorite movie, “Harvey,” a serendipitous discovery as a teenager.
“One Sunday night I came across this movie and I watched it and it completely changed my life, because the guy was so pleasant, so happy,” he said.
MICHAELGilliganJeanneJeanne and Michael Gilligan found the perfect inn in Hendersonville.Somehow the gentleness of James Stewart’s character inspired Gilligan’s long and successful career as a chef and culinary director. A graduate of the College of Food & Arts in Birmingham, England, he’s been executive chef at Conrad Miami, the renowned Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Miami and the W Hotel in South Beach (Miami). He created menus, bought ingredients and trained kitchen staffs while traveling the world as culinary director of Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
“One day I was in Shanghai, the next day I was in Tokyo, Barcelona, because we had ships all over the world,” he says. “A lot of it’s procuring ingredients and making partnerships. That’s something I wanted to do when I came here. That’s why the third Wednesday of every month we’re partnering with Wine Sage Gourmet.” He’s partnered with Sanctuary Brewing Co. for a vegan dinner.

 


Finding the impossible

His search for a kitchen to call his own ended in Hendersonville last summer.
“I started looking around at inns for sale,” he says. “But we had a whole list of criteria that it had to meet. The schools had to be great, it had to be a really good community, I didn’t want it too rural but I didn’t want a big city, wanted to be near Blue Ridge Mountains, I wanted at least 15 rooms, it needed to have a bar, needed to have a restaurant. Impossible to find that.”
Then his online search turned up the Inn on Church. He couldn’t wait to tell his wife.
“I think I found the place,” he told her.
She whipped out her smart phone and held it up, “This one?”
She had found the Hendersonville property that day, too.
The inn would become, one might say, Gilligan’s Highland.

The first thing he thought was that the place needed to lighten up.
“It was dark, it was very old, the windows were covered with these boxes and curtains, the paint was this chocolate color. We said, this has so much potential.”
Crews stripped the covering from the windows, repainted the rooms, replaced the sprinkler system, cleaned the kitchen hood. A carpenter and electrician are around so much that his kids call them Uncle Chuck and Uncle John.
“Have you ever seen the movie, ‘The Money Pit’? I’m in it right now,” he says. He’s sunk a quarter million dollars into renovation. “And of course we bought the property for a couple million.”
He and his wife, Jeanne, and children — Katie, 12, and Jack, 9 — live in three rooms upstairs, leaving 17 more to rent. Jeanne serves as front-of-the-house manager.
They opened the bar, Harvey’s, naturally, in January. He serves appetizers, small plates and desserts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Menu items include miso caramelized Brussel sprouts with smoked bacon, fried mac’n’cheese with Sriracha ketchup and baked sea scallops with orange-thyme butter (all $8), Carolina shrimp ceviche, crème brulee, Ahi tuna tacos and Harvey’s caprese ($10); cheese and charcuterie plates and crab cakes with grilled corn ($12).
The restaurant is open 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. features 10 Mimosa and Bloody Mary specials, pancakes, omelets, crab cake benedict, Scottish smoked salmon, avocado toast and steak and eggs.
His once-a-month dinner and a movie on the second Wednesday, for $50, includes a welcome drink, appetizer, themed entrée with wine pairing and dessert. Recently, for “Key Largo,” he made conch chowder and a poached pompano with mushrooms and wine-soaked shallots.
For this week’s feature, “Some Like It Hot,” he made sugarcane Florida gulf shrimp (for the Marilyn Monroe character Sugar) and braised pheasant with cranberry and mint, “because there’s a pheasant on the table when they board the yacht.”