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What’s the deal with Ed Scherer and Tom Looney?

So far it’s been nine years of 14- to 16-hour workdays running their Canton restaurant Helen’s Garden— Tom cooking in the kitchen, Ed doing the books, greeting customers and keeping things running smoothly in the dining rooms. So you’d think the couple would want to spend their time off sans other folks.

Instead, Ed and Tom’s new Rehoboth Beach home is all about entertaining. It seems good food, good drink and good company isn’t just business for Tom and Ed. It’s a lifestyle. The 5,000-square-foot beach retreat is often filled with friends and family. And nary a week goes by without at least one party. Every Sunday, as soon as Ed and Tom close up Helen’s after Sunday brunch, they head to Rehoboth, returning to this side of the bay on Wednesdays.

“There’s nothing more important than being with friends and families and being together,” Tom says.

“We recharge by spending time with people we care about,” adds Ed.

For the 19 years the couple has been together, they’ve lived in a 1,440-square-foot Federal Adams-style rowhouse near Patterson Park. Much of their free time, however, has been spent staying with friends in Rehoboth. So when they decided to build there, Tom and Ed had a pretty good idea of what they wanted. It had to be a welcoming, airy retreat. Loads of natural wood, windows and light. Away from the summer crowds. Surrounded by trees. So that’s just what they built in the Rehoboth Beach Yacht and Country Club community. The design of the sprawling house is all about celebrating the warm, casual hospitality they had received as guests themselves over the years.

That begins with the top floor— an airy loft featuring two double beds and a guest bathroom. One level down, on the third floor, is the master bedroom suite and an adjoining office space for Ed. Also a loft-like space, part of the bedroom is open, but can be closed off from the rest of the house. A large bathroom surrounded in burgundy rosso levanto marble complete with a whirlpool tub, huge glass-enclosed shower and sparkling chandelier, completes the private retreat.

“Ed and I have all our own private space on that floor, so we have our privacy and guests have theirs,” Tom says.

“Tom can be cooking in the kitchen below, and I can be in my office working and we can still talk to each other,” Ed explains.

The main floor includes a spacious, comfortable living area with a fireplace on one side and an open kitchen and dining area at the other. The rear opens to a screened porch, and a good-sized wooden deck adjoins that. Behind the kitchen is what the two call the “cocktail room”— an intimate den (with its own small screened porch) with glazed chocolate walls. It’s perfect for starting off an evening, particularly in the colder winter months. The room can also serve as an additional guest room— the sofa converts to a foldout bed, and a small bathroom is right around the corner. Down the hallway is another guest room and bathroom. Three guest areas; three guest bathrooms. No sharing the sink here!

The basement level is yet to be completed, but plans call for yet another guest suite with its own bath.

Although the house is at the beach (actually, about a mile from the water, as the crow flies), Tom and Ed didn’t want the furnishings to be “beach-y.” Warm and intimate is the rule here. Earth tones like eggplant, burgundy and chocolate. Hardwood floors. Granite and tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. Persian rugs and lots of cushy furniture, the kind you want to sink into.

And then there are the candles. Some 150 of them are lit almost every night the two are there.

“Night is our favorite time in the house,” says Ed. “The house just glows.”

“We light the candles, start the music and fill the cocktail shaker at the same time,” Tom adds with a laugh. If the guests aren’t staying at the house already, that’s about the time they arrive.

On a balmy mid-May night, the couple is hosting a houseful of out-of-town guests. Occupying the top floor are Mike Looney and Linda and Tom Buckner— Tom’s brother, sister and brother-in-law. Karen Patten, co-owner of Kali’s Court restaurant, is ensconced in the “cocktail room.” And Baltimore clinical psychologist Dr. Steve Sobelman is set up in the other guest room. Among those joining the “live-ins” for a casual cocktail party and supper are Peggy Raley, Lewes-based jazz singer and owner of Nassau Valley Vineyards; Gayle and Keith Fitzgerald, a local language teacher and one of the owners of Rehoboth’s The Back Porch Cafe, respectively; Leo Medisch, Back Porch’s executive chef; Chris and David Key, owners of Baltimore’s Daily Grind coffeehouse and Key Coffee Roasters; Baltimore-based real estate developer Anne Riggle and one of her development partners, Sean Ruppert; Arthur Gowran, a D.C.-based retired U.S. Justice Department attorney; and Rehoboth neighbor John McLaughlin.

Up in an overlooking loft, Peggy has set up a special treat— a combo of some of her jazz musician friends. Cool jazz wafts over the festivities as cocktails are mixed and poured on the back porch.

Of course, the centerpiece of these restaurateurs’ soirees is invariably the food. Tom always plans the menu and does the cooking, but it’s rarely anything you’ll recognize from the Helen’s Garden menu.

“I always like to make something new for a party,” he says. “Not the stuff I already make in the restaurant every day. Most of our friends are foodies, so I want their opinions. If I get good feedback, I’ll consider using that recipe in the restaurant.”

Because Tom likes to have some party time to hang out with friends, he does as much advance prep as possible. And house guests are encouraged to pitch in. The previous day Mike, Linda and Tom Buckner picked the crab meat for the party’s crab-and-watercress salad. And the morning of the party, they had helped “French” the Persian lamb racks and grill the asparagus in between sips of their morning coffee.

Leo Medisch brings dessert— a layered French-toast strawberry poundcake. He also brings a homemade   (continued on page 158) surprise: morel custard appetizers with fava beans and asparagus, an item he has just added to the Back Porch menu. Spoons come out and guests around the kitchen island dive into the platters. Who needs plates? This is family.

As at many of their parties, the dining room table serves mainly as a buffet. The most formal touches are the napkins’ Windsor knots tied around the dinner flatware. Folks serve themselves and settle wherever they please. Then, Tom awaits the verdict on the night’s dinner. Tonight, it’s a big “thumbs up” all around for the lamb and the asparagus. A “so-so” decision on the grilled vodka-and-cilantro marinated soft-shell crabs.

It’s the wee hours before the last of the guests leaves or toddles off to bed. It’s been a nonstop day for Ed and Tom. But, true to their word, they do seem almost renewed.

“It might sound kind of Pollyanna-esque, but the people who come here are amazingly giving,” says Ed.

“We are so grateful for the love they give us, the ear they give us. In good times and bad, they’re always there for us. Having people like that around makes us richer. We take care of them. And they take care of us.”

The house has done its job. 

Recipes

Lao-style Asparagus

Persian Lamb Zaatar with Yogurt Sauce

Morel Custards

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