Promises Promises

Here's the word on delivering the goods.Ever been to a restaurant that let you down? They made grand implied promises, but didn't deliver - whether it was a specific menu item that was less glorious than its poetic description or worse, the ingredients lacked flavor or freshness. This let-down factor is probably the number one reason why fine dining restaurants are failing is this tough economy. One less-than-inspired dish and, guess what, you don't come back for a while ... or ever.You could say that is the reason why Squam Lake Inn owners Cindy Foster and Rae Andrews decided to add to their busy lives as innkeepers and open their inn to the public for lunch and, more recently, for dinner."We couldn't find the kind of dining we enjoy in the immediate Holderness area, so decided to do it ourselves," says Rae. And what were they looking for? Top-notch ingredients, local if possible, in preparations with an interesting twist - all in a casual, comfortable atmosphere. Rae, a former corporate employee, thinks it is an advantage to not have come from the restaurant industry. "We have had employees suggest cost-saving schemes that skimped on quality," she says. "That's not our foremost concern. Sure, I hate to see that $75 bill for Cabot butter, but that is what I want to eat - real butter - and that's what our guests appreciate."And just as important for the women, offering sensible portions, so diners can enjoy three courses. I agree, why stumble out to the parking lot feeling bloated and full of regret?Since opening for dinner last year the Squam Lake Inn restaurant has attracted the attention of the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection. On July 28 they hosted a Grower's Dinner, filling the seats with regulars, topped off with new converts drawn in by the appeal of local sourcing.The baby-greens mix for salads is purchased from nearby Owen's Truck Farm. The edible flower garnishes come from the gardens of Squam Lake Inn, maintained by Rae. Ice cream and several cheeses on the cheese board come in from Sandwich Creamery about 30 miles east. A customer favorite dessert is the ice cream sandwiches made with Cindy's fresh-baked cookies and the local ice cream.On a recent visit I was impressed with the spot-on service the inn provides. The cozy rooms were freshly appointed, the staff was welcoming and the new porch addition called out to sit a spell.This spring the women decided to add the screened porch to the deck because guests enjoy sitting outdoors. They added a nicely designed bar made from salvaged doors and multi-color floor boards give the space a cottage feel.Most of the interior design is done by Cindy, who appears to be an artist in her own right. A few of her jewelry designs are available at the Red Barn shop that's right next door.The Red Barn was another project the women completed recently. They cleared out a hay barn and turned it into an artisan gallery and gift shop - just one of the many projects finished since they bought the inn eight years ago.The couple lived in California at the time and just decided to change jobs and scenery. Sure, it wasn't easy leaving the warm weather and beach scene, but Rae had always loved visiting the Lakes Region for holidays.Innkeeping wasn't the focal point of their journey, but they were looking for a business to run. When the former Pressed Petals Inn became available, they made a quick decision ... yes, we can do this. Sure, Rae explains, the work is hard, but they had always worked hard in their former corporate jobs. Just driving the Southern California freeways had to have been a chore, I would think.Running a restaurant wasn't in the business plan at the start, but even with all the work - Rae works on the line and Cindy does breakfast and most of the baking - the inn is a satisfying environment for the couple. "We wanted to become part of the Holderness community and we wanted to create a sense of community here," says Rae.Indeed, at dinner and lunch you will find guests chatting with each other and strangers, too. One woman made a point of telling me how great the food was here and that she had never been disappointed.Never is a strong word, but it's the kind of word that brings people back. In fact, I saw the same woman visiting again at lunch with a different friend. It's like she had found religion and was spreading the gospel - communion, community - what's the difference anyway.You could say the "Word" is out on the Squam Lake Inn, but be warned, they stop lunch and dinner service after Columbus day weekend. NHSquam Lake Inn HighlightsBreakfast: Fresh-squeezed orange juice, thick slabs of peppered bacon and tender multi-grain pancakes served with New Hampshire maple syrup (service for inn guests only).Lunch: Lobster rolls and BLTs served with fresh avocado and sourdough breadDrinks: Fresh peach sangriaWine: Choose a bottle from the $25 list - each a good value from up-and-coming regions around the world.Dinner: Fresh salads made from an interesting baby-greens mix that includes dill, arugula and edible flowers. The house poppy seed dressing is light and not too sweet.All seafood is fresh and purchased with a careful eye to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guidelines.Dessert: Cindy's freshly baked cookies, especially the molasses spice and lemon, Sandwich Creamery ice cream and any of Rae's mom's home-baked desserts.Menu changes weekly and focuses on fresh and local ingredients.
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