Holiday Eating in Eaton

The White Mountain town is a cookie tour hub

photo by stillman rogers
The Inn at Crystal Lake is one of two top-notch B&Bs in Eaton that participate in the Inn to Inn Holiday Cookie & Candy Tour.

The annual Inn to Inn Holiday Cookie and Candy Tour follows a sweet route from Hart’s Location to Eaton, stopping at country inns in Jackson, Intervale, North Conway, Conway, Albany and just over the border in Fryeburg, Maine. At each stop, we sampled at least two varieties of cookies and toured the inns to see their Christmas decorations. Many of the people we met were looking for holiday décor inspiration as well as cookies, and they certainly found enough of both in the inns’ bedecked public rooms. 

We chose Snowville, a village within the town of Eaton, as our headquarters, not because it was central to the rest of the tour, but because tiny Eaton has two inns with memorable restaurants. The fact that the Snowvillage Inn had welcomed a new chef since our last visit was an added attraction.

Chef Peter Willis is well-known in the Mt. Washington Valley as the longtime chef/owner of Coyote Rose, a very popular southwestern restaurant. But his talents are diverse, which the menu at Max’s Restaurant and Pub at the Snowvillage Inn demonstrates. Dinner might begin with scallops paired with crisp pork belly enlivened by roasted garlic and red pepper coulis, or a classic Caprese salad with slices of grilled eggplant added. Each day’s menu highlights a “Wild Side” entrée, which could be savory braised venison or wild boar or any of several other game specialties. The grilled duck is first brined in maple and cider, then served with figs and wild blueberries from Foss Mountain, located just behind the inn. 

The sweet fragrance of cookies baking in the kitchen drew us downstairs on Saturday morning, and, as we lingered over our French toast, preparations got underway for the arrival of cookie tour visitors. In addition to the cookies, the inn was busy with the dozen or so local artisans who gather here for a craft show on the same weekend. Along with innkeeper Jen Kovach’s luscious goat milk soaps and fragrant herbal oils, the crafts included silk scarves, pottery, beaded and silver jewelry, handbags and other handmade gifts. “There’s nothing like buying gifts from local artists,” Jen observed as she poured our second cup of coffee amid the bustle of craftspeople setting up
their displays.

Just down the hill in the village, the Inn at Crystal Lake also has a craft show in conjunction with the cookie tour. The inn has two dining options — Palmer House Pub, named for the original 1884 Palmer House in which the inn is located, and a somewhat more formal dining room overlooking the lake. You can order from either menu in each. We were traveling with Mary, our chicken potpie connoisseur, and she proclaimed their Chicken & Biscuits from the pub menu “the best.”

We have been trying to get to the Inn at Crystal Lake for one of their monthly opera dinners, where innkeeper/bartender Tim Ostendorf, a trained opera singer himself, talks about opera and introduces guest performers. The dinner menu highlights the evening’s musical theme. Unfortunately, there was not one scheduled while we were in town. But across the street in the Little White Church, a Christmas concert by singer-songwriter Carol Noonan and composer/pianist Dana Cunningham was scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings of the cookie tour weekend. (This concert is also planned for 2016 on December 9-10. On December 11, Cunningham is joined by cellist Max Dyer.) The pretty Little White Church, built in1879, is Eaton’s nondenominational Community Church, bought and maintained by the town after its congregation dwindled to one member.

That so small a town should have two country inns would be unusual anywhere except in the White Mountains. But even for this part of the state, having two inns — each with wonderful restaurants — is remarkable. That’s not all. In between memorable dinners, we could have lunch at Eaton Village Store, another community project, which evolved after the closing of Eaton’s general store and post office.

The store tells a lot about the town — its existence today is due to townspeople pulling together to save an institution that had become their unofficial community center. In 2005, the store was closing. “We had to do something,” says Kovach, who was then president of the Eaton Village Preservation Society. “So we voted to buy it.” On the night of the vote, they raised $26,000 in memberships, and several dozen volunteers conducted the needed repairs and updates.

With a town of fewer than 400 residents, everyone had to do his or her share; fundraising continued with bake sales, gifts and grants. Eventually, they raised enough to open the new store and provide a comfortable house for the new storekeepers. Another round of updates took place earlier this year, and while repairs were going on, volunteers baked muffins, made coffee and kept a corner open for people to get their mail.

By this time, Kevin Flynn, the Snowvillage Inn’s co-owner, was taking his turn chairing the preservation society, and the store reopened just in time to celebrate the town’s 250th birthday in August. The store pays it forward, promoting local businesses by selling Sherman Farm milk, fresh eggs from Little Field Farm just down the road and gluten-free cookies from Ashera Fine Baking in neighboring Madison. One wall showcases paintings and photographs for sale by local artists.

At lunchtime, we had to wait for a place to sit before ordering grilled sandwiches of slow-roasted pork with sliced apple and whole-grain mustard. As we ate, three different people suggested we try the peanut butter pie.

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