Enjoy a relaxed meal where the past lives on at classic New Hampshire inns.
Sometimes our sprawling cities and citified towns seem like just another byway through modern America. But look closer. Across the state, historic properties on roads less traveled offer an escape to a hidden New Hampshire. There you can find a host of fine dining experiences that offer history and New England charm as a side dish.
Stagecoach stops of the past are now accommodating inns with modern conveniences offering a heart-warming escape from the chill of winter and the dull coat of progress. Wide pumpkin pine floors, blazing fires, paned windows with a touch of lace, snow falling on pines - it's why New Yorkers make the drive.
Every region has its past preserved at an inn. Most inn owners are, in fact, just caretakers of a tradition that started with the first stagecoaches and take pride in being keepers of the flame. The flame at many inns now includes a fine dining experience served under the soft glow of history.
In Henniker Cyndi and Mason Cobb escaped the corporate world for innkeeping at the Colby Hill nine years ago. Both have a great interest in food and wine and wanted to combine that with running a historic property. The sign at the door says "Lodging and Good Food" and Cyndi wants to make sure they deliver on that promise. "Good strong food is really important," she says. "Our guests should feel confident they will have a good meal every time. Chefs are like a good musician, you play the same song well each time. If you get tired of it you change the song."
Cyndi is a chef at heart - she was runner-up in a national pancake contest, but the couple depends on a professional chef for dinner service.
The Cobbs recently hired Cory Fletcher as head chef and are pleased to have a chef with the same food philosophy they have - food beautifully presented in portions that allow the diner to enjoy the full presentation of a three-course dinner. Chef Fletcher brings with him a reputation as the Oz in the kitchen at the now-shuttered 55 Degrees in Concord.
Fletcher's philosophy of food is simple - create flavors that are crisp and clean. He works toward balancing flavor profiles, with sweet and spicy or tart and rich flavors that can be tasted separately, but bounce back and forth on the palate. He strives to have a range of textures in each dish, adding crispy duck confit to the sweet potato and apple hash accompanying the spiced duck breast. More than just fun on the tongue, textures and colors add a visual delight - as Fletcher says, you dine with your eyes first. The chef is fully on board the fresh and local food movement and looks forward to establishing relationships with local providers as the growing season burgeons.
The Colby Hill dining room boasts full-length windows with views into a private courtyard filled with birds and the tracks of wildlife on snow. Spring views bring the color purple with ancient lilacs framed against weathered barn board.
The 14 guest rooms range from cozy rooms to canopied beds to suites in the barn with Jacuzzis and fireplaces. The inn is a member of the Select Registry, Distinguished Inns of North America.
The inn's Cooking Confidential series and team-building workshops offer guests or daytrippers a chance to work with Chef Cory Fletcher. Participants prepare and enjoy a three-course dinner served with matching wines. Next class is scheduled for February 9. NH
Dinner is served Wednesday through Sunday and an à la carte brunch menu is served on Sunday. New is a Sunday supper offering a three-course meal for $21.95.
Colby Hill Inn, 3 The Oaks, Henniker, (603) 428-3281
More ideas for inn dining
Whether you visit an inn just for the food and wine or prefer to finish the night just a few steps up a creaking staircase to a comfy bed, innkeepers are a great resource for local attractions. Marry your stay with a visit to a small-town general store, a wintry sleigh ride or other backcountry adventures. Just ask your host. Here are a few picks by region:
Bedford Village Inn, Bedford
Not far from busy byways this inn offers intimate dining in a series of fire-placed rooms, part of the original architecture of a working farm built in 1810. The luxurious accommodations are tastefully appointed. Other dining options include the Tavern and the new Corks, a small urban wine bar.
Three Chimneys, Durham
Creative accommodations near UNH are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Maples is like dining in an elegant Colonial residence; the ffrost-Sawyer Tavern offers a pub menu in a rustic setting. Rooms are sumptuous and most have a massive four-poster bed so high you need a stepstool to get to bed.
Inn at Danbury, Danbury
Affordable and fun accommodations near Ragged Mountain offers a taste of German and Austrian cuisine complete with servers in dirndls and lederhosen.
Inn at Newfound Lake, Bristol
Dine in the cozy Wild Hare Tavern of the Pasquaney Restaurant with views of bobhouses on Newfound Lake. The former stagecoach stop offers affordable accommodations in classic New England décor.
Wakefield Inn, Wakefield
Chef/owner Janel Martin runs a seven-room inn and offers dining to the public on Friday and Saturday nights by reservation only. Chef Martin is classically trained and also offers intimate cooking classes in the French technique.
New London Inn, New London
Chef Jarod Rockwell took over management of the restaurant and continues to deliver creative menus. Rockwell's at the Inn has huge dining room windows that overlook the ice skating rink next door. A separate bar menu is available, too.
Highland Lake Inn, East Andover
Innkeeper Pecco Beaufays trained as a chef at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna and spent the following 30 years in luxury hotels in Europe and America. The inn recently opened the dining room to the public. This former gentleman's farm was built in 1767 and is situated on seven acres adjoining a 21-acre nature preserve. The nearby trailhead of the Northern Rail Trail is a perfect place to cross-country ski.
Chesterfield Inn, Chesterfield
A rambling farmhouse set on a hill is nestled in gardens carefully planned to look naturally beautiful. Ten rooms have views of the meadow while fine dining on the porch offers great views of the snow-covered grounds. Chef Bob Nebstadt takes pride in offering the usual with an unexpected twist.
Hancock Inn, Hancock
This historic inn proudly proclaims it is the oldest continuously running inn in the state. It has it all - creaking staircases, original fireplaces perfect for candlelit dinners, beautifully restored rooms including several with Rufus Porter murals. An excellent wine list accompanies the New England fare.
Home Hill Inn, Plainfield
This lovely genteel inn, tucked away on backcountry roads, offers the best of inspired cuisine. The accommodations are as lovely as the food.
Aylmer's Grille at the Woodbound Inn Rindge
Recently refurbished from the kitchen sink to the guest suites, the dining room at the Woodbound Inn offers the feel of an old-fashioned resort with the contemporary flair of Chef Aylmer Given.
Inn at Thorn Hill, Jackson
Award-winning dining in the heart of Jackson. Chef John Russ pleases and teases in both the dining room and lounge menu. The inn is newly rebuilt with all the character of the Stanford White original.
Darby Field Inn & Restaurant, Albany
Take a moonlight sleigh ride right from the door of this inn after a dinner of New England fare. The inn is six miles from North Conway, but tucked away deep in the woods.
Ammonoosuc Inn, Lisbon
Chef/owner Karen Melanie owned a bistro on Long Island. Trained in classic French technique she prepares fresh foods with an international influence. In winter bistro menu items are available in the pub. Cooking classes are offered by appointment. All rooms recently updated with fresh décor. Zinfandel Jacuzzi Suite has views of the mountains over the tub and, if that is not enough, a flat-screen TV.
Sugar Hill Inn, Sugar Hill
Innkeeper Steve Allen, has a passion for food and hired Chef Val Fortin to ensure a first-rate dining experience. Quaint rooms in the main house or more modern accommodations in the additions.
The 1785 Inn, North Conway
First-class dining with excellent wine list and sweeping views of the Presidentials. Active bar scene. Rooms are basic, but affordable. NH
This article appears in the February 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine