Fine Dining Alfresco

The Orchard Inn takes terrace life to the next level

“We should have done this years ago.” Restaurant owners Marc and Marianne Blazar are referring to their new open-air terrace, built to access a stunning foothills vista (right).
Portrait by Jack Robert

With spring in the air and COVID-19 in retreat, the elegant, airy dining terrace at Newman’s Restaurant is a welcome alternative to alfresco á la asphalt — the unfortunate norm for dining out during the pandemic, when many restaurants have turned their parking lots or adjacent sidewalks into tented eateries.

Dining on the recently built post-and-beam terrace is the proverbial main course at Newman’s — the house restaurant of the Orchard Inn in Saluda — but when visiting the property, just getting there via the flower-lined, serpentine drive counts as an appetizer. Not viewable from the road, the Inn is an oasis of mixed cultural niceties. The historic bed-and-breakfast features refined Old South bedrooms in the main house and various cottages scattered throughout the surrounding mountain forest. Newman’s Restaurant is open for dinner three evenings a week with white-linen fine dining and a prix-fixe menu of interpretive classic cuisine prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Sunday’s brunch is equally upscale.

Photo by Jack Robert

Dinner guests must pass through the Inn’s main house via a wide wraparound porch, into the large living room that doubles as an entrance hall, filled with eclectic antiques and a small library. In the past, guests might linger for a drink and chit chat before heading back to the stretch of dinner tables that line the back of the building, facing a panoramic eastward view of the mountains through large windows. Though that option is still available, for those wanting to eat with the breeze in the air and old-growth hardwoods within reach, the dining terrace is now open for business.

Where an open-air gazebo once stood is now a 1,000-square-foot deck defined by modern wood and steel-cable railing. Four-person tables are spaced about on faux Persian rugs on a wood plank floor. For atmosphere and some warmth, there’s a wood-burning stone fireplace. For undeniable warmth, there are five state-of-the-art gas infrared heaters situated above, along with ceiling fans.

The big news for Newman’s is a 1,000-square-foot addition. What hasn’t changed: fine food with local ingredients, an intimate indoor dining room, and animal attractions.
Photo by Jack Robert

The fir- and white-pine structure creates a mini cathedral, with curved supports that reach heavenward. On nice days and evenings, all this openness is exhilarating. When the weather is less than ideal, the roll-down clear vinyl walls and windows ensconce the outdoor room. As the sun goes down, the shadows fall across the face of Melrose Mountain.

“When we finished building this, we asked ourselves: ‘Why didn’t we do this five years ago?’” says Marc Blazar, who owns the Inn with his wife Marianne. The couple made a substantial investment building the terrace and relocating the gazebo. The Inn and restaurant weathered the early part of the pandemic well, closing down only last April and May. When they reopened in June, half of the dining room was moved to the front and back porches. It was immediately apparent that most guests enjoyed dining outside, which inspired the Blazars to begin planning a way to sustain the innovation. They hired Mill Creek Post and Beam in Saluda to design and fabricate all the wood, and hired a local crew to assemble the structure. Work began October 1, and by Thanksgiving, guests were feasting on the new terrace.

Photo by Jack Robert

In an era of extreme challenge for so many small-business owners, Marc attributes the Inn’s resilience to its tradition of never being crowded to begin with: Inside and out, the vintage estate does not lack for space, and the fresh-air addition was just another dimension of safe hospitality. A full house is 50 guests, and each table is allotted the entire evening; guests can linger over their multi-course meal as long as they wish.

Photo by Jack Robert

On a recent pre-spring evening with temperatures in the fifties and sixties, slow jazz flowed from the overhead Bose speakers. Guests meandered, deciding where to eat. And one of the two contented house cats — an earlier one, Newman the first, gave the place its name —  casually inspected the terrace. As the sun went down, Marc, Marianne, and their son Adam continuously prepped the terrace by lighting the fire, lowering the walls, and granting wishes.

Photo by Jack Robert

The fully briefed and engaged waitress was always nearby but never intrusive, and among the night’s choices was organic hydroponic greens with goat cheese and orange vinaigrette; house-made fettuccine with roasted oyster and cremini mushrooms, bacon, and spinach in a porcini cream; and pan-roasted Maple Leaf duck breast with carrot soufflé, roasted beets, and orange pan sauce. Dessert included espresso crème brûlée with pecan-almond biscotti.

There are no bad menu choices on the dining terrace at Newman’s. Just time, ambience, hospitality — and space galore.

Newman’s at The Orchard Inn, 100 Orchard Inn Lane, Saluda. Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday, seating from 5:30-8:30pm. Sunday Brunch is from 11:30am-1:30pm. Jackets are suggested for gentlemen, but not required. To make reservations and for more information, call 828-749-5471 or e-mail innkeeper@orchardinn.com.

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