Newman’s (By No Other Name)

The Orchard Inn in Saluda is firmly ensconced in its natural topography. But the house restaurant’s cuisine is distinctly New American, featuring inventive interpretations of local chicken, beef, and pork, plus organic produce from the inn’s own grounds. Photo by Tim Robison

A gray-and-white rescue cat called Edward greets visitors with a shy blink just inside the doors of The Orchard Inn. He wanders outside to the enormous front verandah, looks over the grounds, and, when he’s ready, pads down the stairs and noses around for a nip of clover. It’s early April — miniature azaleas brush the yard in shades of candy pink and pale grape. They look like whoever tends them could probably recite their botanical names.

The nationally registered historic structure, dubbed “Mountain Home” when it was built in 1926 as a high-altitude getaway for Saluda Grade railroad workers, rambles without pretense. Broad and imposing, but not fancy, it commands its perimeter like a ship, facing a poised ripple of southern hills on three sides.

Photo by Tim Robison

There’s no grasping after trends at this bed-and-breakfast. The inn and auxiliary vacation cabins, owned by Marc and Marianne Blazar since 2010, thrive on unhurried charm. It’s all dark-gleam wooden floors, ferny fabrics, and country antiques; in the great room on the main level, a stone fireplace and a pocket library help set the scene. The house restaurant, Newman’s — open three nights a week for dinner and for Sunday brunch, always with a prix-fixe menu — specializes in seasonal fine dining. Softly opposing the New American cuisine, the atmosphere lingers in the old school, marked by four courses, white tablecloths, and a general hush.

The Blazars worked as chefs on charter boats and as professional photographers in tropical tourist locales before they began their career as innkeepers. They carved out a distinct identity for their restaurant so that visitors would realize it was open to all, not just B&B guests. Newman’s borrows its name from another of the couple’s beloved cats — “a very gourmet Siamese,” says Marianne, “who loved NC Gulf Coast shrimp above all.”

The eatery is really just a narrow gesture of tables facing a back window and meandering outside, all seats sited for the view. But the quiet in this alcove is pristine and valuable, a correction to contemporary bistro culture with its haughty vaulted ceilings and wretched acoustics.

Photo by Tim Robison

It’s an ideal setting for executive chef Stuart Partin’s committed farm-to-table ethos. The daily menu comes stamped with the weekend’s date, signifying limited-edition meals and ultimate freshness. Beef, trout, chicken, and pork are sourced from farms in Western North Carolina and north Georgia or in nearby sections of the Piedmont, and spring strawberries from upstate South Carolina figured strongly the first full week of spring.

Partin uses well-known local meat purveyors such as Sunburst Trout, Brasstown Beef, and, for pork, Hickory Nut Gap Farms — but he also scouts out smaller operations firmly ensconced in the south-mountain hollows. And he lists these growers by their names first, not their businesses: “Hal Oliver [Oliver Organiks, Hendersonville]; R.L. Bruner [Growater Farms near Lake Lure]; and Joe and Joyce Cunningham [Mountain View Berry Farms in Landrum, SC].”

Deeper in the season, Partin gets most of his vegetables from an organic farm on the inn property — furrows he tends himself. His earthy approach translates to the kitchen. There’s no overwrought fusion or confused sauces happening here; using cultivated ingredients, the chef is grooming a high clarity for foothills cuisine.

Photo by Tim Robison

Strawberries and pine nuts decorated the arugula salad, but among the first courses on that early-April night, the cheese plate was the standout, arranged with offerings in sheep’s milk (Caña de Oveja) and goat (Humboldt Fog). The berries here came pickled and were accompanied by lavash — a Middle Eastern flat bread — and an olive tapenade. A simple, sensual pearl of honeycomb was the final bit of inspiration.

The second-course dishes were executed with lovely confidence: one platter featured pork belly served with quail egg and two forms of beet. But the arguable winner was the Springer Mountain Farms chicken-liver spread. The fried livers were crumbly and delicate, and a liver-mousse terrine, paired with a beet-and-apple-cider gelée, was a triumph of taste. (Grilled sunflower wheat bread and a walnut-and-apple side salad rounded out the texture profile.)

For each of the four main courses, a suggestion of complementary wines was printed out. More importantly, the server knew the menu to the bone. Her measured delivery furthered the inn’s particular flavor of hospitality: too rooted to be pretentious. Guessing which fork to use for which course didn’t matter anyway when it came to the braised beef short ribs — they were so tender a spoon worked fine. With this entrée, a traditional trio of roasted vegetables (carrots, onions, mushrooms) were bested by a superb homemade Yukon-potato gnocchi.

Executive Chef Stuart Partin lets the natural harvest cycle inform his weekly menu. Photo by Tim Robison

Duck confit, beef tenderloin, and mountain trout comprised the other main dishes. The fish was simply presented in a broth of fennel and preserved lemon, served with a parsnip purée that proved to be the most memorable of the side items. Beets and strawberries came around again for the dessert course — the sweet veggie flavored two macarons and united with the berry in a sorbet; a dab of lemon ricotta on the side was so good it deserved to be the focus of its own dish. However, the gold medal of meal enders was a divinely rich coconut Tres Leches cake topped with toasted meringue.

As spring ripens, it’s fun to wonder what new items Partin will bring to harvest — and thus to the table. “I’m excited to offer wild ramps, rapini, asparagus,” he says. “I create the weekly menu based on what produce we’re growing — so I really anticipate seasonal ingredients more so than particular dishes.”

Newman’s at The Orchard Inn (100 Orchard Inn Lane, Saluda) is open for dinner Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 6-8:30pm, and for Sunday brunch from 11:30am-2pm. For reservations and for more information, call 828-749-5471 or see orchardinn.com

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