Newman’s Restaurant is upscale dining at its most leisurely
The idea of a secret restaurant is storybook charming. Not that Newman’s Restaurant at The Orchard Inn & Spa in Saluda, set inside a rambling vintage resort, is some kind of speakeasy or private club. Quite the opposite: Owners Marc and Marianne Blazar have implemented high-profile events and extras at the inn, including themed wine dinners with Overmountain Vineyards of Tryon and wellness packages.
But the elegant little restaurant, open to inn guests and to the public, occupies a narrow back room on the scenic side of the property. It feels secluded and personal — to access it, you have to walk through the lodge’s sprawling lobby, past a wood-burning fireplace, a piano, various antiques, local art, and a cozy library tucked under an eave.
To their credit, the Blazars have not attempted to modernize the circa-1926 flavor of the main building, once a retreat for railroad employees and their families. Down to the jade-green carpet strewn with muted roses, the period charm is utterly intact.
Last summer, though, the inn saw some major personnel changes, included the hiring of a new executive chef, Aaron Edwards of Spartanburg, and the introduction of the Blazars’ two sons, Adam and Michael, who moved from South Florida to assist with the expanding business. “Adam has become a wonderful assistant innkeeper,” notes Marianne. He photographs weddings at the inn, sustaining a family tradition (Marc and Marianne are former professional photographers; they also spent time working as charter-boat chefs). Michael is “an accounting manager extraordinaire” who handles the Orchard Inn’s technical needs.
Edwards, meanwhile, has increased the restaurant’s farm-to-table ethos, says Marianne. (In June 2019, in a Q&A with Bold Life reporter Rachel Pressley, the rising culinary star vowed to “focus heavily on menu items in season,” and said that it “was one of the best times ever to be a chef.”)
Marianne notes that Newman’s — named in honor of one of the couple’s beloved late cats — has garnered “a rather wonderful following” at both ends: the Asheville/Hendersonville area to the north and from down the mountain in Greenville/Spartanburg.
Polk County on the state border is geographically unique. Located in the isothermal belt, it’s next to South Carolina but its foothills elevation keeps it safe from South Carolina summer heat; in winter, this wedge of scenery is protected from the more bitter mountain cold by the southerly position of its slopes.
This is a county that has its own weather, and the longer growing season supports a bounty of new specialized farms. “The agricultural scene is amazing, and getting better every year,” says Marianne. “We’re sourcing the most beautiful microgreens, grown right here in Saluda … [and also] fabulous mushrooms and vegetables from farms close by. It’s especially great to see the young farmers and how conscientious they’re being about being organic.”
On a night in late February, when the restaurant had just opened for the season, Adam Blazar was greeting guests with genuine warmth. He loves cats, and if you do, too, you might find yourself being given treats to help satisfy important inn residents Newman II, a splendid Snowshoe cat, and dignified gray-and-white Edward, who strolled briefly past the tables at one point, courting attention from the ladies.
With its lower ceiling and hushed textiles, the dining space negates the echoey aesthetic of contemporary restaurants. Here there are no exposed rafters to suck up conversation, no industrial-distressed metal chairs to make you wonder how foodie culture became so very uncomfortable.
Newman’s is a place to linger.
The first course that night was a choice between hydroponic mixed-green salad with roasted beets and other complements, a curried carrot-and-coconut soup, and a cheese plate featuring torched St.-André brie, honeycomb, and cherry Mostarda served with crostini. The soup was ideal for the chilly evening; unlike so many carrot soups that can come off too sweet or too bland, this one was robust and full-flavored.
House-made fettuccine (more restaurants should have house-made fettuccine) was the first choice of the three second courses, and under Chef Edwards it was a generous and earthy affair, combined with roasted wild mushrooms and roasted garlic sauce. By comparison, the crudo of wild Tasmanian salmon with blood orange and preserved lemon appeared arty, if rather scant: a master class of flavor in restrained miniature.
From the entrée list, that night’s slow-roasted Duck Confit — long-time server Lynn took care to note just how many hours the bird had been brining — was appearing on many plates. As savory and tender as it it gets, the duck came with broccolini and cranberry coulis and was served over goat-cheese panisse, a protein made of garbanzo flour that chews like tofu or custard. (Pan-fried trout from Sunburst Farms, grilled beef tenderloin, and a chargrilled pork chop with Au Gratin potatoes and Brussels sprouts/apple gastrique were the other third-course options.)
Suggestions from Newman’s long wine and beer list accompanied all the courses, although a few craft cocktails would be nice to see, too. For dessert options, chocolate crémeux — a fancy name for pudding — and chocolate cake, both served with plenty of embellishments, joined a Maple Cinnamon Crème Brûlée that rightly smacked of being a house favorite. The dessert du jour was Viennese Sachertorte, a no-nonsense spongecake with apricot filling topped by a dark-chocolate ganache.
Like the dignified cats who wander in perfect liberty throughout the property, the Sachertorte is a complex creature. As the server noted, it helps to be acquainted with the texture of traditional European pastry to appreciate the cake’s dense, comparatively dry mouthfeel. And that’s fine, because Newman’s makes you feel you have all the time you need.
Newman’s Restaurant at The Orchard Inn & Spa, 100 Orchard Inn Lane, Saluda. Open by reservation for dinner Thursday through Saturday, 5:30-8:30pm, and brunch on Sundays, 11:30am-1:30pm. Outdoor dining is available. The menu is prix-fixe and served in four courses. Jackets suggested for men. Check the website for updates on the reopening of the spa, according to Phase 3 of the governor’s orders regarding COVID: orchardinn.com, 828-749-5471.