By Lesley Snyder
Visit most any museum, and you’ll be greeted by a sign warning visitors of a strict no-food, no-drink policy. The long-established Inn at Shelburne Farms, however, proudly serves guests its farm-to-table dishes inside its rustic doors. While not formally a museum, you are certainly dining inside a piece of history. The Inn’s antique furniture and period décor work to retain the property’s ancestral charm as the 19th-century home of Shelburne Farms founders Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb. It is not a relic of past elegance, however. Rather, the Inn retains a timeless beauty not lost on modern perspective. The Inn also shoulders Lake Champlain, providing guests with a lakeside view from both the dining room and the grassy patio.
Upon my first visit to the Inn, I am lucky enough to be seated at one of the only two chairs remaining from the original dining set. The room is warmly lit, and it feels as intimate as if I am a guest in the Webb’s home and not a business – being wined and dined by Seward and Lila themselves. A portrait of Dr. Webb hangs prominently above the mantle, gazing at a bust of Mrs. Webb across the room. While the Inn operates within the walls of exquisitely-preserved history, you won’t find any preservatives in these meals. When asked what he recommends from their spring menu, the server’s advice is simple and sincere: “Everything.” And I believe it – menu items are cultivated from the seeds sewn right outside the Inn’s doors. The Inn exemplifies the Shelburne Farms philosophy of self-sustainability. Ingredients are locally grown and freshly prepared – and you can taste it. Eighty-percent of the ingredients are Vermont-grown, dining room manager Perry Johnsen explains, many of which are picked from the seven-acre vegetable garden at the Farms. Gardeners work alongside the Inn to create dishes showcasing what’s fresh this growing season. Even the restaurant follows the weather, only opening its doors May through October.
The Inn’s menu rewards diners with a selection of this season’s best produce. When it comes to its spring appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the Poached Rhubarb Salad. The tangy arugula swirled in spiced orange vinaigrette is a pleasant contrast to the sweet crunch of fennel and toasted hazelnuts. And there’s no debating the freshness of these greens – they’re pulled from the on-site Market Garden. The server does bring one particular entrée to my attention; the Oatmeal-Crusted Misty Knoll Chicken featuring a Vermont staple with a savory twist. The bed of creamy fettuccine is a welcome juxtaposition to the crispness of the oat breading. Don’t be fooled by the health-conscious alternative to fried chicken; this dish is very rich (and equally as delicious). Needless to say, I am in the market for a less decadent dessert, so I opt for the Strawberry Cheesecake. Slightly tart and certainly sweet, the Inn’s take on this classic dish is on the mark. The mini cheesecake is dense but balanced by a glaze of syrupy strawberries. This entire menu stimulates the palate from meats to sweets, contrasting textures just as the fresh lake waters blend with the sand.
Moored in a past era, one could say the Inn at Shelburne Farms has given the Webb’s home a second life. It has rekindled the close relationship between farming and feasting that is too often disconnected. If you find yourself riding the waves this weekend, dock yourself at the Inn and experience the deliciousness of a sustainable future. The Inn is open for breakfast: 7:30-11:30 am; dinner: 5:30-9:30 pm; and Sunday brunch: 8 am-1 pm. Reservations are suggested, please call (802) 985-8498, 8 am-6 pm daily. For more information please visit www.shelburnefarms.org.