By Cicely M. Eastman
The Four Columns Inn, with its lengthy history of culinary excellence, left a huge void in the center of Newfane when it closed in 2012. So when business partners Asher Schlusselberg and Charles Mallory reopened it in 2014 as The Four Columns Artisan Restaurant & Tavern, loyal patrons rejoiced. Snugly set on 138 acres overlooking the green of the quintessential Vermont village of Newfane, the new Four Columns reestablished its tradition of serving fresh, locally sourced and on-site harvested produce and meats. The inn was the first restaurant in the United States to institute the European tradition of what is now called farm-to-table, beginning when it opened in 1965, years before the concept came into vogue. The forward-thinking reputation brought locals, travelers and some well-known celebrities to its tables. It was this beautiful legacy that motivated Schlusselberg and Mallory to purchase the Four Columns.
They opened up the Tavern for weekday lunches after a devastating fire at the Newfane Cafe & Creamery last spring left the community without a place to gather at lunch. Co-owner Schlusselberg, who also serves as manager of the inn, said it is important to have such a place for the community to connect. The product and ambience may be different at the Tavern than the Creamery, but it has been a success. He said rejuvenating the Tavern has brought the community together. The Tavern also supports the fast-growing Vermont brewing industry with six Vermont beers on tap. Always on tap is Switchback and a Vermont cider.
The local theme extends into the decor, with area artists’ and artisans’ work featured throughout and as part of the fixtures. Immediately upon entering the foyer, guests are greeted by whimsical wall art describing points of interest in the area and caricatures of prominent celebrities that have graced the inn in days past, including Mick Jagger, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Paul Newman, Henry Kissinger, and Sting, among others. A unique lampshade by Townshend glassblower Robert Du Grenier casts a gentle glow over the hostess’ desk. Presently, Nancy Burgess’ three-dimensional art work hangs on the walls, while more permanently displayed are wooden shades by Peter Kirkiles that protect the light bulbs illuminating the dining room tables. The inn also hosts live music every Wednesday night in the dining room from 6 to 9 p.m.
But ultimately, the goal is to provide good food that is accessible. The culinary theme may best be described as fresh, with a French twist expertly presented by executive chef Frederic Kieffer and head chef David Smith, who offer what one would expect to find in a big city’s finer restaurants. With chickens and ducks onsite for fresh eggs, and raised gardens for vegetables and salads in the summer, Schlusselberg estimates that 80 percent of dishes served in peak harvest season consist of locally acquired products. He confessed that because the staff is involved with the whole process they are more enthusiastic and pass that enthusiasm on to their customers for a better sell. Appetizers are varied to suit a range of palates — from a traditional baby green salad served with muscatel dressing to a more adventurous butternut squash and Gilfeather turnip cappuccino with cinnamon cream, pepitas and pomegranate glaze — but be sure to try the seafood chowder, a local favorite. For the meat and potatoes kind of appetite, there’s artisan hanger steak with sweet-sour shallot sauce, petite watercress, horseradish cream, and truffle-country fries or Murray’s chicken breast with Grafton smoked Cheddar whipped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and bacon gastrique. Then there’s the lighter fare in the Tavern, serving calamari salad, veggie burgers and of course grass-fed burgers. A complete menu list is available on their website.
Newfane is only 30 minutes from Mount Snow, making it a popular stop before heading to the mountain. Schlusselberg said, “We are lucky, we offer something different than the mountains. We offer a romantic dining experience.” Vermonters understand you have to drive if you live here, and they are willing to drive for a great meal. It is not unusual for faithful customers to drive two hours from out of state to dine at the inn. Nor is it unusual for Schlusselberg to accommodate a regular. In one instance, a gentleman who made a month trek from Boston purchased a Tesla, so Schlusselberg had an EV charger installed. Schlusselberg also facilitated the renovation of a dilapidated building near the center of Newfane, turning it from an eyesore into an attractive public exhibition of giant tool artwork by Kirkiles.
Besides the restaurant, the inn boasts 17 guest rooms, all of which have been renovated, as well as a spa, open to the public with appointment, and massage therapy services.
When asked about celebrities returning, particularly Mick Jagger, Schlusselberg was confident, “He’ll be back. We are building on our reputation, once they know we have reopened, they’ll be back.”
The Four Columns Artisan Restaurant & Tavern is located at 21 West St., Newfane. Hours are lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; Sunday Brunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and dinner, 5:30 to 9 p.m. every day but Monday, closing 10 p.m. on weekends.
For information or reservations call 802-365-7713 or visit fourcolumnsvt.com.