The Falls Village Inn, Falls Village
★★ [Very Good]
The Falls Village Inn, an imposing white New England clapboard built in 1840, has a wraparound veranda, a shady past (brothel, biker bar, resident ghost) and a bright future, thanks to a constellation of star-quality friends with connections.
Closed for seven years, the dilapidated old inn was snatched from foreclosure by Colin Chambers, an ad man from Greenwich who, rather than restoring it to one of its former selves, transformed it into something fresh and new: A smart, but not too smart, hotel with a politely hip restaurant taking its inspiration from the new owner’s love and appreciation for the meadows of wildflowers, pine-scented forests and rolling hills that characterize this bucolic corner of Connecticut. Charm, not shock appeal, was the aim and the final effect.
Every table on the veranda was occupied. The taproom was a convivially dark den of beer, burgers and TV. The Parlor, where we ate, was light and airy, with silvery track lighting and walls the color of gray-green lichen. It looked decorator-designed and, as I learned later, it actually was. Bunny Williams, a New York interior designer, had volunteered her help with the restoration. She lives nearby in an antique house she restored and wrote about in a book called An Affair With a House.
Will she write another—An Affair with an Inn? If she doesn’t, one of the regulars might. Our parlor seemed to be full of them. They recognized each other and the hostess hovered over them. She did not hover over us. Why should she? I’m good at anonymity. And the regulars will be back every week, while I will not.
As for service, locals and outlanders like us shared the same crew of eager-to-be-helpful inexperienced help. Our waitress confessed that her day job was as a nanny. She made us feel so comfy cozy we kicked back and ordered a burger: a Whippoorwill Farm grass-fed beef burger. Whippoorwill Farm, Nanny said, was “right down the road,” in Lakeville. The option to add cheese, bacon and caramelized onion for a dollar each was on offer. We went for broke. To satisfy my reviewing obligation, I ate half a patty plain. The beef was decidedly superior. With all the trimmings, it was sybaritic.
In contrast, fried oysters were the epitome of simplicity. Flash-fried and crispy on the outside, creamy and sweet within, these briny beauties have many a famous oyster bar beat.
The menu looks ho-hum but surprises arrive with the food in the form of sparkling freshness, high-quality ingredients and lavish portions. An iceberg salad makes the point. The lettuce wedge is huge and fresh under a cascade of crumbled blue-cheese and buttermilk dressing topped with an abundance of addictively tasty pecan-smoked bacon.
Full disclosure: I misread the menu. I ordered a lobster roll, assuming that because we were in Connecticut it would be Connecticut-style—hot lobster, melted butter on a warm roll. Not. We got cold lobster salad made with mayonnaise. It was okay, not great. To further muddy the waters, the chopped egg mentioned on the menu turned out to be a sliced hard-boiled egg and it was hard to know what to do with a broiled half lemon on the plate.
In contrast, the entrée special, beef Wellington, a trick to get right, was a triumph. The beef was medium-rare as ordered, layered with a tasty mushroom duxelles, and wrapped in pastry that managed to be fully baked and flaky even on the underside, which can get soggy.
A White Marble Farm pork chop was also richly satisfying. White Marble is a brand, not a farm, but its pork is natural and prime. Glorifying it with a port wine reduction and cranberry wild rice, as the chef did here, struck just the right note.
The dessert list disappointed. Here we were in the land of farms and orchards, vineyards and berry bushes, and except for sorbet not a single dessert featured fruit of any kind. Yes, the brownie sundae was heady with hot fudge, the profiteroles were perfect and the carrot cake was made by Irene Hurlburt of Hautboy Hill Farm in Cromwell Hollow, but oh, for granny’s wild raspberry cobbler or mom’s fantabulous homemade apple pie.
One always hopes that restoring an old country inn will revive a languishing village, pulling it together, becoming central to its current activities as well as bringing in new ones along with a dash excitement and renewed appreciation for the green serenity of country life. Judging by the list of newly scheduled events (musical evenings, jazz brunches), The Falls Village Inn is doing just that—with gentle panache.
With Music Mountain for chamber music, Lyme Rock for auto racing and the Appalachian trail for hiking, there’s a lot see and do nearby, not to mention miles of scenic country roads for viewing autumn foliage. If you hate to tear yourself away, you’re in good company. The Falls Village Inn exists because a lot of people feel the same way.
The Falls Village Inn
33 Railroad St., Falls Village, 860/824-0033, thefallsvillageinn.com
Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 4 to 9, Friday 4 to 10, Saturdays 12 to 10, Sunday 11 to 9. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $4 to $10, entrées $14 to $28, desserts $7.