Life has a way of messing with even the best-laid plans. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of New York City’s most famous chefs and restaurateurs, came to the country seeking a much-needed respite from his work and ended up opening a 180-seat restaurant instead. Says Vongerichten, “I have a country house close by in Waccabuc. When my friends approached me about the property, I said ‘I’m not interested in doing anything, I came here to relax.’ But I agreed to take a look and when I walked in I was like, ‘Wow, this is magical!’ ”
“This” is a historic 1833 building that had been abandoned for five years. “It still had beautiful stones and woodwork. And I thought, ‘Yes, I would love to be part of bringing it back.’ ”
Vongerichten undertook a painstaking, two-year renovation. Today, the rustic setting and tidy exterior give the property the air of a prosperous country estate. And the inside? Well, it is rather magical, thanks to the well-tested partnership between Vongerichten and Danish architect Thomas Juul-Hansen and lighting specialist Hervé Descottes. Wide-planked wooden floors glow in the light cast by paper-shaded Edison bulbs suspended from the barn-style ceiling. Tables made from reclaimed wood are surrounded by curved chairs with butter-soft leather seats. Lit from below, the bottles above the bar serve as a beacon of sparkling warm colors in the darkened dining room.
In addition to the inn’s main dining rooms, there is a wine cellar that can seat up to 24 diners. “It has no electric, only candlelight. It’s all stone, very beautiful, very romantic,” says Vongerichten.
Vongerichten’s idea was that the inn would serve as a country outpost of ABC Kitchen, one of his wildly popular Manhattan eateries. “I thought it would be great to do some simple farm-to-table cooking. Not too high end, not too ‘gastronomique’ — more like an everyday restaurant,” he says. The kitchen is led by two Jean-Georges veterans, Blake and Melody Farrar. It’s the first time he’s ever had a couple work together. “I was a little nervous but so far they go along okay — and, hopefully, it lasts forever. Melody makes all the homemade bread and cookies and desserts. And Blake is a wonderful cook,” he says.
The chef enjoys the benefits of this new location. “It’s fun because you’re closer [to the farms], and the food is fresher. And not only big farms; we also find littler ones. We have this lady who brings honey from her own bees.” He is referring to Donna Simons, founder and CEO of Pound Ridge Organics, who delivers a wide variety of organic produce and dairy products to the restaurant. Simons even taps local maple trees, and working collaboratively with the restaurant, evaporates the sap, produces, and bottles the highly-touted maple syrup that is the only one now served at the inn.
Not surprisingly, the menu is driven by the seasons. “We always have things like chicken, salmon, and pizza made with whole wheat dough, but the flavors and the vegetables are always changing,” says Vongerichten. In a move to include more foraged fare, diners may also encounter wild edibles like yarrow, sassafras, garlic mustard greens, and wood sorrel.
The drinks menu offers local wines, vodkas, and whiskeys as well as other varieties from outside the region. Says Vongerichten, “We try to support the artisans who are making a great product — they’re an important part of the community.” Cocktails revolve around fresh, seasonal ingredients: The vodka thyme lemonade is a house favorite. You can also order fresh juice from a growing menu of combinations — like beet, pear, ginger and carrot.
Raised in Alsace, Vongerichten has traveled all over the world — a series of eye-opening experiences that he credits with helping him to develop his style of cooking. “Working in Singapore, Bangkok, Japan is what changed my life. I was a classically trained chef, then I went to Asia — and it was a whole new way of cooking.” But opening the Inn at Pound Ridge feels like coming home. “I love it. I was raised in the country picking herbs and fruits, collecting eggs in the morning,” he says. “I feel like I’m going back to my roots.”
The Crowd: You may find everyone from Martha Stewart, a local Vongerichten pal who often brings eggs from her own chickens, to locals and city folk.
Don’t Miss: The wood-fired pizzas or the kale salad — it’s one of Vongerichten’s favorites. For dessert, try Melody Farrar’s ice cream sundae: salted caramel ice cream topped with fudge sauce, candied popcorn, and peanuts — the fine dining equivalent of Cracker Jack snacks.
The Basics: Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Appetizers and salads $12-$19; entrées $20-$38
If you go…
The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges
258 Westchester Ave., Pound Ridge