The Berkshires24 Hours On Culture Cloud 9

By: Jim Hollister

Here you’ll find the former homes of artists Norman Rockwell, and Daniel Chester French, writers Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. From the mid-19th Century through the Gilded Age, when some twenty five “summer cottages" for The Vanderbilt’s and other industrial barons were constructed, right up through the Bohemian '50s and hip '60s to today, there is a tradition of artists, actors, writers and musicians living and working in these Green Mountain foothills.

Recently, we visited The Berkshires from Boston, an easy two-hour drive along the Mass Turnpike, on a mission to discover how much of the legendary cultural and historical region we could comfortably absorb in just 24 hours.

4:00 P.M, — Friday —The Red Lion is the "King" of country inns.

We've driven ahead of rush-hour traffic and checked into The Red Lion Inn. Made famous by Norman Rockwell’s 1950s painting “ Main Street, Stockbridge," the Red Lion is a rambling, white clapboard structure that anchors the corner of Main and Route 102 and it is a landmark for travelers. Originally built as a stagecoach stop in 1773 the inn is a gracious gatekeeper of this southern entrance to The Berkshires. It’s here almost all travelers to the area come, some for a stay in one of the 108 guest rooms, others for a dressy dinner in the elegant dining room, still others for a draft and song in one of taverns.

At this hour we are winding down in our top-floor, two-room suite aiming toward full-relaxation mode. Every room at the inn is individually decorated and furnished with antiques, oriental carpets, period wall hangings, and luxurious linens. Many feature lace-draped canopy beds or classic four-posters. Our bath has an old claw foot tub; scented soaps and shower amenities are neatly placed in woven baskets. The long hallways connecting the inn’s several wings are filled with old paintings, colonial-era maps, and framed embroidery.

In 1968 Stockbridge residents Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick purchased The Red Lion, and the Fitzpatrick family continues to operate the inn today, with daughter Nancy Fitzpatrick as President. The Fitzpatrick family also owns The Porches Inn in North Adams and Blantyre in Lenox, and has become something akin to the First Family of The Berkshires through its patronage and support of myriad cultural, historic, and artistic projects.

5:00 P.M.

— Rock an’ roll on the Red Lion porch. (View the video.)

We’re sitting on the expansive front porch of the inn rocking away in the soft light of a Stockbridge summer sunset. Streaming in from points south, mostly New York City and its environs, are weekenders: SUVs with all manner of floating craft mounted on top, coupes with bike racks, sports cars with tops down, and trunks strapped on, motorcycles with leather-clad couples astride. Slowly they approach the corner stop sign on Rte. 102, turn right on Main Street, and parade past us in a steady flow. The Red Lion porch is the ideal setting to meditate on the blissful feelings we’re having right in this moment; even better, it’s a grand vantage point for people watching.

Just next door to the Red Lion you can find the original Alice’s Restaurant, the one celebrated in Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving saga of the same name. A block in the other direction is Austen Riggs Center where former client James Taylor penned the song Fire and Rain, commemorating a sad chapter in his young life. And just past Riggs is the Stockbridge cemetery where Edie Sedgwick, formerly of Andy Warhol’s Factory, rests among several Sedgwick headstones that face inward in a large circle. As the legend goes, the family is buried in this circle so when they rise up on Judgment Day, they don’t have to look at anyone else but Sedgwicks!

7:00 P.M. — Searching for a celebrated chef.

It’s an off-the-beaten-path, 30-minute country drive to reach The Old Inn on The Green in New Marlborough. The exact history of the inn is sketchy, but according to “A Little Inn History", the pamphlet placed on every table, it was built circa 1760 and over the next two centuries passed through a succession of owners and uses including post office, tavern, store, and private home. A wing that housed the store deteriorated to the point where it was torn down in the 1960s. Restoration work that began in the 1970s led to a new life for the old inn and guests once again returned for lodging in the eleven now elegant rooms, and for fireside meals in the dining rooms and tavern.

In 2002 Peter Platt joined the inn following a twelve-year career as executive chef at Wheatleigh in Lenox. Last year his position solidified through an acquisition of the inn, making him both proprietor and Chef d’cuisine. Platt has enjoyed a reputation among the best in the region — being celebrated in reviews by Zagat’s, Wine Spectator, New York Times Magazine, Food and Wine, Town & Country, and others.

Tonight we want Platt to really show his stuff, so we order the Chef’s Tasting Menu, a seven course epic complete with French, California, and Oregon wines to match. He warms us up with a glass of Grand Brut Champagne, accompanied by Wianno oysters with Malossol caviar followed by sliced squab breast and wild mushroom ravioli. Next we savor the seared La Belle Farm foie gras with truffled lentil salad and fresh huckleberry sauce complemented with a 2002 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer from Amity Vineyards, Oregon .

We shift gears from farm to sea with Maine diver scallop, butter-poached lobster in a caramelized fennel and lobster sauce, together with a 2003 Macon from Bourgogne, Vins Auvigue. Phew! Platt’s presentation is flawless. All the same, I am convinced the next course reveals the most delightful taste sensations of our soirée. We have sautéed veal sweetbreads with foie gras flan, black truffles and carrot sauternes sauce combined with a 1999 Porter Creek Pinot Noir from Creekside Vineyard, Russian River Valley.

Platt continues to dazzle us with his dry-aged sirloin steak au poivre and crispy Italian goat cheese polenta in red wine sauce, complemented by a 2000 Insignia from Joseph Phelps in Napa Valley, then adds a petit salad of Bailey Hazen blue cheese with rosemary poached fruits before concluding with bittersweet chocolate mousse torte with brandied cherries and raspberry ice cream.

C’est bon! C’est Magnifique! Say what you will, but a trip to the country is worth the drive when the road leads to Chef Peter Platt at The Old Inn on The Green. The Tasting Menu is US$70, US$130 with wine, tax and gratuities not included. Route 57, Village GreenArticle Submission, New Marlborough. Call for reservations 413/229-7924. On the web at www.oldinn.com

11:00 P.M. — Get down in the Lion’s Den basement.

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