For decades the historic Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton set the bar when it came to fine dining. The award-winning landmark not only offered cozy accommodations, but was best known for its elegant open-to-the- public elegant main dining room and eventually its more casual tavern, Brasserie Pip. In recent years however, the inn and its restaurants were struggling with financial challenges.
Closed several months ago, the elegant landmark has emerged with new owners, a new look, and a new restaurant with a new name.
But most importantly is the new team running the place, general manager Klemens Zachhuber and celebrated chef Gaspar Stanic who are enthusiastic and committed.
"Our goal is to return it to its previous glory," said Zachhuber, a native of Austria, whose 20-year career in the hospitality profession has included Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville; the Water's Edge Resort and Spa, Westbrook; The Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island; and the Madison Beach Hotel. "Not only by offering fine food, but a comfortable place where you can stop for a burger and a beer or a dinner out during the week or a multi-course gourmet meal for a special night out."
Closed for three-months, the inn and restaurant has emerged with a new look that maintains the historic integrity of the elegant building. The tavern area, now called The
Oak Room, includes additional dining space and an atrium. The main dining room, which is also scheduled for renovation, remains open for larger parties or those who request that seating.
There has been a general clean-up, including new wallpaper, painting and rearranging of the furniture for more comfortable seating. The driveway has been evened out and the main entrance rerouted from the porch to the side of the building, offering guests a chance to enjoy the refurbished garden and catch the first whiff of all the good things cooking inside as they walk in.
And that brings us to the award-winning, Stanic, who is bringing his international reputation and talent to the Ivoryton kitchen.
"I want a menu that when you look at it you want to eat," said the Vienna-trained chef and culinary Olympics medal winner who most recently owned Gaspar's New American Restaurant in New London. His resume includes working for Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley, and his restaurants have consistently received raves from critics and diners alike. And while he has spent the past couple of years consulting, Stanic said he found he could not stay out of the kitchen.
"I love my work. Cooking is my life," said Stanic. "I have worked to make this menu one that is about comfort and good taste."
He clearly cherishes his job and is a man who knows how to turn out an eclectic and inspired menu for every palate.
Begin at the bar for a quick weekday bite and choose from a lighter menu that includes bison burgers, fried calamari, steak and frittes and his specialty, pork tenderloin wiener schnitzel.
Or take a seat in the bistro-inspired Oak Room for something more substantial.
Stanic, who often comes out of the kitchen to make sure guests are happy with their meals, said he plans to change offerings regularly depending the fresh produce, fish and meats available from local purveyors.
Among recent menu items were prime beef tenderloin with foie gras au jus and wild mushrooms, organic breast of chicken with Romesco sauce and a Maine lobster salad with mango and nasturtium aioli.
The appetizers include jumbo lump crab cakes with orange salad and horseradish cream. They were sweet and fried just right. Copper Beet Salad was a pretty picture served over a caraway tuille, while French onion soup was something special with cheese ravioli and Swiss cheese crust.
The drink menu is also inspired with such choices as Model tea, an on-the-rocks libation featuring honey bourbon, orange pekoe tea and Crispin cider. The Blood and Sand is a rich, sweet blend of scotch whisky, cherry herring, sweet vermouth and orange juice.
For those who stayed in one of the rooms at the Copper Beech, breakfast was always an event. Now The Oak Room is open to everyone and anyone for breakfast.
Among the menu items, classic eggs Benedict, a granola parfait with house-made granola , honey yogurt and fresh berries, and a breakfast pizza with roasted tomato, basil and goat cheese.
Prices for breakfast range from $10 to $14. The bar menu ranges from $6 to $ 22, the main dinner menu from $18 to $36 and appetizers are from $2.50 a piece from the raw bar to $14.
>>The Copper Beech Inn is at 46 Main St., Ivoryton. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Breakfast is served daily from 8 to 10 a.m. Information: 860-767-0330 or copperbeechinn.com.
>>La Trattoria, 21 Old Albany Turnpike, Canton, is marking its 45th anniversary June 17 to 20. To celebrate, every entrée on its special anniversary menu is $13.95.
Choices include Scampi Villa D'Este (with shrimp, scallops, capers, garlic and spinach on a bed of linguine), Sole Francese with a lemon butter sauce, Zuppa Di Pesce (featuring clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops in a spicy marinara sauce over pasta), and whole steamed Maine Lobster served with drawn butter. Veal Marsala, Eggplant Parmigiana, roasted salmon, and a classic New York Sirloin steak are also featured. Information: 860-673-5000 or latrattoriact.net
>>Billings Forge on Broad Street in Hartford will hold its first annual Strawberry Festival June 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in conjunction with its weekly farmers market. Free strawberry shortcake from The Kitchen will be served to the first 20 customers, plus there will be jam contests, strawberry tastings and the opening of a new "Kids Tent," complete with arts and crafts activities.
>>Vito's by the Water in Windsor will host a five-course beer dinner on June 27 featuring Hooker Brewery beers. The dinner includes fish tacos, ribs, sliders and beer ice cream sandwiches all with paired beers and ales. Cost is $50 plus tax and tip. Reservations: 860-285-8660. Vito's has also partnered with the Summer Wind Festival and is offering picnic baskets for the outdoor concerts. Cost is $60 per basket and includes two paninis or a fruit, hummus and French bread platter, two bottles of San Pellegrino sparkling water and a bottle of wine.
>>Octagon Restaurant at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa recently won first place in the most-creative category of the 32nd annual Polar Seltzer Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport. The restaurant entered its famous Dragon Chowder, an Asian-inspired recipe featuring alligator, lobster and skate wing. Considered the longest running "chowda" championship of its kind, the competition featured recipes from across the country.
>>Monday is now "Service Industry Night" at Tuscany Grill, 120 College St., Middletown. Those who work in either restaurants or hotels can go to Tuscany Grill from 4 p.m. to closing and receive 10 percent off food and special discounts on beers, wines and cocktails. Identification and a pay stub required. Information: 860-346-7096 or tuscany-grill.com
>>Onyx Moonshine of East Hartford announced a summer-long cocktail tour through Labor Day, with 100 participating restaurants along the shoreline each offering a specialty Onyx drink. Information: http://www.facebook.com/onyxspirits.
>>Mohegan Sun has a new restaurant, Virgil's Real BBQ. The Southern-style barbecue chain also has location in Manhattan and the Atlantis in the Bahamas. Information: virgilsbbq.com.
>>Millwright's, 77 West St., Simsbury, will be hosting three Secret Dinners of July. July 11's Champagne dinner is $125 a guest; July 18's Burgundy dinner is $95 a guest and July 25's "Bourbon and BBQ" dinner is $75. Only 36 tickets are sold for each event. Dinners start at 7 p.m. Also, Millwright's has begun serving lunch in the tavern, dining room and deck. Service starts at 11:30 a.m. with the last seating at 2 p.m. Information: 860-651-5500, millwrightsrestaurant.com.
>>The 7th season of Dinners at the Farm opens July 11 at Barberry Farm in Madison. Presented by Jonathan Rapp's River Tavern, the open air dinners celebrate and support Connecticut farms. Proceeds benefit CitySeed, Connecticut Farmland Trust, Working Lands Alliance, Get Fresh 4 School and New Connecticut Farmer Alliance. Each dinner includes a tour of the farm. Dinners are scheduled at Barberry Farm from July 11 to 14, at Scott's Farm & Greenhouse in Essex from July 25 to 28 and at White Gate Farm in East Lyme from Aug. 1 to 4. The evenings begin at 6 p.m. with dinner served at 7 p.m. Tickets are $150. Information: 860-526-8078 or dinnersatthefarm.com
>>The Bee and Thistle Inn, 100 Lyme St., Old Lyme is featuring "Bee Happy" hours Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Featured are $4 beers, $5 glasses of wine and $6 specialty drinks with a complimentary nosh. Half plates are also available. Casual dress is encouraged. On Thursday, Bee and Thistle is also offering a three-course dinner for two with a bottle of wine for $75 a couple. On Friday and Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. casual lunch is being served with music and cocktails on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Information: 860-434-1667
>>2Hopewell American Bar Bistro will host a wine tasting on June 24 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The casual "inventory reduction" event will feature tastings from up to 100 different wines ranging from $10 to $150 a bottle. Tickets for the event, that also includes appetizers, are $40 and available at the restaurant. Information: 860- 633-9600 or 2hopewell.com
>>Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 44 S. Main St., West Hartford, will host a "Wines of Spain" wine dinner on June 28 beginning at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $85 plus tax and tip. Information: 860-676-9463 or flemingssteakhouse.com