Sugar Hill Inn

116 Route 117, Sugar Hill, New Hampshire 03586
Innkeeper(s): Steve Allen and Karen Cail
  • Forest View

    Forest View

 

Original Art 9 Jun 2014, 4:00 pm

Chapter 16

If all you need is a decent place to stay while exploring Franconia Notch I can recommend several well run motels.  However, if where you stay is just as important as or sometimes even more important than your day time itinerary the Sugar Hill Inn might be worth considering.

At the Sugar Hill Inn we are all about sharing the good life with our guests and creating experiences that will be remembered.  This means gourmet dining, stylish rooms, attentive service and relaxing surrounding.  As I write this I am sitting at the pool, enjoying the sunshine, taking in views of Mt Lafayette and listening to the soothing sounds of the waterfalls.  It is important to surround our guests with beauty.  Of course that is not hard when almost every window has a mountain view.  We also like bringing beauty inside with stylish rooms, fresh flowers in the dining room and original art.

Original painting by Nathalie Chiasson

So what is so special about original art?  Don’t all hotel rooms have art?  Take a closer look and you will see that nothing is signed in most guest rooms.  That means what you are seeing is just a copy.  That same picture may be hanging in hundreds or even thousands of locations.  Those prints might be decorative but that is not art.  The frames are worth more than the prints.  There are websites with huge inventories that specialize in providing prints to hotels, offices and hospitals.  There are high quality printers that can print to canvas and produce results that look just like an acrylic or oil painting.  In China there are factories where workers copy the work of others.  These workers are very skilled technicians but they are not artists and their work is not art.

While I can’t explain the science there is research that shows that original art contributes more positive energy to a room then a quality copy.

There are also numbered limited addition prints signed by the artist.  While these are not originals there is still a connection to the artist compared to larger unsigned print runs.

Now, I am not saying that every lodging property needs to have original art.  If everyone did, it wouldn’t be interesting.  We do it because we enjoy being a collector, want to support local artists and hope that our paintings will bring enjoyment to our guests.  If a painting carries you away on a mini day dream, evokes an emotion, or contributes to a room’s atmosphere that’s all that we can ask for.

Only recently we have starting talking about original art as one the core elements offered by the Sugar Hill Inn.  While we have always loved beautiful art, in the early years we had to focus most of our effort on the fundamentals of inn-keeping.  Our interest in art for the inn has been an evolutionary process that has evolved over many years.

Forest View: Painting by Sabina

I have always been interested in art appreciation.  Although I was an economics major in college the art appreciation classes were always my favorite.  When on vacation I have always enjoyed visiting galleries, however, I was just a window shopper.  The idea of spending, over $1000, for a painting until recently seem like an extravagance that I could not justify.

When I purchased the inn in 2006 there was nothing of any value.  Just cheap prints in cheap frames and lots of knick knacks from the QVC Country Hour.

I was fortunate to inherit several very nice paintings from my parents.  They had good taste.  They would frequently go to charity art auctions.  A search of these artists on eBay shows that these artists still have a following and their paintings have maintained or grown in value.  It amazes me to think that these paintings that I grew up with are almost 50 years old and they are as beautiful as ever.  In that time so many purchases such as cars and TVs have come and gone but good art is forever.  I hope that my daughter will keep these in the family.

About two weeks after buying the inn Cynthia Knapton walks in carrying two framed limited addition prints and introducers herself as a local artist.  She paints the fields of wildflowers that northern New Hampshire is famous for.  She said I will leave these here on consignment.  Since we had nothing else we said fine.  We thought she had forgotten them.  A year later she came back for her art.  By then we had grown attached to them and offered to purchase them.  Except for the art shows we have participated in, we no longer display art on consignment.  I just don’t like inns where everything has a price tag on it.

That first year we also purchased a metal sculpture of a moose from the League of NH Craftsmen in Littleton.  The moose still lives in our herb garden.  League of NH Craftsmen has seven stores around the state and are certainly worth a visit.

I learned that Debbie Aldrich, one of our dinner servers was a talented water color artist.  We were in desperate need for something for the tavern so we commissioned Debbie to paint our view.  The painting was beautiful but when we hung it in the tavern it clashed with the wall paper so we moved it to the Library where it looked really good.  It is now in the Bickford Suite where it looks perfect.  We have learned over the years that finding the perfect location is as important as fining the perfect picture.  When the painting adds to the beauty of the room and the room enhances the painting you have found the perfect location.  My designer side calls it harmony and the businessman in me calls it synergy.  Since then we have purchased two more of Debbie’s paintings.  We like that Debbie finds her inspiration right here in Sugar Hill.

Wren (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network) in Bethlehem operates the best local gallery.  Wren is a nonprofit organization in northern New Hampshire that helps people start and grow businesses.  They host a new gallery show every month of local artists.  I generally stop in monthly to see what’s new.  At Wren I discovered Larry Golden and Paula Wolcott.  Two of Larry’s paintings are in the Richardson Suite.  Larry is a very talented instructor of art at the St. Johnsbury Academy.  Paula is a resident of Sugar Hill and her paintings can be found in the Perennial Room and Tavern.  The Sugar Hill Inn is a corporate sponsor of Wren because we would like to see the arts flourish not only at the inn but in the greater community.

I have also purchased art from sidewalk art shows in Sugar Hill, Littleton and Lisbon.  The sidewalk shows are fun because you get to meet the artist.

Original Painting by Michael Rozenvain

Up to this point most of my purchases had been inexpensive and therefore relatively easy decisions.  We certainly did not yet have a vision about making art an important part of the Sugar Hill Experience although we did like show casing local artists.

In the November 2010 my world was going to change.  Every year after the fall season I would take the management team on a trip to celebrate the end of our busy season and to experience hospitality at its best.  That year we went to Quebec City.  Although the Le Chateau Frontenac is the most famous hotel in the city we stayed at St. Antone, in my opinion the best hotel in the city.  Karen was now the Assistant Innkeeper so naturally she was invited along with Chef Val and his wife Nancy.  At this point our relationship was strictly business.  The second night we had a fabulous dinner at Panache, the hotel’s restaurant, followed by ice wine in the lounge.  After all that sitting, food and drink I need some fresh air before going upstairs to bed.  So I explored the quaint cobble stone streets near the hotel.  While nothing was open all the shop windows were lit. I discovered this amazing painting of wine bottles.  I made a mental note that I must come back tomorrow when the gallery would be open.

The next day the four of us toured the city.  By about 4:00pm Val and Nancy had had enough of sightseeing so we drop them back at the hotel and I invited Karen to come with me to see the painting I had seen the night before. The gallery had several paintings by Nathalie Chiasson all with wine themes.  The wine theme resonated with us because we had recently made a strategic decision to increase our wine list from 45 bottles to over 120 bottles and earn the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.  I loved the painting that I had seen in the window the best.  Karen also loved the painting.  I really wanted to buy the painting but if I had been there myself I am not sure I would have.  I had never purchase a painting of that quality before but with Karen’s support and encourage I did.  It was an exciting moment.  We were telling the sales person all about our inn and how this painting would be perfect for our dining room.  You could feel the electricity in the air.  I think also in that moment we became a couple.   That night the four of us dined at another great restaurant called Toast.  That night following dinner I did not walk alone.  The streets of Old Quebec at night are extremely romantic.

We are frequently complemented on the painting and ask about the subject matter and the technique.  The wines are all very well-known Super Tuscans.  Her technique involves multiple layers of paint and glaze.  Her secret ingredient is coffee.

For those of you saying that Quebec is not local, let me remind you that we are only 75 miles from the Canadian Border.

In 2012 when planning the renovations for both Garden and Forest View the idea about art as a component of the Sugar Hill Inn experience came into maturity.  For these rooms the art was not going to be an afterthought.  Now art was going to be in integral part of the planning processes.   We even planned for the proper lighting.  Lighting is so important for displaying art.  For inspiration we spent time Portland, Maine and Quebec exploring the galleries and shops.  In Quebec City we did find two paintings that did inspire us but we needed to pull all of the components of the room plans together first.

When it came time to order the painting for Forest View we learned that it had already sold but the artist would be willing to have us commission something similar.  We would be under no obligation to buy it if we did not like it.  Being a commission we were able to request more blue in the palette and the addition of a mountain in the back ground so that it would look like New Hampshire.  Karen was in charge of the design for Garden and although she had already found a painting she loved, it was the wrong dimensions for above the bed.  The commission process worked so well for Forest View we decided to try it again.  This time we were disappointed.  To our eyes there was an area that looked like dripping paint and we felt that it would be easy for the artist to correct.  However, the artist was insulted and felt that his work was perfect and would not consider any adjustment.  So we purchased the original painting we had seen and placed it across from the bed instead of over it.

By late 2012 we were totally committed to making original art a core element of the Sugar Hill Inn experience but collecting art takes time and we didn’t want to prematurely emphasis it until we had reached critical mass.   On a trip to Montreal in November of 2013 Karen and I found a painting by Michael Rozenvain that grabbed my attention.  It was colorful, full of movement and detail.  When buying art from a gallery there is never the reason to feel rush.  Galleries are happy to email you all the details for consideration.  Because of the high taxes in Canada and the lack of sales tax in New Hampshire it generally makes sense to have a painting shipped.  I was still thinking about the painting December and we really needed another spectacular painting for the inn’s common areas.  Once again my comfort zone was being test.  I understood that this was a very complex painting that could only be painted by a very accomplished artist.  With Karen’s support and encouragement we purchased the painting that is now in the tavern.  We have been very happy with the painting and the positive comments of our guest.

So where do we go from here?  Since we enjoy art collecting it will be an ongoing endeavor.  Now that I have overcome my fear of spending money on art, I will try to constrain myself to one big purchase a year.  Some of our earlier purchases may be retired to make room for higher quality art.  We are very pleased with the positive feedback from our guests.  It is also our goal of trying to encourage the arts within our community.

Being Famous – Living in a fish bowl 1 May 2014, 10:02 am

Chapter 15:

No new book about hospitality would be complete without including a discussion of Trip Advisor. They are now the 800 pound gorilla of the travel industry.

As a kid people were always commenting on my name. Now there is a whole generation that has no idea who “Steve Allen” was. I often wondered as a kid what it would be like to be famous. Fast forward to 2006 and fame was not even on my list. I was moving to the small town of Sugar Hill, in rural New Hampshire to enjoy a quieter way of life.

One week after buying the inn we were having a strategy session with Marti Mayne on the front porch. Marti is the best public relations expert in the bed and breakfast industry. Marti told us that we had gotten a very negative Trip Advisor review that we needed to respond to. This was the first time I had ever heard of trip advisor. It was our first week and these people wrote the most vicious review possible. I will admit that at that time the inn was run down and we were inexperienced and some of the comments were accurate. Other comments were trivial such as our muffins were too small or out of our control, holding us responsible for the weather. We learned an important lesson that day. Anything we say or do may appear on the World Wide Web. Any anonymous person can say anything whether it is true or false. Getting inaccurate information corrected is almost impossible.

Forest View Bath Room. We even have photos of the bathrooms

In those few short years since 2006 Trip Advisor has become a major force in travel. In talking with my guests at the inn, most tell me that our good reviews played an important factor in their decision making. Although almost everyone reads them only a handful of guests take the time to write reviews. Fortunately we have excellent reviews and I would like to thank everyone that has taken the time to write a review. Reviews are also available on Yelp and Bedandbreakfast.com.

It is common for Karen and I to share a glass of wine together in the Tavern after I have seated the last table in the dining room. Guests are always welcome to join us. For some reason that I can’t explain someone complained about this on-line. This is what I mean by living in a fish bowl. It was during our peak fall season when are both working 80 hours a week. However, most guests are pleased to see that we get a few minutes to sit down.

“It’s so pricey” is the number one criticism I read on trip advisor regardless of the property. I have a hard time understanding this since price was the one absolute fact known before booking. There is a basic law of business that must not be violated. A business that does not earn a profit won’t last. The Sunset Hill House up the road from us went out of business as a result of always offering deep discounts. Sorry we need to earn a living too.

Innkeepers have a love/hate relationship with reviews. While we love reading the good stuff our obsession with reviews has a practical side. Inn-keeping is how we earn our living. Good or negative reviews greatly affects our ability to earn a living and the livelihood of all of our employees.

My wife Karen will tell you that I am obsessed with Trip Advisor. She is right I do check it several time a day. There are two factors in play. One is that I am competitive and that is how I keep score. The other factor is that I get great satisfaction in making people happy. That is what hospitality is all about.

Bad reviews can ruin my day or at least depress me for a few hours. In this competitive business anything less than perfect is considered negative. However, after the emotions have calmed down I would seriously analysis the content. Reviews that stick to the facts are the best. Some comments are too personal and inappropriate. I have been called names and Karen’s charming southern accent has been mocked. We have made many changes based upon feedback. An occasional guest who sincerely wants to help us by providing negative but caring feedback will do it discretely on a comment card or send us an email.

Now let me give you the inside scoop on Trip Advisor. No it is not run by a retired Supreme Court Judge with the unselfish goal of providing consumers fair and unbiased information. Trip Advisor is a hot stock on Wall Street just like Facebook or Google. Their goal is to encourage as much content as possible, your reviews, that will generate traffic on the site creating an attractive platform for advertisers. We pay over $1700 per year, up from $800 the year before just for a tiny link to our website. They are earning millions of dollars from companies like Hotels.com and Expedia. By the way we do not use Hotels.com, Expedia, Priceline or similar services. They charge commissions of up to 30% to the lodging property. Even for properties that use these services I recommend that you book directly with the hotel. You will be treated as a VIP and more likely to be upgraded and receive preferential service.

Wildflower Bath Room

Have you ever wondered why some inns have more reviews then others? There are the logical reasons such as some properties are larger. Those that have very negative or positive feeling are more likely to write. Also when a property changes ownership the old reviews are erased. For the most part it reminds me of the electoral process. Inns, Bed and Breakfasts and hotels campaign for votes. Some properties campaign harder than others and a few cross the line of ethical behavior. Friends and family are the first to vote. So unless a property has over 25 reviews you are most likely reading the reviews of friends and family. If they have all stayed at the property this is well within the rules. At the Sugar Hill Inn we send a thank you email to every guest a few days after checkout and do include links to Trip Advisor, Yelp and Bedandbreakfast.com for those interested in leaving reviews. Other properties are selective in who they ask. Afraid that asking everyone will do more harm than good. Trip Advisor has a new service that they are pushing hard that they claim to be very effective. It requires giving them guest emails so that they can badger you directly. This is a program that we absolutely refuse to participate in. We respect our guest’s privacy.

An entire field of reputation management has come into being with high powered consultants. We do not use any of their services.

Our approach at the Sugar Hill Inn is simple. We do it the old fashion way, by working hard to see that every guest is happy. We focus on the small details in the hope of exceeding expectations. Our other method is what I call transparency. We have one of the most comprehensive website of anyone in the industry. An entire page is devoted to each guest room complete with multiple large photos. We even have pictures of most of the bathrooms and art works. Anyone one who took the time to carefully plan their trip will find us exactly as described and pictured leaving no room for disappointment. This book is congruent with our belief in transparency.

In spite of my obsession about reviews there is another voice within that warns me to be careful. The Sugar Hill Inn is known for creativity and being innovative and wining a popularity contest sometime requires appealing to the lowest common denominator. We recently stayed at an Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. From the point of view of an AAA inspector it would have been perfect. The room was large, clean, had good lighting, a good bed, comfortable seating and appeared to have been recently updated. Everything was a shade of beige. This so called perfect room left me feeling totally bored.

In my early career I was assigned a number of market research projects. Finding information on your competitors back in those days was hard. Now I can easily read reviews on all of my competitors. Reading between the lines can paint a very detail picture. I even read the reviews of non-competitors to identify trends, to better understand guest psychology and how better properties handle tricky situations.

It might seem like I am negative on the review process. The reality is that I have written over 65 reviews and use the site for my own vacation planning with relatively good results. It did disappoint me in Montreal. So my recommendation is to use the site but beware of its limitations. It is frequently comparing apples and oranges. The $75 a night B&B might have a perfect score but if you are a luxury traveler you are not going to like it. The text of the reviews is often more important than the actual score. Look for reoccurring themes and people that you relate to. The concerns of young couples may be very different than that of older travelers or families with children. As a traveler I generally read the negative reviews first and I then look at the other reviews written by this person. If they are constant complainers or have little travel experience I tend to discount their opinions. I think that consumers who do their homework in planning a trip are generally the happiest and depending solely upon trip advisor will disappoint. Do you trust your brother in law’s recommendations or the neighbor down the street? Who do you think is writing these reviews? It is important to know that there is a silent majority that has never written a review and never will. While I would like to see more people write reviews most people are just too busy or don’t care.

However our experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Now there are reviews for Doctors, carpenters, professors, eBay buyers & sellers, employers and every product imaginable. For good or bad we live in the age of information over load. Everyone has an opinion and as in politics we frequently don’t all agree. Going with the crowd might seem safe but is frequently wrong. All that I can say is that reviews can be a useful tool when combined with other information and careful thought.

For those of you who have stayed at the Sugar Hill Inn we welcome your reviews.

Next Chapter

Breakfast 5 Apr 2014, 5:29 pm

Chapter 14

To me there is a big difference between a full service country inn and a bed and breakfast, but many refer to both as a bed and breakfast. So if you are a bed and breakfast it is extremely important that those two components, the bed and the breakfast are taken very seriously and we do.

Breakfast at the Sugar Hill Inn

One of the reasons for the popularity of the bed and breakfast is that a top notch breakfast beautifully served creates a memorable experience in addition to tremendous value. To duplicate our breakfast at the famous pancake parlor up the road would cost over $30 per couple and the same breakfast at a Boston or New York Hotel with tax and tip could easily be $60 to $70 or more.

At the inn I wear many hats and being breakfast chef is one of my jobs. Over the past eight years I have probably made over 25,000 breakfasts. During that time I have intently focused on what people want. I have analyzed what people order, have listened to feedback, studied comment cards and reviews and have stayed at other inns to see firsthand how others handle breakfast. The result of all this study is that there is no consensus although I have identified some helpful insights.

My response has been to focus on choice. It has always surprised me on the number of inns and I mean good inns that don’t offer a choice. There is no menu and stuff just comes. They claim that they offer a selection by rotating daily between an egg entrée and a pancake type dish. If you are there on an egg day and you don’t like eggs you are stuck. So why do they do that? It is the easy way out. They know their exact guest count and they can mass produce some egg dish. This is why so many inns serve baked eggs. The folks who arrive first will find it at the peak of perfection and those who come near the end of breakfast will find their eggs to be over cooked and dry. To me hospitality is doing what is best for the guest.

At the Sugar Hill Inn guests arriving for breakfast are greeted by my wife Karen and are invited to sit anywhere they like. Everyone has their own table. I dislike properties where everyone is forced to sit at a communal table. Not everyone is in the mood to be social at 8:00 am. Karen offers coffee, tea or cappuccinos. I like having cappuccinos on the menu because so few inns have them and it reminds me of the hospitality I received while traveling in Italy. Cappuccinos are individually made and it’s our way of sharing the love of hospitality with guests.

In the real world too few of us really have time to sit down and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. To those that drink their coffee from a paper cup at their desk or the parents that are rushing to get the kids out the door we want to share the luxury of a leisurely served breakfast. The elegance of our dining room, combined with personal service, mountain views and a multi course breakfast is an integral part of the Sugar Hill Inn experience. I like tranquility in the morning. We once stayed at this very expensive bed and breakfast in Ashville, North Carolina and the Innkeeper was a Jay Leno want-a-be and did a monologue that lasted throughout breakfast. It was so annoying we went elsewhere the next morning.

Served with coffee is always the bakery of the day and honey butter. We whip New Hampshire honey into the butter. The bakery of the day is always homemade. Guests frequently ask for my raisin scone recipe. The next course is always fresh fruit. Karen is in early to prepare the fruit cups or plates. The fruit course is served while the entrée is being made. There is always a choice for the entrée between an egg type dish and a pancake type dish. For the eggs it might be our famous crepe filled with scrambled eggs, ham and cheese, a French Rolled Omelet or a scramble with sautéed vegetables and local cheese. For the pancake type entrée we frequently feature Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, Waffles topped with Berries, Ricotta Lemon Pancakes or Cream Cheese and Strawberry Stuffed Cinnamon Raisin French Toast. These entrees are served with apple wood smoked bacon. Many people have asked us about where they can buy this bacon but unfortunately it is only available to restaurants. In keeping with our strong belief in choice we also offer our homemade granola, English muffins with locally made jams and Special K with skim milk and banana. Vegans especially like the English muffins.

It was my original intent to serve a very innovative and gourmet breakfast. I soon learned that was not what most of the guests wanted. Even those that were adventurist in the evening want traditional comfort food for breakfast. How do I know this? I would for example offer both an omelet with fresh crab and scramble eggs with cheese and the simple scramble eggs would outnumber the more gourmet offerings by 2 to 1. It surprised me that there was little interest in items like crab cakes or homemade gravlax. Some guests even find goat cheese to be scary. I have also given up on the whip cream on the French toast. As a chef I loved to use whip cream because it makes the plate look so beautiful but 90% of the guests were saying hold the whip cream. It’s important to listen. On a trip to Napa I discover this cook book from a local and very expensive inn that served these decadent deserts like breakfasts featuring dark chocolate in many of the recipes. I tried this one recipe where fresh fruit was presented in this chocolate cookie shell. Visually it was a sensation and tasted equally good, however no one was fazed. Recently Val has adapted the recipe for a dinner dessert with much better success.

Even though we were going to focus on traditional breakfast food, with an occasional deviation, I certainly needed to differentiate myself from the local diner. I do this by using the best local ingredients and creating visually appealing plates. Topping the eggs with local cheese, brightly colored sautéed vegetable and fresh parsley, not only taste better then plain old scramble eggs but is visually delicious. Fresh fruit and a touch of powdered sugar on a pancake can do the same thing. The owner before me used a commercial pancake mix but to me that is cheating. It is easy to make them totally from scratch and you can taste the difference.

I also discovered that although guests want to indulge in items such as bacon that they don’t regularly eat at home, they want to do it in moderation. We are often thanked for not over doing the portion size. Our guests are generally active and fit and are looking to balance the pleasures of a great breakfast with plans for the day. However, if you are a big guy, don’t worry, I am happy to send out your pancakes with a side of eggs and extra toast.

Guests are coming to the inn for an authentic New Hampshire experience, so we focus as much as possible on local products. Our eggs come from a farm in Sugar Hill less than a mile away. Farm fresh eggs from cage free hens just taste better. We also buy local maple syrup by the case. At $50 a gallon it’s expensive but it’s worth it. At a retail store it can cost double what we pay. Our jams and jellies are made for us in Lancaster, NH. Even our coffee is roasted in New Hampshire. We place our order on Tuesday; it’s roasted on Wednesday and delivered to us on Thursday. In the summer we grow our own herbs and buy from local farms. We also served Harman’s cheese, aged two years in Sugar Hill, and many other local cheeses. We have been Certified Local as part of the NH Farm to Restaurant Connection.

Another important principle is cooking everything to order. Many inns don’t do this. Sure it’s more work but it’s worth it. Items like pancakes and eggs just are not meant to be made ahead and sit in a warming oven.

Special diets are becoming increasing common and we do our best to accommodate. We do ask if you do have special needs to let us know ahead of time so that we can buy the soy milk or eggbeaters that you require. Gluten free is very common and easy to accommodate. We have gluten free pancakes and waffles and potatoes can be substituted for toast. Dairy free is also common. For extreme diets sometimes it is more helpful to know what one usually eats instead of everything they don’t eat. Special diets can slow down the kitchen on a busy morning so hopefully guests will use good judgment when making special requests.

We generally seat our guests between 8 and 9 am. On busy mornings we extend the time to 9:30. It generally only takes about 5 minutes for me to produce entrées for a table of two. On most days this works really well. Occasionally everyone arrives together and then those 5 minutes can add up. On busy days being well prepared is important. To be ready for a full house on a Sunday morning I usually arrive by 6:00 am.

Our concept is not cast in stone and I am sure that it will evolve as tastes and styles change.

Granola
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup cashews
¾ cup shredded sweet coconut
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Sugar Hill maple syrup
¼ cup vegetable oil
¾ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 250.
Combine oats, nuts, coconut and brown sugar. In a separate bowl combine all wet ingredients and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool and then add the raisins. Makes about 6 cups of granola.

Raisin Scones
2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking power
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, very cold, cut into cubes
½ cup raisins
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425.
Add the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse. Then add butter and pulse 15 times. Add raisins and pules again. Move the contents to a mixing bowl and add the cream. Mix with a spatula and then turn out onto parchment paper and lightly knead. Shape by pressing into 9” ring from a springform pan. Unmold and cut into 10 wedges. Bake 12-15 minutes. Serve with strawberry butter.

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place 16 paper liners in sprayed muffin pans.
Cream the butter and sugar until light with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in the eggs, vanilla, sour cream, and milk. In a separate bowl, measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed add the flour mixture to the batter and beat until just mixed. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 20 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.

Next Chapter

The Dining Room 2 Mar 2014, 4:56 pm

The Dining Room

Chapter 13:

Dining Room – May 2006

In 2006 if you wanted to give a generous assessment of the Sugar Hill Inn’s dining room you would see a delightful breakfast room.  In the morning with windows on three sides, the room is bright and sunny.  The room had natural wooden tables and simple schoolhouse chairs.  The tables were topped with woven place-mats and the servers were wearing colorful “Little House on the Prairie” aprons.  If the room could only speak it would be inviting you for the best pancakes and sausage in town along with genuine local maple syrup and lots of hot coffee.  The inn has always been known for its delicious breakfasts.  If we were just a simple old fashion B&B and not a full service inn with big plans for the future, a little fresh paint would have been all that was needed.

The dining room after the new wall paper but before Truex Cullins

However, my critical eyes were focused on two huge air conditioners cut into the wall.  In the late 60s I am sure that it was cool and reassuring technology but by 2006 these dinosaurs were blowing only hot air.   Also the over powering flowered wall paper from the 70s was showing its age.  Norman Rockwell prints were strategically hung to hide tears and holes in the wall paper.  There was also something about the design of the tables that made the room look like a German

Beer Hall.

Carol, our interior decorator, was in charge of developing a plan to redo all of our public rooms on the main floor.  It was our thinking that first impressions count and therefore we would immediately focus on the rooms that everyone would see.  Carol’s expertise was in the area of residential design.  Restaurant design was an entirely different ball park.  With so many projects under way we decided that we would replace the worn wall paper and redo the lighting. Carol selected very elegant wall paper and Hubbardton Forge lighting.  Having these fixtures throughout the main floor tied our common rooms together.  Hubbardton Forge lighting is hand made of wrought-iron in Vermont and being local was important to us.

Today’s Dining Room at the Sugar Hill Inn

We also tried to hide the beer hall tables under tablecloths.  While I dislike this saying it totally applies to this situation.  It was like putting lipstick on a pig.  It would be another year for us in figuring out our next step.

In 2007 I was attending a meeting of the New England Inns and Resorts Association at the Mount Washington Hotel.  The Architecture & Interior Design firm of Truex Cullins had a table at the meeting displaying beautiful photos of their hospitality projects.  A gorgeous cottage caught my attention.  We were currently in the planning stage for the Dream Cottage and I momentarily considered bringing them in on that project but we were too far ahead with the planning and that would have delayed the project.

Several months later at another meeting of New England Inns and Resorts Association at the Bethel Inn, Kim Deetjen, interior designer and principal of Truex Cullins, gave a thought provoking presentation on green design.  At the meeting I told Kim about our dining room and inquire if this project would something Truex Cullins would be interested in.  Being relatively new to the restaurant business I felt that we need some expert help.  How big should the tables be and how much space should be between tables?  How do we create that elusive feeling called atmosphere?  How do you decorate a traditional country inn dining room tastefully and standout from the crowd at the same time?   A few weeks later Kim and her team of designers came to see the inn.  Besides from measuring every square inch of the dining room we also spoke about our goals for the inn and showed them our recently completed renovations such as the tavern, library and Dream Cottage.

Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA)’s Achievement of Distinction in Dining award

In building the plan there were three constraints.  We would work with the current wall paper and lighting since they were still very new and the room design would be flexible enough to be reconfigured for special events such as weddings.   Unlike most residential interior designers that make their money by buying at wholesale and selling at retail, Truex Cullins would receive an hourly rate for consulting and the furniture would be at cost.

We received a very detailed plan via mail that included fabric samples, photos of furniture, layout drawing and the design for a custom built wine cabinet.  An appointment was set up for us to visit their offices in Burlington to discuss the plan.  Looking back on the plan I have to give them a lot of credit for understanding both who we were and where we were going.  They combined a traditional design with innovated ideas, sophistication, comfort and fun.  When you are paying a consulting fee you are looking for outcomes that you could not have achieved on your own and they delivered with great ideas.

Prior to our meeting I was told that a newly hired employee would be coordinating our project.  Val (Executive Chef), Nancy (Val’s wife), Theresa (Former Assistant Innkeeper) and I began our meeting by taking a tour of the facility.  It was very impressive.  They had catalogs from thousands of suppliers.  There was nothing that they could not get.  Following the tour we sat down at a conference table with the designer appointed to coordinate the project.  We began by just informally talking but I assumed that she had a formal presentation for us that would logically take us though the plan.  As someone who had worked years in the corporate world I was ready for a PowerPoint.  Instead the meeting turned into an unorganized question and answer session.  Although I loved the concepts and vision I had concerns about the person they had put in charge.

The Dining Room at the Sugar Hill Inn

The plan included a number of different seating options for our guests including high back chairs and loveseats.   All the tables had attractive wooden legs.  They also designed a wine display that would be custom built for us.  Not only would it display our growing selection of wine but would also hide the kitchen doors and the back side would provide a work area for our servers complete with glass storage.  A beautiful handmade wool rug would show off a center table.  The only thing that disappointed me about the plan was the recommendation for art work.  With so many cool galleries in Burlington I was expecting something really interesting.  At the end of the meeting a few tweaks to the plan would be made and then the purchase order would be sent over to me to be sign.

When what should have been the final plan arrived I showed it to Theresa, the assistant manager at that time, for her input.  She said that it looked crowded and was concern that the servers would have trouble getting around the room.  At first, I discounted her opinion, after all Truex Cullins were hospitality experts, these details were why reason we hired them.   Latter we would learn that although they had built many very impressive hospitality projects, we over estimated their restaurant experience. Over the next week or so I went out to eat several times.  Everywhere I went I would measure the table.  I also fully set our tables with dishes and glass where to see how large of a table it would take for our style of fine dining.  I reported back my thinking to Truex Cullins and several new drawing were produced but we were not getting anywhere.  It was like being in a New York City taxi caught in traffic with the meter ticketing.  I complained to Kim and she assigned a senior person to oversee the project and removed some of the nonproductive hours from the bill.  Eventually all the details were worked out and the paper work was signed and we waited for the big day when everything would be delivered.

The wine display arrived a few days ahead and was assembled on location.  The craftsmanship was absolutely beautiful.  We are still in love with that piece years later.  The day the furniture came, Kim was onsite to see that everything was perfectly placed.  We set the room for dinner and Kim made flower arrangements for each table.  The room looked perfect.

Loveseat and Pillows – The Dining Room at the Sugar Hill Inn

Over the next few weeks we did discovered some things that we needed to adjust and some design quirks that we just needed to live with.  We discovered that if we sat guests at the center table the room was too crowded for the servers to maneuver so we pulled the chairs from the table and use it display a fresh flower center piece.  The location of a couple of tables had to be slightly adjusted because the center carpet runner impeded the free movement of their chairs.  We also discover that our high back chairs did not work as well as we would have liked with the table bases but this is something we have learned to live with.

On a trip to Quebec City back in 2008 Karen and I found the perfect painting for above the fireplace.  This was the first expensive painting we purchased as a couple.

Overall I would have to say that we have been very pleased with our dining room and I can’t think of any inn of our size with a nicer restaurant.  Also years later, I can say that the design, fabrics and furniture have all stood the test of time.

Next Chapter

The Ritz Carlton Vs The Sugar Hill Inn 5 Feb 2014, 3:34 pm

Just back from a wonderful 3 day trip with my daughter Sara to New Orleans.  While I have stayed with most of the major chains this was my first visit to a Ritz Carlton.  A few years back I read the New Gold Standard, a book all about the Ritz Carltons business practices and hospitality concepts.  I really wanted to know if the legend and mystique was real. 

Fresh flowers at the Ritz Carlton.


Whenever I travel now, in addition to having a good time, I pay attention, looking for good ideas and trends.  Although it is sometimes like comparing apples and oranges (big-small, city-rural, chain-independent) it is important to know that the Sugar Hill Inn measure up with the best.   

I am pleased to say that Sara and I loved the New Orleans Ritz Carlton Hotel.  We were there during a period of bad weather and many attractions were closed so we spent more time at the hotel then otherwise.  Everyone on the staff was so helpful and friendly we hated to leave. 

However they were not perfect.  In hospitality we are always looking for the opportunity to wow a guest.  At the Ritz Carlton they have this great program where you can call the bellman before midnight and he will pick up your shoes and have them polished and returned to you by morning at no charge.  I placed the call but the shoes were never picked up.  That was an example of over promising and under delivering.  There also was a problem with the internet for the first day and a half and the communications by the front desk were poorly handled.

So how does the Sugar Hill Inn stack up?   I had a standard king room.  The room was larger than many of our rooms but smaller than our whirlpool suites and Dream Cottage.  All of the rooms at the Sugar Hill Inn are unique and individually named.  For this comparison I have selected Bickford because it is close in size to the Ritz Carlton king room.

So lets start in the bathroom.  Bickford’s bathroom is larger.  Bickford is tiled with ceramic tiles but the Ritz is all marble.  Both rooms have a pedestal sink, hair dryer, premium amenities, robes and plush towels.  The Ritz bathroom had an ordinary tub with shower above while the Bickford has an over-sized soaking tub for two with shower above.  The Ritz bathroom had a separate water closet for the toilet unlike the Sugar Hill room.  The Bickford bathroom has windows and exhaust fan while the Ritz bathroom had neither.

I was on the 11th floor and Sara was on the 6th.  Besides from the view both rooms looked exactly the same.  I think that it is safe to assume that all the rooms with the exception of the suites look alike.  At the Sugar Hill Inn each room is individually decorated.  Both the Sugar Hill and Ritz rooms are decorated with premium quality furnishing and bedding. 

Davenport Lounge at the Ritz Carlton.

The Ritz room was exactly what you would expect from an upscale brand.  There was no surprise or wow factor.  A room at the Hilton or Marriott would look about the same.  The Ritz uses a lot of gold in the color scheme to convey luxury.  The designer played it safe taking no chances. The Ritz room was mostly designed for the business traveler with a desk, desk chair and one comfortable club chair for relaxing or reading.  The end result is a somewhat boring space although very functional and comfortable.

The Sugar Hill Inn room designed for the leisure traveler and has a cozy love seat and gas fireplace.  Each room at the Sugar Hill Inn makes a unique statement.

The Ritz room had attractive wall hangings but no original art or even numbered limited addition prints.  The Bickford features an original painting by a local artist. 

Score one for the Ritz, their room has three telephones compared to none at the Sugar Hill Inn.  With everyone owning smart phone, I think that three wired phones is an out dated luxury concept.

Both the Ritz and Bickford rooms had the same size and brand of flat screen TVs and ihome radio alarm clocks.  Although the Ritz has paid on demand programming such as movies, the Sugar Hill Inn guests are welcome to borrow from our DVD library selection.  Some rooms at the Sugar Hill Inn purposely do not have TVs so be sure to check the web if this important to you.  Also in some rooms we have replaced the ihomes with Bose.  While both rooms had current reading materials it surprised me that there was no local sightseeing information in the room at the Ritz.

At the Sugar Hill Inn we take our coffee seriously.  Every room has both a regular coffee maker and a Nespresso Espresso machine.  Rooms are also stocked with a selection of teas.  The Ritz has no in room coffee.  Of course, you could order it from room service for $6.00 for a small pot plus a $4.95 delivery charge, 22% service and 9%sales tax. 

A full size iron and ironing board can be found in the closet in both rooms.  The Ritz also offers a laundry service.  For $22 you can have your suit cleaned and pressed.  This service is not available at the Sugar Hill Inn.

While service is the key to both properties there is certainly a difference in style.  Because of their size they have more staff.  There is always someone at the front desk, bar, restaurant, and front door waiting to assist.  Every call to the front desk is answered on the first ring.  Guests are always referred to as Mr. and Mrs. 

At the Sugar Hill Inn our style is more personal and we are on a first name bases with most of our guests.  My wife Karen and I are always available and personally involved in everything.  Everyone at the inn multi-tasks.  By multi-tasking we provide most of the services but not all that are found at much larger properties.  The server you see for breakfast might also be your housekeeper.   While I can’t be sure it would not surprise me that we have a higher staff to guest ratio than larger properties such as the Ritz Carlton. 

The Ritz like many large hotels has a full complement of dining options including breakfast, lunch, dinner, tavern, and 24 hour room service.

The Sugar Hill Inn serves a full breakfast at no additional charge.  Downstairs in the hotel restaurant it would be easy to spend over $50 on a breakfast for two.  On my last day to save time I ordered a room service breakfast for one and after service and tax it came to $40.  Their breakfast while excellent is neither better nor fancier then the complementary three course breakfast served at the Sugar Hill Inn.  While the Sugar Hill Inn does not do room service we will pack a breakfast tray that can be taken back to the room.

For lunch at the Ritz Carlton I had a delicious Po Boy sandwich filled with fried shrimp and served with fries.  Lunch is not available at the Sugar Hill Inn.

At 4:00 pm the Sugar Hill Inn offers complementary small bites.  At the Ritz there is an in room mini bar with items for purchase, room service or a tavern menu for those needing a little snack. Both properties offer bedtime chocolates and bottled water.

On the 2nd night because of bad weather many local restaurants were closed so we decided to dine at the hotel.  Both the service and food were very good but the total experience did not come near to matching the Sugar Hill Inn.  The wine list at the Ritz Carlton was relatively small for a hotel of its level.  The Sugar Hill Inn has earned the Wine Spectator Award.

While the Sugar Hill Inn has an excellent massage therapist our facility certainly cannot compare to their amazing full service spa.  The Ritz has an indoor pool and the Sugar Hill Inn has an outdoor pool with a water fall in season. 

In conclusion while we are comparing apples and oranges and many issues are subject to personal opinions and preferences the Sugar Hill Inn measures up well when compared to those that set the standard for the industry.  Most of the differences seem to be related to size.  A fourteen room inn can’t have 24 hour room service or a huge spa and a large hotel can’t have 300 or more uniquely designed rooms.  Since we have no plans to expand the Sugar Hill Brand to New Orleans I highly recommend the New Orleans Ritz Carlton.

Katie Rose and Julia Kamins – Valentine’s Day Performance 21 Jan 2014, 9:00 am

We are so pleased to announce that Katie Rose will be performing at the Sugar Hill Inn, Sugar Hill New Hampshire on Valentine’s Day Friday February 14, 2014.  This is her 5th performance at the inn.  We are very happy to welcome her back.  She will be joined by Julia Kamins another very talented musician.

Katie Rose

Katie and Julia will be singing in the dining room.  Dinner reservations are required.

Artist Bio

Singer/songwriter Katie Rose is a musician on a mission. Her modern folk style and powerful songwriting blend a variety of genres to create a moving musical experience. Her work with local and national non-profit organizations has helped to raise thousands of dollars through benefit concerts and other events. She has written theme songs for such organizations as The Cancer Relay for Life and The Way Home in Manchester, NH. A diverse musical artist, Katie Rose leaves audiences singing.

Julia Kamins is an up-and-coming artist with warm vocals and a smooth sound. With guitar in hand, she performs in venues all over northern New Hampshire. Take the warm tones of John Mayer, mix with the honest songwriting of Ingrid Michaelson, and add a touch of Goo Goo Dolls rhythm: you get Julia Kamins.

Val’s Restaurant 16 Jan 2014, 10:57 am

Chapter 12

That first year it was a rare day that I took time off from the inn for myself.  I had about four hours on a beautiful mid-august afternoon and I decided to hike the Falling Waters Trail.  The trail leads to a series of dramatic waterfalls and eventually to the top of Franconia Ridge.  I explored the waterfalls but did not make it all the way to the top.  The hike gave me time to think about the big picture and to analysis our progress.  For most of the hike I was pondering my role as chef.  The fall was coming and under prior management the restaurant served seven days a week in peak season.  Somewhere on the way up I decided that we needed to hire a chef and by the time I had reached the parking lot I was 100% certain.  It was time for me to focus on other things.

I contacted the culinary schools and placed an ad in our local paper.  I needed a good chef.  Inns of our size rarely had great chefs.   My ad stressed the importance of a top school.  There are a lot of chefs out there that just don’t have a firm grasp of basic techniques.  Ted was the first to apply and we had a nice talk but a few days later he called and said that the commute from Vermont was too far.  A few days later Val applied.  We sat on the front porch and had a very nice discussion.  You could tell that Val really wanted this job and had spent considerable time envisioning this opportunity.  While Val had not gone to a fancy culinary school it was obvious the school of hard knocks had prepared him well.  Val had a long and impressive resume.  Val was currently working as the chef for an assisted living center.  They had told

Executive Chef Val Fortin – Cooking Demo at the Littleton Coop

him that they wanted gourmet meals for their residents.  In reality the residents wanted everything over cooked and Val hated the job and was even thinking that it was time for a career change.  I emailed one of Val’s references from a nearby inn.  She simply said “he is a good egg”.  Based upon his enthusiasm, his correct understanding of how to make veal stock and the reference I hired Val Fortin.

Val grew up in Berlin, New Hampshire under difficult circumstances.  After high school Val joined the Navy and saw the world.  After the navy a caring uncle took him under his wing and introduced him to the culinary world.  In the summer they would work in the seasonal restaurants of New England and then migrating south for the winter.  Val was an eager student, watched everything, taking good notes and asking questions and reading cook books as if they were novels.   It was also obvious that Val had natural culinary talent and was willing to work hard to develop it.

After meeting his wife Nancy, Val settled down in the town of Lisbon, New Hampshire.  Val and Nancy have been married 14 years.  Val has worked for most of the larger hospitality properties in the White Mountains including the Mount Washington Hotel, the Bretton Arms and Sunset Hill House.  While working for the Mountain Washington Val was part of an elite team that represented the hotel in international culinary completions.

Chef Val showing off tonight’s dinner

Val originally was going to start after the family’s annual vacation to Maine.   However, Val changed his mind about going to Maine and wanted to start as soon as possible.  It was Labor Day weekend and I had a lot of guests so I was happy about an additional hand in the kitchen.  I had already done most of the prep for the night so I suggested that Val come in about 5:00 to be ready for the first table at 6:00 pm.  Val immediately took over, reducing my sauce to the right consistency and arranging everything for the night ahead.  I watched Val execute the first few dinners with precision.  I was no longer needed in the kitchen so I joined my family in the dining room that was visiting from New Jersey.  That was my last night in the kitchen although I still am the breakfast chef.

Val was a self-starter and needed very little direction.  We did talk a lot about our goals and vision for the restaurant but I was not going to meddle in the area of menus and recipes or be a know-it-all about suggesting more salt or toning down the garlic.  I really wanted Val to run the place as if it was called “Fortins”.  Slowly Val started to expand the menu with entrees such as duck and osso buco.  Karen and I love his duck so much we served it at our wedding.  Other signature dishes such as the Trio of Soups and Val’s Caesar Salad were early additions to the menu and have stood the test of time.  I usually think of soup as a boring menu selection at a fine dining restaurant and usually ordered by those looking to shake off the chill of a cold night. Val with his Trio of Soups recreated this category.  It was now all about flavor and an experience for the senses.   Three espresso cups filled with a burst of flavor.  I think that his white chocolate turnip soup is decadently delicious.

Receiving the DiRoNA Award – Steve Allen, Owner; Val Fortin, Executive Chef

In the early days there were things that stood out about Val and his food that are equally true eight years later.  The number one hallmark of Val’s food is every plate is so visually delicious.  The other very noticeable quality of Val’s food is the layers of flavor.  This is done thru attention to the small details such as finishing salts, truffle oil, a fried garlic chip, fresh herbs, freshly grated ginger…etc.   Another notable characteristic is the strong sense of pride in being a chef and his reverence to the profession and it traditions and responsibilities.  You can see it in his pride of wearing the uniform, belonging to industry associations, continuous study and experimentation, meticulously organizing the kitchen and volunteering his time at culinary charity events.  Val is a strong believer in hard work.  Even in the slow season when Val could have some extra time off we see him in cleaning his ovens, rearranging his kitchen and experimenting with new ideas.

Shortly after Val’s arrival I created a comment card for the restaurant.  I think that guest feedback is very important and to this day we very carefully analyze every restaurant and inn comment card.  It was originally a five point scale ranging from poor to excellent.  Then I modified it by adding a score of six for outstanding.  It was my thinking that we would rarely achieve a six but it would give us a target to shoot for.  Based upon our comment cards we were consistently score either excellent or outstanding.  Many guests were telling us that it was the best meal they ever had.  What was interesting was that the most positive critiques were from our most traveled guests and those who go to fine dining restaurants the most.  Of course not everyone thought this. When it comes to food personal preference vary a lot and there will be a divergence of opinion for any restaurant no matter how good it is. 

Dessert at the Sugar Hill Inn

This positive feedback crystalized our thinking and we set our sights on being the best fine dining restaurant in the White Mountains. The White Mountains are full of family restaurants but there are very few truly top end establishments.  Val suggested that we set our sights on earning the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA)’s Achievement of Distinction in Dining award.  The only DiRoNA restaurants in New Hampshire were the Bedford Village Inn and The Mount Washington Hotel.  To become a DiRoNA restaurant required two years under the same management, a detail application that described every aspect of the restaurant operations and a secret under cover inspection.  Since it would be over a year before we could apply that gave us the time to achieve the standard. 

It’s hard to be something that you haven’t personally experienced so we planned a series of field trips.  While a grand tour of Europe’s best restaurants would have been nice it was not in the cards.  May be some day.   The first trip was an overnight stay and dinner at Manor Hoive in Canada.  This is an amazing Relais & Chateaux property.  The four of us had the tasting menu with paired wines.  Every course was spectacular.  For the cheese course, they have a cart with over 30 cheeses and this young woman knew the name and details of every cheese.  In my head I was thinking where you find such a person.  This was the first and only time I spent a $1000 for dinner but it was worth every cent.  They also generously gave us a tour of the kitchen and all of their inn rooms.

On another day the entire serving staff (breakfast and dinner) attended a full day work shop on serving techniques given by the White Mountain Community College.  This is where I learned to use a waiter’s cork screw.  On another trip we took all of the dinner servers and kitchen help to dinner at Thorn Hill.  They also gave us a tour that included rooms, kitchen and wine Cellar.  Both the ownership and the chef have changed at Thorn Hill since that visit.  We appreciated their willingness to share their years of experience with our team.  

Another year Val, Val’s wife Nancy, Karen and I went to Quebec City and stayed at Auberge Saint-Antoine and had dinner at Panache.  We analyzed everything we saw and tasted.  I highly recommend St. Antoine.  It is a wonderful boutique hotel.  Our second night we went to an innovative restaurant called Toast.  It was on that trip that Karen and became a couple.  The old part of Quebec City is so romantic.

It’s funny to say now, that back in our first year the dining room looked like a German Beer Hall.  There was no hiding it even with white table clothes.  At a meeting of the New England Inns and Resorts Association we met the design firm of Truexcullins and we hired them to give the dining room a completely new look.  More about them in a latter chapter.

When the time came we sent in our application for DiRoNA.  We nervously waited for the verdict.  The inspector could be any one in the dining room so every night we had to give it our best.  About two months later we received the good news in the mail.  The report detailed everything including calling for the reservation, how they were greeted when arriving at the restaurant, the service and lots of details on the various courses.  The report did indicate that our beverage service was not on the same level as the food.  So we set our sights on earning the Wine Spectator award.  Val and I went to Dallas to except the award at DiRoNAs annual conference.

Next Chapter

Concert au grand salon by Michael Rozenvain 8 Jan 2014, 3:14 pm

The Canadian border is just 75 miles north of Sugar Hill. For years the Sugar Hill Inn, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, has been a stopping point on the way to explore our neighbor, Quebec, to the North.

After our fall busy season Karen and I headed north. The first night we stayed at Manoir Hovey, a wonderful inn on a lake about 25 miles north of the border. Their restaurant is excellent. Chef Val and his wife Nancy joined us for dinner.

Original Painting by Michael Rozenvain

Val and Nancy stay an additional night and Karen and I headed to Montreal. We stayed in the Old Port area which we loved, however our hotel in spite of strong TripAdvisor reviews was a disappointment. While we loved the old brick and exposed beams, these details did not compensate for a totally dysfunctional room. I will be nice and not name names.

The old port area is full of art galleries. Exploring galleries is something that we have always enjoyed. This one gallery in particular, Galerie d’art Le Bourget had a painting, Concert au grand salon by Michael Rozenvain, which caught our attention. The artist captured the excitement of a live orchestra with striking color and details. While I am always on the lookout for great art for the inn, I take my time thinking about big purchases.

The beauty of the painting stayed with me. I discussed it several time with Karen and with her encouragement purchased it a few days before Christmas. Because of the high local taxes in Quebec it is actually more cost effective to have a painting shipped.

While most hospitality properties display limited edition prints or mass produced paintings from China we enjoy sharing the real thing with our guests.

Artist Profile: Michael Rozenvain
Birth : Kiev, Ukraine, 1963.

Training : Michael Rozenvain attended art school in Kiev and later on continued his studies at the Lvov Academy of Decorative Art. He immigrated to Israel in 1990 where he achieved widespread acclaim from his numerous one-man shows and group exhibitions. Rozenvain is also very active in the creation of fresco paintings as well as monumental works of art for prestigious hotels and libraries.

Themes like the Mediterranean, cobblestone streets, French bistros, cafes and orchestras are Rozenvain’s favourite subjects. His color scheme is rich and sultry, inviting the onlooker to hop into the painting for either a glass of wine or an espresso. Rozenvain applies many layers of paint, thus creating the illusion of depth through his highly textured canvas. His sense of composition and his agile paintbrush strokes are all elements that distinguish this artist and have made him famous worldwide. He currently lives in Canada.

Medium : Acrylic

Exhibitions : Numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide.

Collections : Private and corporate collections in Israel and abroad.

Media coverage : Spring 2010, Magazin’Art, pg. 126
Publications Michael Rozenvain, Art Book, A & E Fine Art Inc.

New Hampshire Beer 1 Dec 2013, 4:06 pm

Is beer the new wine?  A few days ago I went to a relatively new microbrewery in Littleton called Schilling.  I ordered a dark beer and it came in a brandy snifter.  At first I thought this to be odd.  But after the first sip I understood that this beer deserved a special glass.

I try to keep current on trends by listening to my younger staff and family.  Dan, one of our servers recommended that we add  Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA.  He said that there are bars that charge over $10 a glass for the stuff.  So we added it to the list and sure enough he was right.

Remember the days when the only good beers were imported and domestic beers were for football games and frat parties.  At the Sugar Hill Inn imported beers such as Heineken and Stellar Artois are dead in the water.  It’s all about local.  We feature the beers from the Woodstock, Tuckerman and Smuttynose Breweries.  All of them are from New Hampshire.  New Hampshire is becoming well known for its beers.  Take a look at the New Hampshire brewery map.   Similar developments are occurring in our neighboring states of Maine and Vermont.

If you go to the Woodstock Brewery for lunch I recommend ordering the sampler that includes five 3oz glasses of your choice.  Ask your server if you need help deciding.

The best way to sample the best beers from the region is to come to New England Brewfest held every June in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

As the bartender at the Sugar Hill Inn I love recommending local beers.  Guests are looking for that authentic New Hampshire experience and are very open to try something new.  In the rare case it is not to their liking I will pour something else.  Please let us know if you have a favorite New Hampshire beer.

 

Shop New Hampshire Online 23 Nov 2013, 10:01 am

You certainly won’t find me shopping on Thanksgiving Day or camping out at Best Buy on Black Friday to be first in the door.   Most people I know don’t need another sweater or tie.  So, pour a glass of chardonnay, find your ipad, pull your chair up to the fireplace and come shop New Hampshire style with Steve, the lazy innkeeper.

Most people have too much stuff so I like to focus on experiences that bring folks together.

Chutters – World’s Longest Candy Counter

Uncle Bill and Aunt Sally no problem!  Bill and Sally will enjoy cooking together and sharing Polly’s Pancakes at home with the entire family. Good old fashion family time.  http://pollyspancakeparlor.com/

What about your photographer friend?  Say cheese, that right, Harman’s Cheese.  The best aged cheddar from Sugar Hill. http://harmanscheese.com/cheese

Yes I know, Henry also likes cheese but cheddar is just too conventional.  Take a walk on the wild side and order him cheese from the Landaff Creamery.  He will be the only one on the block with genuine Landaff cheese.  http://landaffcreamery.com

Don’t be jealous but in Northern New Hampshire we really have the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas.  If only we could bottle the experience so you could cheer up those unfortunate friends of yours spending December in sunny Florida.  Too bad, they never get snow.  I recommend maple syrup.  It’s New Hampshire in a bottle.  http://www.fullerssugarhouse.com/

Want to bring back the good old days.  Send a gift box from Chutters.  They will fill it with all that candy that you remember from your childhood. http://www.chutters.com/candy/  No tantrums please!

If you have a coffee Otaku then coffee from White Mountain Coffee may be your thing.  No it is not grown in the mountains high above Franconia but it is blended and roasted in New Hampshire. http://www.whitemountaingourmetcoffee.com/ Sorry if I made you look for the dictionary.

Landaff Creamery

So where’s the beef.  It’s at the North Country Smokehouse along with his porky pig. http://ncsmokehouse.com/

Ok, ok, enough with the food.  The League of NH Craftsmen have wonderful unique one of the kind crafts. https://www.nhcrafts.org/

Still not sure, visit the made in New Hampshire website http://www.nhmade.com/index.cfm

I saved the best and the easiest your last.  Gift certificates from the Sugar Hill Inn will certainly revive the lost art of the hand written thank you note.  They are good for both lodging and dining and are available in any amount.  They can be ordered any time of day from the inn’s website. http://sugarhillinn.com/