DOVER — Hermitage Club Culinary Director Terrance Brennan says a new Italian restaurant inside The Inn at Sawmill Farm is a very unique operation for the Green Mountain State.
Brennan skied at Stratton for many years and was asked to take on the job by an official at the Hermitage Club who knew him from their days at the ski resort.
"I'm very excited to be in Vermont. Maybe I'll get some skiing in," laughed Brennan, a renowned celebrity chef who now advises the Hermitage Club on its various restaurants. "A lot of the customers who come up know of me or my restaurants. The reception has been overwhelming so far."
Brennan visited the Hermitage Club, which owns a private ski resort on Haystack Mountain, a golf course, airport and several inns, and left "very impressed." He said he was sold on the gig when he saw the company was committed to making great food. He said he would put any of their restaurants against the ones he has run in New York City.
Meredith Morin, director of communications at the Hermitage Club, said lots of renovations were made to rooms at The Inn at Sawmill Farms after the Hermitage Club purchased the property earlier this year, but the building's aesthetics have mostly been preserved.
The restaurant, formally known as Nonna's Restaurant, was renamed Piacenza after a town in Northern Italy near Milan. The name means "to please" or "pleasant abode."
"It's sort of in reference to Jim Barnes' Italian side of his family," Morin said of the Hermitage Club founder and president.
While rooms remained available throughout the entire renovation process, the restaurant was closed as changes were being made. The kitchen was completely gutted and reconfigured to improve flow while new equipment was purchased and installed.
The menu includes items such as eggplant, grilled shrimp, clams, pumpkin-filled pasta, lobster, sea bass, roast cod, chicken, pork chop, various vegetables, desserts, salads and more.
All the pasta at Piacenza's is made fresh. Meals are offered seasonably there. And it's believed to be one of the only restaurants in Vermont offering white truffles, a favorite ingredient of Brennan.
"We're inspiring the cooks and demanding excellence and it's working," he said of the Hermitage Club's restaurants where Michelin restaurant guide standards are used. "I get to do a lot of things."
French bistro, farm-to-table American food and fresh seafood were some examples of the food that can be found at other Hermitage Club spots. If a young cook were to serve up food in each of the restaurants, Brennan said they would be able to go and work anywhere after only a few years.
An English pub is being planned at a proposed hotel near Haystack. The project is scheduled for construction between 2016 and 2017. But Brennan admits things could change.
"Whatever it is, I want to make the best of that category," he said.
Juggling the operations can be difficult for Brennan, who is used to restaurants being packed every night in the city. The seasonality of the area, where several ski resorts are located within close proximity, can be a challenge when ordering ingredients. And finding enough staff is another matter.
"We made great strides in the last month or so," said Brennan. "Moving forward, I think we'll develop relationships with other resorts. Their off-season will be our season. And we'll have an exchange program so we can be consistent with the staff."