WEST BRATTLEBORO -- Great food coupled with a warm atmosphere has always been what kept customers returning to The New England House time and time again, and Kurt and Selma Johnson who took ownership last fall of the West Brattleboro restaurant are focused on continuing that tradition. Though "Taint Season" may be a thing of the past (from when the restaurant was the Jolly Butcher decades ago), the Johnsons plan to keep the familiar country memorabilia and its cozy Vermont feel intact, but improved with a little sprucing up -- for now.

Kurt and Selma Johnson took ownership the week of Sept. 20, just in time for the busy foliage season, forcing a quick fit into their new lifestyle. And a new lifestyle it is. Kurt, originally from Chicago where he also began his culinary career, has served as executive chef in countries worldwide since 1992, honing his skills with each cultural experience, while preparing elaborate meals for functions that hosted heads of state was not uncommon. But his most memorable and important stint was in Istanbul, where he met his future wife, Selma.

As his career flourished, he frequently had to uproot his wife and now school-age son from their homes in locations ranging from Germany to Italy and places in between, at the same time investing his talents in someone else's business. But Kurt's yearning to find a place he could call his own grew stronger. So the search began. The Johnsons narrowed their field of search to a rural location in New England, and when The New England House became available they knew immediately this was the ideal spot with an existing and loyal clientele, just waiting for them to take the reins.

Kurt understands that this is a unique area with unique tastes, that had been catered to by the previous owners, Pete and Beverly Kerber, for the last 10 years. The New England House is known for its steaks and seafood as a family style restaurant, and for that reason Kurt does not plan to change the menu just yet.

The bar and lounge area at the New England House in West Brattleboro.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
The bar and lounge area at the New England House in West Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Instead he plans to experiment with specials, mixing it up to see what works and what doesn't, and to build on what has already been established.

Kurt has been well-trained in the art of keeping it local, keeping it fresh and working within the season while supporting local farms. To that end he purchases locally raised beef from Robb Family Farm, the seafood is delivered fresh via the local vendor Adams Seafood, and, of course, he uses local produce whenever possible.

Prime rib -- an all-time favorite -- is available on weekends, while soups made from scratch, including the long-time staple New England clam chowder, will be available regularly. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by a variety of specials ranging from lobster spaghetti accented with a touch of saffron to an outstanding Vermont burger; for the adventurous be sure to try such treats as grilled octopus with veggies or herb goat cheese crusted chicken.

Kurt, with the help of his cook staff Mike Smith and Filicia Mizula, will continue to serve what has already been proven delicious, and any changes Kurt makes to the menu in the future will be sure to include all the favorites. Although he specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, he is setting his sights on keeping The New England House a steak and seafood grill restaurant with what he considers reasonable prices along with a goal to exceed expectations for any customer who walks through the door.

Since September Kurt's hours have been long -- 7 days a week -- as there is always something that needs attending to, but as Kurt and Selma continue to settle into their new environment and the demands of a new business lighten up a bit, they look forward to finding more ways to contribute to the community they now call home.

The New England House serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 4:30 to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday., and Sunday 11:30 a.m. through to 8 p.m., with early bird specials offered from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The New England House is located at 254 Marlboro Road, Brattleboro. For questions about the menu, call at 802-254-6886.

Cicely Eastman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261, or ceastman@reformer.com.