“Do you suppose we’ll see a moose? I cannot tell you how I long to see a moose. But a bear would be almost as good. These woods are surely heaving with moose and bear.”
My sainted friend, having endured years of my enthusiasms, rolled his eyes. “Just look for the turn, please.”
The trees, newly verdant in early May, thinned, and a right turn led us into the picturesque village of Warren, nestled at the southern end of Vermont’s Mad River Valley. The main street (called Main Street), lined with historic houses, promised an abundance of country charm. There was no missing our destination. We rounded a slight curve and The Pitcher Inn hove into view, an imposing white clapboard manse with verandas spanning the first and second floors. The house is built on the bank of the fast-running Freeman Brook, and the sound of water burbling over stones offers a soothing welcome as we unload our luggage.
The Pitcher Inn is no ordinary establishment. We are warmly greeted not by a manager, but by the Maitresse de Maison, Tracy Kelly, who leads us through a lobby filled with suitable art and antiques that sets the scene as she shares the building’s history. A lodging house during the Civil War era, the inn was reconstructed in 1997 following a devastating fire four years earlier. The new inn, designed by local Warren architect David Sellers, occupies the exact footprint of its predecessor. The building’s exterior is classic 19th century, while the interior reflects Sellers’ enthusiasm for artisanal craftsmanship. He collaborated with several colleagues and a legion of decorators, masons, woodcarvers, furniture makers, and mural painters to create an eclectic décor that combines the traditional with the whimsical. Gale and George Dorsey purchased the Inn in 2020, revamping the guest rooms, suites, and common areas while adding unique touches such as a revolving, curated art collection.
The Inn boasts nine themed guestrooms and two suites (both of which are dog friendly). We are shown to the Mountain room and charmed by the cozy cabin-in-the-woods décor. A king size bed is tucked away in a nook that I only later realize is meant to replicate a fire tower, with a tromp l’oeil view over the surrounding woodland – was that a moose I spied, lurking behind a tree? In the sitting room two leather easy chairs rest before a wood-burning stove. A Persian carpet and an abundance of antlers, as well as snowshoes and skis, are artfully arranged to create a “just in from the snowy forest” ambiance. I feel as though I should be wearing a buffalo plaid jacket and cap with ear flaps. A wet bar and a capacious bathroom with a black slate steam shower and jetted soaking tub add a touch of decidedly un-rustic decadence.
Our late arrival leaves little time to tarry. We have an early reservation in the Dining Room, where Chef Jacob Ennis has created a five-star farm-to-table menu that focuses on locally source ingredients. With deep charcoal walls, picture windows overlooking the garden, and a massive fireplace as its focal point, the dining room is at once cozy and elegant. Chef Jacob introduces himself and explains his unique approach to creating a truly local fine dining experience. He takes the farm-to-table ethos personally, keeping the chickens that supply the Inn with fresh eggs at his own home. The bees that provide honey live with Maitresse Tracy Kelly. Ennis smokes his own meats, makes his own jams, and even taps the trees behind the Inn to render maple syrup – you know that you are truly in Vermont.
Ennis takes an even more creative turn by sourcing wild ingredients from Nova Kim and Les Hook, expert wildcrafters who have a combined 80 years of experience in gathering berries, greens, mushrooms, herbs, blossoms, and more from Vermont’s forests. He frequently adjusts the day’s menu based on what largesse the forest has yielded. During the colder months, he offers a Fire to Fork menu with soups, vegetables, and wild game he prepares in the dining room’s oversized fireplace.
This evening, the dinner menu demands that we make hard choices. A Vermont cheese and charcuterie plate requires us to make selections from a range of offerings. I leave the cheese to my companion; I’m all about the house smoked ham. The fusion of salty, savory, and smoky flavors nearly brings a tear. I immediately regret agreeing to share. While the menu does indeed offer frog legs, my French companion has chosen an artistically arranged oyster and cucumber concoction. He tucks in with enthusiasm, but I am unwilling to give up more ham in exchange. The ham is mine. As an entrée I choose a roasted chicken breast in romesco sauce, while Eric orders the Rabbit Duet, a seared loin and confit leg with roasted wild sunchokes and morel mushrooms. We share an apple roulade for dessert, the fruit complemented by the unique flavor of cardamom ice cream.
Warren is a quiet village, and the Inn’s Tracks bar is the place to go for an after-dinner drink. The name is to be taken literally, as a variety of animal tracks decorate the floor. A stuffed cougar leers as we try out the vintage shuffleboard table. Sommelier Tunney King, who has already impressed us with his choice of the perfect white at dinner, holds forth at the bar. Our advance research reminded us that Wine Spectator awarded the Inn its “Best Award of Excellence” for its wine cellar, and we appreciated the Sommelier’s recommendation from its nearly 500 bottles – there is a wealth of options. It’s well past closing time but Tunney and Eric are deep in conversation.
The next morning, we set off to explore the Mad River Valley, fortified by fresh scrambled eggs from Chef Jacob’s hens and home-baked croissants from the Warren Store across the street. An authentic country store with a potbelly stove, fresh baked goods, a deli, and a variety of local souvenirs, the Warren Store is part of the Pitcher Inn complex and in fact houses the smoker that produced the blessed ham. We grab some coffees to go and set off adventuring.
The Mad River Valley is a fundamentally rural area, and the mountain scenery is the star of the show. Thick forests give way to breathtaking valleys. Bright yellow road signs warn of moose crossings, stirring my moose mania to a fever pitch. Just a few minutes down the road from the Inn is one of Vermont’s most picturesque spots, the falls at Stetson Hollow. A four-mile hiking trail passes a number of falls, including a 40-foot horsetail fall that cascades into Stetson Brook. More ambitious hikers can tackle the trail that leads to the top of the 4000-foot Mount Abraham. We are not ambitious hikers. Instead, we shop for maple syrup at several local farms and visit a sugaring house, where we learn about the syrup-making process in considerable detail.
While every season in the Mad River Valley offers an abundance of stunning scenery and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, winter is a peak time at The Pitcher Inn. Warren is situated near two of Vermont’s most famous ski resorts, Mad River Glen and Sugarbush (a scant five minutes away), and during ski season the town is hopping with winter sports enthusiasts from all over the Northeast. True to the level of attention offered by The Pitcher Inn to all its guests, their concierge can assist with securing tickets and arranging transportation. The real afficionado may wish to book the themed “Ski Lodge”, replete with vintage skis, trail maps, and memorabilia, along with an indulgent steam shower. After an invigorating day on the slopes, what could be more satisfying than returning to a luxury suite and a pot of Chef Jacob’s traditional game stew bubbling over an open fire in the dining room?
The Pitcher Inn delivers just about everything you could possibly desire for the perfect weekend getaway or ski holiday. There’s nothing quite like tramping a wooded trail, reveling in nature’s beauty, and coming back to a beautifully designed suite and a sophisticated, five-star dining experience. There’s only one thing they can’t guarantee. The elusive moose.