Whether it’s a leaf-peeping drive, an excuse to go apple-picking, or a romantic weekend away, there are plenty of reasons to visit New England’s coziest inns — but most of them have to do with food. Farm-to-table dining and regionally sourced produce, along with hearty and sometimes historic recipes, are all as comforting as beautiful settings. Here are top New England restaurants for autumn and a front seat to fall foliage.
The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
The centerpiece of Norman Rockwell’s quintessential Americana, The Red Lion has anchored the setting of his iconic “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” painting since 1773 with 125 antique-filled rooms and suites. Today, there’s wifi, a year-round heated pool, yoga classes, and more, while its restaurant menu steadfastly remains one of locally sourced comfort food. Roast native turkey and clam chowder are favorites, along with mouthwatering Lila’s Mountain Lamb and fresh greens sourced from Equinox Farm. There are plenty of activities nearby, including Rockwell’s home and studio, myriad art galleries, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, a Kripalu yoga center, hiking, shopping, orchards, farms, wineries, and brewers — all worth visiting. Make a reservation at The Red Lion Inn.
The Mayflower Grille at The Mayflower Grace, Washington, Connecticut
Every season is different at Mayflower, where executive chef Isaac Olivo updates the menu quarterly using seasonal ingredients from local farms in addition to those from his own garden that produces crops such as eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and watermelon radishes. Olivo also works with a forager to seek out quality ingredients that are readily available but not widely used in the Northeast, including spruce shoots, stinging nettles, and fiddlehead ferns, to incorporate unique flavors guests may not have yet experienced. It’s not difficult to imagine them growing in the 3,000-acre nature preserve surrounding The Mayflower Grace, which offers up bright, airy common areas in soothing creams and whites — including a spa — and more intimate areas to relax, including the library, a garden room with a view, and an indoor pool. Make a reservation at The Mayflower Grille at The Mayflower Grace.
SALT Kitchen + Bar, Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle, New Hampshire
Nearby Portsmouth may catch most of the buzz for its culinary scene, fun boutiques, bars, and waterfront charms, but majestic Wentworth By the Sea and its SALT restaurant also feature views that are just as breathtaking on the outside as the inside. A recent renovation brought this 1874 Victorian grand dame into the 21st century, but the mural in the soaring dome of the dining room is just as much of a conversation starter as it was in the 19th century. Back then, the lively chef’s bar, another recent addition, didn’t exist to serve up charcuterie and local cheese boards or the craft cocktails offered today. The full menu also made its way into the modern era with handmade pastas, locally caught seafood, and steaks. Make a reservation at SALT Kitchen + Bar.
PINE at the Hanover Inn Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire
PINE is worth the drive to New Hampshire for the roaring fireplace alone, but James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schlow’s restaurant across from the Dartmouth College campus is in a class of its own. The 125-seat space is warm and intimate with urbane décor featuring pieces by Vermont’s Simon Pearce studio and Vermont-based Pompanoosuc Mills (the Green Mountain State is just over the border). Executive chef Justin Dain sources his meats, dairy, and produce from area farms whenever possible, making the cheese plate just about impossible to pass up. Make a reservation at PINE at the Hanover Inn Dartmouth.
Artistry on the Green, Inn at Hastings Park, Lexington, Massachusetts
From Top Chef to sleepy Lexington, Massachusetts, chef Stacy Cogswell’s got a different kind of spotlight now in her first executive chef role. The historic 54-seat Inn at Hastings Park recreates regional favorites with inspired twists, and Cogswell is intimately familiar with New England’s seasonal bounty and palate as a native who grew up learning how to cook in her grandma’s kitchen. After world travels to East Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America, she returned to her home state to whip up entrees like five-spice duck with local butternut squash, in a warm setting that pays homage to Lexington’s role in the early battles for British independence. Make a reservation at Artistry on the Green.
Earth at Hidden Pond, Kennebunkport, Maine
Chef Justin Walker’s menu changes constantly with ingredients exclusive to Hidden Pond’s sprawling chef’s garden, surrounding woods, the coastal Maine waters, and, most importantly, his own farm where he and his family raise goats, chickens, and ducks along with fruits and vegetables. Justin, who runs the restaurant and farm with his wife Danielle Walker (Earth’s general manager and beverage director), first discovered his love of farming and food at an early age while foraging for herbs and mushrooms and spending the winter making cheese with his grandfather. Danielle’s father, Ted Johnson, has been fishing the Maine waters for decades on his 38-foot lobster boat, the “Jessie Dan,” (named after Danielle and her sister Jessica); he supplies Justin with 200-300 pounds of lobsters each week, which are brought in right after they’re caught and never tanked to retain the purest salty and briny flavor. Make a reservation at Earth at Hidden Pond.
Main Dining Room at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
A haven for skiers and outdoorsmen, Omni Mount Washington is renowned for its views of the White Mountains and its elegant main dining room, a unique octagonal room appointed with crystal chandeliers, Tiffany stained glass, and Currier & Ives prints. Menu selections include stuffed New Hampshire mushrooms, maple-braised short rib, and a New England lobster boil. You’ll have to trade in your snow pants for a blazer to enjoy live music nightly or afternoon tea on Fridays and Saturdays. No jacket? No problem. The Omni is also home to Stickney’s, a more casual eatery, offering pub and steakhouse fare with an extensive wine list and creative cocktails including the Mount Washington Apple Martini. Make a reservation at the Main Dining Room at the Omni Mount Washington Resort.
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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at email@example.com.