On a chilly, gray afternoon in the mountains, just pulling up to the Mast Farm Inn is welcoming. Smoke drifts from chimneys on the farm buildings all over the property, and the old farm house glows when the lights are on inside.
Every year in March, I go to Valle Crucis for a church gathering at the Valle Crucis Conference Center, driving right by the Mast Farm.
The inn restaurant, Simplicity, makes a point of using local food, much of it grown in the raised beds across the road, and I've heard good things about the quality. But my schedule always gets in my way. This time, I decided to get to my church retreat late (sorry, ladies) and stop for dinner at the inn.
What a welcoming place: I walked in to find complementary sparkling wine and the Forget-Me-Nots, a folk music group featuring teen sisters Willa and Ledah Finck and their dad, David, fiddling away in the front parlor. (For a taste of that, click here.)
The inn is a full family affair, run by Sara Deschamps Siano and her chef sister, Danielle Deschamps with help from other family, including their parents, Henri and Marie-Henriette Deschamps. The menu is a set list of four courses for $37.50 (wine or beer from a small but well-chosen list is separate), and they'll tell you what they're serving when you call for a reservation.
Here's one of the most welcoming touches I've ever gotten in a restaurant: Even though I knew they were serving cream of cauliflower soup, a stacked tomato and mozzarella salad topped with glazed puff pastry, braised short rib with baby vegetables, and desserts, I was handed a personalized menu when I sat down.
My name (well, one of the fake names I use for reservations) had been worked into the whole list:
"Kathleen X Brand Home-Baked Breads With 'Dear-Diary-Marion-Correctional-Is- Tough' Herb Butter now blended only with legal High Country Herbs from the Botanical Garden & DEA Helicopter Landing Pad."
"The Mast & Kathleen's Braised Short Ribs Bathing in a Soup Made From a Cream of Mushrooms Topped With Locally Grown Red Potatoes, Purple Top Turnips and Carrots."
"Kathleen X's Unlimited Edition Southern Desserts." And on and on in the same vein.
How can a welcome like that not put you in a good mood? The food was creative and made good use of the limited palate of vegetables available that early in the spring. Dessert featured old favorites, including Friendship Cake made with brandied fruit and Hummingbird Cake, and a serving of housemade ice cream (coffee caramel chocolate chip).
There are very happy people running this inn. And they made me very happy on a chilly, gray Friday night.
Simplicity is open for breakfast every day and serves dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Details: http://www.mastfarminn.com/