The Crimson Lion Inn in Stockbridge holds onto its traditions

There’s a new chef at the Red Lion Inn. But regulars shouldn’t worry about these popular menu favorites disappearing. When Pittsburgh-born Jon Sterrett became head chef last spring, like his predecessors, he was given extensive information on what to keep.

“I was told the turkey roast must stay; Also New England Clam Soup; and the chicken pot pie for lunch, ”says Sterrett.

The rib eye and apple pie aren’t going anywhere either, he confirms.

Since Sterrett had a baptism of fire that began in the kitchen on the Monday before Mother’s Day and then had barely a moment before the flood of travel from Memorial Day to the only slightly quieter fall foliage season, it was a relief to just have time to practice and cook the pace of one of New England’s most historic dining rooms in one of the oldest inns in the country.

Located in Stockbridge in the Eastern Berkshires, a 15-minute drive from the new junction 10 of the I90 (old junction 2), the white clapboard inn is distinctive and unmistakable. Drive down Stockbridge’s uncommercial Main Street, lined with apartment buildings rather than shops, and the Red Lion Inn dominates the landscape with a large inviting front porch dotted with Adirondack rockers and cane couches – the old school variety , not the modern lounge type that’s seen everywhere now.

They’d look ridiculously inappropriate here, in this place where the antiquated atmosphere clearly honors what needs to be kept and is not thoughtlessly dumped in the landfill just to keep up with trends.

Pittsburgh-born Jon Sterrett is the inn's new head chef and his wife Jennifer Gelormino is the inn's restaurant manager.

The inn is operated by Main Street Hospitality, which also includes three other properties in the Berkshires and two in Rhode Island and further expansions are planned.

It all started with the Fitzpatrick family’s custom-made curtain store, Country Curtains, which took up one corner of the main Red Lion Inn. Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, is the third generation steward of the Red Lion Inn, the heart of the city and reputedly the oldest inn in the Berkshires.

An inn has existed here since 1773, but the current building dates from 1897. Traces of history have been left behind as markers: An old, now useless gas lamp, for example, recalls the first effects technology had on everyday life.

“When I drove down Route 7 and saw the inn for the first time, it just looked like a center for so much activity,” says Sterrett of his first impression. It was pretty sold out there and there, and it wasn’t long before he and his wife, Jennifer Gelormino, who is now the restaurant manager of the inn, packed their bags and drove back with “a very angry cat in the” Pittsburgh “, says Sterrett.

The Red Lion exudes a certain old New England charm. The downstairs lounge seating around an old stone fireplace with a roaring fire in the colder months begs people to just sit still for a while. Upstairs, creaky corridors full of old frills and art, both grand and dubious, lead to rooms and suites furnished in classic or ad hoc Victorian styles. No two are alike. Don’t worry, the plumbing isn’t Victorian and the bathrooms have modern showers, some with his and her double shower heads; partly with an original claw-foot bathtub as an additional option. Cozy bathrobes made of cotton promote a homely feeling of living.

The Red Lion Inn extends beyond the main inn and includes several houses and buildings from the 19th century.

The Maple Glen Annex, which opened in 2012 in one of the renovated neighboring houses, has a more modern boutique feel and has its own communal living room with fireplace and kitchenette.

There is also a year-round heated outdoor pool and jacuzzi, as well as a fitness room,

Arriving in this wonderland of ephemera and art, Sterrett was as affected as most people: “We have a very artistic eye in my family and I’ve seen so much going on and so many styles, but it all works together to create a distinctive feeling. “

A feeling of homeliness, serenity, artistry. With a bit of a quirk of the past.

With the summer in his luggage, Sterrett, a down-to-earth self-runner who didn’t care about the cooking school and instead worked his way up through the ranks to the luxurious kitchen of the Fairmont Pittsburgh, now runs the inn’s entire gastronomy. That ranges from the Main Dining Room, the wonderfully antique, wood-lined Widow Bingham’s Tavern, the flower-filled Courtyard, which offers al fresco dining in the warmer months, and the Lion’s Den, a cellar bar with live entertainment on weekends.

Then there are weddings and private events. Unsurprisingly, the Sterretts haven’t had much time to explore the beautiful Berkshires.

“We want to see so much,” says Sterrett thoughtfully. “But my priority was getting the team up and running. Everything here is teamwork. My team works very hard and is eager to learn. “

Sterrett invited two Pittsburgh alums, Sous-Chef-in-Training Darian Daniel and Sous-Chef / Pastry Chef Kate Fitzmaurice from his last kitchen at the Pittsburgh District Hotel, where Sterrett was head chef.

And of course he lets Jennifer work in front of the house: “It’s nice to have this understanding of how everyone works and to share that,” he says. “It helps things go very smoothly.”

Now that he’s settled in, he’s ready to learn more and absorb the New England cooking traditions.

Which brings us back to what needs to be saved: New England clam soup that stays all year round, “No matter how hot the weather,” notes Sterrett with some astonishment – and the famous roast turkey dinner with stuffing and sauce – “Thanksgiving dinner , every day, “he adds, nodding approvingly, as if to say,” Why not? “

Chef Sterrett invited Pittsburgh alum, sous chef / pastry chef Kate Fitzmaurice to join his Red Lion team.

Another must-have is apple pie. Fitzmaurice happily cooks those with a perfect golden crust swaying over a fat apple and serves them with vanilla ice cream. The brown butter cake is another staple and is topped with coffee ice cream and chocolate-coated coffee beans.

The Connecticut native is also busy making custom cakes and pastries for private events: a recent request is for a beehive cake.

“I’m starting to make the bees out of fondant this afternoon,” she says, pointing to a really cute design.

Sterrett's corn and fennel soup is seasonal and offers an alternative to creamy clam soup, which is served all year round.

Sterrett also has leeway and brings his own tastes and ideas to the table: He has added his signature shrimp bucatini and a corn and fennel soup – “I really like the combination of corn and fennel,” he says. A watermelon heirloom tomato salad with finely chopped roasted pistachios was still on the menu when the summer faded because, he says, “we get so many great late-season tomatoes.”

Sterrett combines fried halibut with corn and roasted tomato soup and fried panissa and finishes it off with a pecorino crisp.

His “Play on Fish and Chips”, a fried halibut with corn and roasted tomato soup and fried panisse (Garbanzo goujons), refined with a pecorino crisp, will stay for a while: “We’ll continue with that and then you change the halibut with autumn products, depending on what the market has to offer. “

“I want the food to be a love letter to the Berkshires,” Sterrett continues, somewhat lyrically. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the farmers.”

As plant-based diets grow in popularity, both for health and the environment, Sterrett is excited to play with plant-based flavor combinations. “I think that’s the way things are, but I don’t understand why vegetables are treated as meat substitutes. Why try to turn vegetables into something they are not? ”

Sterrett refines these tasty vegetables with a spicy persillade sauce.

His vegan platter, though he doesn’t call it that because the word scares some people, includes tender carrots, green beans, and grilled pumpkins, creamy, soothing mashed potatoes, and a flavorful persillade sauce (a very healthy combination of parsley and shallots). and garlic).

It’s the same sauce he serves with the striped steak, and either way it works wonderfully.

All of this is served in the Main Dining Room, an old school charmer, where twinkling chandeliers provide soft lighting from above and more of the inn’s amazing collection of antiques and art constantly draws the attention and imagination. Three large beams on pillars both function as load-bearing structures and interrupt the large dining room. Antique tea and coffee pots are displayed above each beam. The room’s rose print wallpaper is adorable in a vintage style.

Widow Bingham's Tavern, named after a former owner of the inn, is reminiscent of a colonial tavern.

Country Curtains, which no longer exists, operated in a shop just behind the dining room, and that area could well be carried over into the hotel – but rumors of restaurant renovations are just that.

“There are no plans to renovate or change the dining room,” says Gasthof Managing Director Max Scherrff. “I don’t think our guests would stand for it.”

Totally right. It is one of the few remaining, unmodified dining rooms of a historic New England hotel. Not only that, it’s beautiful!

Equally appealing, but completely different, Widow Bingham’s Tavern, named after one of the inn’s former owners, is a wonderful place for a drink or a casual meal. All sorts of little things hang from the ceiling, including several vintage lunch boxes.

Among the inn’s collections of portraits, one near the souvenir shop shows a pretty tuxedo cat in a tuxedo. Far from anthropomorphic whims, Simon, a beloved former lobby cat, has gone, but not forgotten.

According to Sterrett, his angry cat is happy now and lives in their new home in neighboring Lenox. Nevertheless, all three approach their new rural habitat with due care.

“We have seen a few bears rummaging through our garbage,” he says. He grimaces, but it’s not the bear’s memory. “Just before I took this job, there was a drive-by shoot in our neighborhood. The gun violence has become terrible, ”he adds with a frown. “You just have to watch out for one bear here. I’ll take the bear. “

Winter room rates start at $ 205 per night. Red Lion Inn, 30 Main Street, Stockbridge. (413) 298-5545.

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