Five years ago, co-owners Chef Jeff Fournier and Kate Fournier were drawn up to Jackson by the dream of pairing their vision of a farm-sustained restaurant with the needs of their family.
Jeff had been operating two restaurants in the Boston area, spending long hours in cramped kitchens. He was often away from the kids and Kate. The lifestyle had worn on everyone. Pair this with Jeff’s concerns about relying on the industrial food system and his lack of access to the quality of ingredients he wanted to be working with, and you have two choice ingredients for a big change.
When the historic Thompson House Eatery in Jackson went up for sale, the Fourniers saw their chance — take over the spacious kitchen, build a business that could sustain their creativity, energy and enthusiasm for hospitality long-term, and restore the family’s most precious resource — time together. They bought the business and restored the buildings, updated the kitchen and dining room, hired a farm manager for the property’s five-acre farm and added new greenhouses to expand to year-round produce offerings.
Jeff now greets farmers as they arrive at the delivery door, coaches his team at the stoves, watches guests as they are served in the dining room and keeps track of his sons through a small hallway in the family’s home kitchen. Kate manages the operations of the restaurant, farm market and farm. “I can go for a walk in the woods, send the boys to school and be involved in the restaurant,” she says.
While the location is farther than most diners might travel for a casual night out, the Thompson House Eatery has attracted a following of devoted guests. Each night locals, skiers, tourists and gastronomes venture through the Notch and over winding back roads to eat and drink in a historic farmhouse in the rural town of Jackson.
Thompson House pairs the charm of the working farm with a philosophy of modern hospitality that qualifies the operation under the highest standards in the food world: a chef nominated “Best in the Northeast” by the James Beard Foundation, sourcing standards reviewed and certified by Slow Food USA, and staff who gush when they speak about what working in the atmosphere developed by Kate and Jeff has done for their creativity, careers and quality of life.
The reward for making the trip is something special. Eating here is a weekly ritual for some, an occasional treat for others. Area inns encourage their guests to book a reservation as soon as they check in for the best chance of securing a seat during their visit. Often, by the time dinner service begins at 5 p.m., every bar seat, high-top and dining room table in the house is booked.
When I ate at Thompson House in March, I had the filet of Icelandic cod with curried butternut squash purée, sapa, cardamom pickled shallots and watercress with potato lattice. I was able to watch Jeff prepare the meal while I spoke with Kate.
As we talked, our conversation was interrupted by Jeff, who called Kate over to his station. He needed to show his wife, friend and business partner the perfect flip. Jeff was preparing the potato lattice for the Icelandic cod. Kate said to me with a smile, “This happens a lot.”
Sometimes Jeff wants to share his sense of awe at a beautifully grown vegetable; other times it’s a perfect cut of meat slapped onto his forearm so he might show her how proud he is of his evolving skills at the full-animal butcher block.
Thompson House embodies the New Englander lifestyle. There’s always work to be done. There’s pride in the work. There’s warm hospitality and an understanding that each season brings new opportunities to grow. Rural restaurant operations demand an intrinsic motivation sustained over many years, and good rural restaurant operations demand consistency, value and the continued support and appreciation of their community.
The kitchen creates a daily menu based on what local farm and sourcing partners can deliver. Ingredients that meet the Thompson House Eatery’s philosophy of “unique delicious products from small companies with sustainable production practices” are included in the dishes. All ingredients are organic and non-GMO products grown within close proximity.
Trevor Sheehan, bar manager, believes the way to enjoy the full Thompson House experience is to budget for a multicourse meal, bookend the meal with cocktails and indulge in a bottle of wine to enjoy while you eat.
“We are going to continue to work toward an even more sustainable, local food system. And we’ll continue to raise the level of gastronomic interest in the region and create a draw for people to come to Jackson as a food destination,” says Jeff.
Should you make the trip, you’ll be swept into a dinner that makes you forget the back roads, the frost heaves, the night driving — and will remember the meal more than the journey.
This is a fine-dining experience, and the bill will reflect the quality of the ingredients and the craft of excellent service.
Ask the server to help make selections from the list of daily offerings and additions, then order appetizers and entrées. Trevor recommends diners surrender to the process. His recommendation: “Be open to what the restaurant is trying to do.”
Be prepared: Beyond the cost of your meal, taxes and tip, prepare to see a 7% administration fee added to every bill. Rising food costs, credit card processing fees, technology needs, overhead and wages have driven the Fourniers to keep this fee separate. This way, they can face the realities of operating an independent business in uncertain times, allowing the owners to maintain an $18-per-hour minimum wage in the kitchen and care for the beautiful and productive five-acre farm in the village of Jackson.
If you plan to indulge in the full Thompson House dining experience, consider booking a hotel room or bringing a designated driver, especially if you sit past 7 p.m. Dinner seating can last two and a half hours with cocktails, appetizers, dinner, dessert and wine, so plan for a late night out.
Stop by T.H.E. Farm Stand
There’s more to the Thompson House Eatery than its excellent restaurant. If you’re in the area or heading out for a day trip, stop by their farmstand to find seasonal produce and items such as chili pickeled green tomatoes, quince paste, fresh pasta, condiments and much more. You can also find daily offerings of prepared foods, which come with reheating/cooking instructions. It’s open Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and you can find lists of updated offerings online at thethompsonhouseeatery.com/the-farm/farmstand.
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