WOODBURY — Michael Bates-Walsh, chef and owner of the 1754 House, 506 Main St. South, told Voices, “People who are familiar with the [former] Curtis House can expect small updates to the site, a bit of a facelift that makes the place feel a bit brighter, but we definitely want to help this place maintain its charm. The bottom line is that we aren’t trying to be a chain hotel but what we know we can be — a fantastic inn and restaurant.”
He described the goal of offering a new spin on classic dishes and serving them with a simple elegance. “We want to let the quality of ingredients from the area do the work in our contemporary cuisine.”
In addition to multiple dining rooms, the 1754 House offers private spaces for dining and celebrations such as birthdays, rehearsal dinners, small weddings, bereavement gatherings, holidays and business events.
Mr. Bates-Walsh took over the building on March 3, barely two weeks before the country shut down against the spread of the coronavirus.
He has spent his spring working with town employees and elected officials to ensure that his new venture is successful, not just in terms of profit, but that his guests feel more than comfortable when visiting.
“Janet Morgan, the fire marshal and fire chief, is becoming my new best friend because we talk so often. [Town Planner] Maryellen Edwards and her team in Woodbury’s land use office have been fantastic. They worked very hard to help us get ready for outdoor dining. Their support has been truly special to us.”
A large marquee tent was erected on site to take advantage of the good weather yet ensure protection from rain.
Mr. Bates-Walsh explained, “Luckily, we have the real estate here to spread out, with tables at least six feet apart, but still maintaining a nice restaurant feel. We’re going above and beyond with our cleaning and personal protection practices. Staff members change their gloves after each table visit and always wear masks.”
He added, “We’ve had rave reviews since opening, comments describing the food as fantastic and the service as amazing, but the feedback that makes me the most proud are the comments about how safe our guests feel. They recognize that we’re dedicated and serious about their safety.”
He noted, “If you told me six months ago that I’d be opening a restaurant under a tent, I’d say you were crazy but the most special thing about this experience is that the vision is still working. We want people to see the 1754 House as a place to relax and enjoy themselves.”
While it hasn’t been a straight line to realizing his idea of guests enjoying coffee or wine in the lobby, he is happy to see them sitting by the firepit. “They’re definitely getting the welcoming vibe and can maybe forget the outside world for a little while.”
Of course, the building has been an inn for more than 200 years and continues to offer accommodations to travelers with the rooms getting the benefit of fresh paint, linens and décor.
When asked why this location, Mr. Bates-Walsh responded, “This place has history. It’s located in a beautiful town and definitely one of a kind. None of this can be recreated and that’s very appealing.”
He grew up in old homes, one dating to 1740. “My mother gave me an appreciation for old architecture. There’s a charm to these buildings that you can’t get just anywhere.”
His career has taken him to every New England state but Rhode Island and he is fond of all of the places he’s lived and worked. “Woodbury reminds me of the smaller northern towns, but it’s still close to the action of the major urban areas.”
He said, “My background is driven by my culinary skills and I’ve been blessed to work in some of the best destination spots such as The Equinox in Manchester, Vt., and the Cohasset Harbor Inn just south of Boston, as well as several small inns.
“My passion is guest service and food and I’ve always gravitated to lodging establishments because that’s where I can find the level of hospitality I want to share.”
The menu was a work of love and a model of flexibility as his purveyors were unable to source some of the products he planned to feature.
The goat cheese cheesecake has become a signature dessert, offering a lighter variation on the popular sweet treat with more of a tang thanks to the fresh goat cheese.
Mr. Bates-Walsh’s favorite menu items are small-and-share plates, quick bites that can be enjoyed with friends or as a casual quick meal.
“I’m a big fan of oysters on the half shell. They’re the epitome of summer and gathering with friends. We’ve sourced exceptional oysters and paired them with chef’s elixirs that are a new take on accompaniments, like the fennel and lime water or what we’re calling Louisiana Firewater.”
He also enjoys the artisanal charcuterie and regional cheeses. “I was fortunate enough to become friends with Patti Fortuna-Stannard, who owns a small market in Manchester, Vt., that features some of the best American-made cheeses.”
The plank-roasted Atlantic salmon is served with a butter sauce made with dill pollen as a departure from the usual and the grilled bistro steak is anointed with foie gras butter and served with confit new potatoes.
“Our goal now is to keep everything approachable and delicious. We get that times are difficult and we’re very price conscious, offering the best value we can to our guests because we appreciate them coming here.”
He added, “We’re here for those who are comfortable going out or our full menu is available for takeout for those who want to enjoy the flavors. We look forward to seeing them when they’re ready.”
Looking back on an exciting first few months in Woodbury, Mr. Bates-Walsh said he’s ecstatic about where he is now.
“We knew the product we would have to offer was going to be great. Shifting gears and moving outside quickly has been an adventure for sure, but guests are leaving happy and that means we’re doing the job we know we can do. We’re in this for the long haul and I look forward to the future.”
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
More information is available at www.1754house.com and by following @1754House on Instagram.