“I’ve lived here for 30 years and I never knew you serve the public. I thought your restaurant was only for inn guests,” a first-time diner at the Inn at Pleasant Lake told Jennifer Reed. It wasn’t the first time Jennifer and her husband and business partner Scott had heard this from a New London local. “It was time for the restaurant to have its own identity,” Jennifer said.
Fine Dining at Oak & Grain
Now two years into their ownership of the Inn at Pleasant Lake, Oak & Grain, the Inn’s new restaurant, was born. The Reeds brought more than a name change to the restaurant. They completely renovated the dining room, warming up the space and putting the emphasis on their incredible view of the lake and Mt. Kearsarge. They toned down the table settings. “We’re trying to make it more approachable so people aren’t afraid of using the wrong fork,” Scott said. And after a six-month search, they hired Chef Bryan Leary.
Farm to Table in New London
Inn at Pleasant Lake has been a hotspot for fine dining in an area mostly dotted with pubs and grills. “Over the last 20 years or so, the restaurant has really grown to be a favorite destination for a unique dining experience,” Scott said. With Chef Leary in the kitchen, the restaurant’s reputation has only grown, becoming the place for farm-to-table fine dining in New London.
Chef Leary walks the walk when it comes to farm-to-table. When he was a chef in Portland, ME, Leary would work on farms on his days off to get an idea of how much work goes into the farm’s practices. That dedication to knowing where the food comes from and being able to explain it to guests has carried over to his menu at Oak & Grain. “I use 17 different farms right now and I’m working on gathering more every week,” Leary said, “It’s a lot of tasting, it’s a lot of testing.”
Bringing Adventure to the Table
At Oak & Grain, the five course prix-fixe menu changes every night. Diners choose one of two main dishes, Leary explained, “but everything else you’re leaving it up to the chef to decide what’s good, what’s fresh, what’s seasonal, what’s local, and there’s a little bit of adventure to it.” This daring format led to some hiccups early on in Chef Leary’s tenure, like the first time he served rabbit.
“We had 20 people that night and only four wanted the rabbit,” Leary recalled. He sent out a portion of the rabbit to every diner who hadn’t ordered it and asked servers to ask the guests to if they’d like to try the rabbit. 13 of the 16 guests said afterwards that they wished they’d ordered the rabbit. It’s this determination to broaden guests’ culinary horizons that makes Chef Leary such a phenomenal ambassador of the local food movement.
That mission doesn’t end with dinner. Chef Leary teaches hands-on cooking classes at the Inn at Pleasant Lake. He insists on small class sizes (max. eight people) and everyone gets their own burner. Chef Leary also posts regularly on Chef’s Corner, a blog series which features videos and recipes, where he highlights local farms and shows how to create simple and elegant dishes with local foods.
Oak & Grain is located at the Inn at Pleasant Lake at 853 Pleasant Street, New London, NH. Oak & Grain is open for dinner Wednesday-Sunday, and serves brunch on Sundays. Reservations required, call (603) 526-6271 or visit them online to make a reservation.