You won’t ﬁnd a restaurant that oozes more charm and character than the beloved ffrost Sawyer Tavern, tucked in the lower level of a historic 1649 home (now inn) on the banks of the Oyster River in Durham, New Hampshire.
The low-lit eatery is cozy, with granite walls, hand-hewn beams, creaky plank ﬂoors, and an original, working “summer kitchen” ﬁreplace. In spring, when warm breezes begin to blow, the outdoor terrace opens, and cafe tables are set under a wisteria-covered arbor overlooking the gardens. This place is living history with a story to serve alongside its tasty dishes. And there’s a new chef and a brand-new menu, providing plenty of reasons to return or to come for the ﬁrst time.
Executive Chef Jonathan Cox brings conﬁdence and skill—and a spark of excitement—to the kitchen. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Cox comes to the Three Chimneys by way of the Reluctant Panther Inn and Kedron Valley Inn, both award-winning sister properties in Vermont. At the helm in Durham, he creates timeless yet relevant dishes, with contemporary style.
Settle in and start with a cocktail. The bartenders here know how to give a good pour. You’ll ﬁnd seasonally themed creations, but the forte is in the classics, like the powerful Old-Fashioned, a traditional whiskey and vermouth Manhattan, and the slightly dirty, dry Martini, generously served in your own personal shaker. Come summer, the refreshing, lime-y Margarita is a top seller.
There’s always a soup of the day; on our last visit, we enjoyed a silky Cauliﬂower Soup, elegantly topped with smoked salmon and crispy leeks. You can’t go wrong with the traditional New England Clam Chowder, a chunky, creamy concoction dressed up with a fried whole belly clam and marinated scallions.
Salads are fresh and classic, made with locally grown produce and drizzled with house-made dressings. The Field Green Salad is a popular choice, with hazelnuts, cipollini onions, dried cranberries, and a honey vinaigrette. The Boston Bibb comes with weet orange slices and crunchy radishes plus cukes for texture, and is tossed with a champagne vinaigrette.
Cox has a fondness for salted, smoked, and cured meats, which shows in the Charcuterie Plate, garnished with cornichons, pickled onions, and a hearty mustard. The Artisanal New England Cheese Plate, with a selection of regional cheeses, is listed as a starter, but we like it as a ﬁnal course, or, better yet, to go before or with dessert. Other starters may include the standout Ricotta Gnudi. Seasonal preparations might include strips of tasty rabbit meat and a deeply ﬂavored ragu, topped with a hazelnut and arugula pesto, or wild mushrooms and a sherry brown butter sauce. Portions are generous enough to share with your dining mates (or not). If Foie Gras is on the menu, go for it. It’s often served with a slice of sweet French toast (an interesting, successful twist) and a cherry-maple glaze.
Entrees are adapted seasonally. “As certain vegetables become available, they will be incorporated into new dishes for sure,” Cox says. But we bet the Pastrami Cured Braised Beef will make repeat showings. It’s a multilayered dish that starts with a dry rub of sweet and spicy seasonings, then a slow braise with tomatoes and red wine. It’s served with seasonal vegetables and perhaps a Crispy Potato Cake that’s good enough to stand on its own or as an optional side. The Pan Roasted Duck Breast is a winner, and one of the top sellers for good reason. It’s prepared medium rare and served with vegetables of the moment; we had it with a bacon cream and cranberry gastrique, which was a pleasing blend of sweet and sour. Steak lovers will ﬁnd something to savor, like the classic Grilled Tenderloin served with a bleu cheese croquette and pickled veggies, or the TCI Steak Frites. For something simple and straightforward, there’s the TCI Burger, served with fries.
It’s New England and we love our ﬁsh. The Crispy Skin Salmon, crunchy on the outside and ultra-moist in the middle, is excellent. We also like the Prosciutto & Potato Wrapped Cod. It’s earthy, moist, and very fresh.
Cox doesn’t forget the herbivores. Veggie options might include a Grilled Flatbread with brie, apples, and onion conﬁt puree, or a layered and light Vegetable Strudel.
You’ve saved room for dessert, right? Flourless Chocolate Cake may come with hazelnuts and raspberry coulis. Fluffy Cinnamon Fritters are topped with a rum toffee sauce. The Crème Brûlée is properly scorched on top and decadently creamy inside. Can we have a small taste of all three, please?
Three Chimneys Inn
17 Newmarket Road