The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, NC, is steeped in good taste
Frank Luaces emerges from the wide French doors of a whitewashed farmhouse rubbing his hands vigorously in a dishcloth and grinning broadly. “We’ve been expecting you.” He’s been in the kitchen, carefully tending to the creation of pizzelle, traditional Italian waffle cookies that he’ll press into serving as cups for ice cream after dinner. I have been riding shotgun for the past three hours, idly admiring the scenery as we made our way from Greenville up into the snow-laced hills of Valle Crucis, North Carolina. Frank’s eyes twinkle as he leads us into his workspace. Perhaps it’s the uplifting scent of vanilla and anise, but I feel my spine unkink and my face readjust into a smile.
You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the Inn at Little Pond Farm. Tucked into a captivating crook of the mountains between Banner Elk and Boone, it’s “a fur piece” as Faulkner would say, from Greenville. No matter. Innkeepers Frank and his wife Gaye have made a career of catering to weary travelers from neighboring towns and other countries, alike. Together for nearly twenty years, the couple has settled into a comfortable rhythm in which she often plays the straight foil to his mischievous banter. Between the two of them, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re among friends.
The two opened their doors to visitors in early 2009, six years after an extensive and exacting renovation of the circa-1900 farmhouse—much of which was the result of Frank’s skill as a cabinetmaker. For Gaye, a designer of both interiors and fine jewelry, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream of owning a B&B. But in reality, the Inn at Little Pond Farm began with just a culinary program.
Gaye was well-versed in the merits of learning to cook from master chefs in Tuscany and the south of France. Though invaluable to understanding techniques, Gaye says they were often intense, full-day affairs spent knife or spatula in hand. So, for Little Pond’s culinary program, she decided to swap the tools for forks and knives and simply have a guest chef demonstrate how to make the dishes and allow visitors to tuck into the meal upon completion—participation in chopping, optional. “It’s what put us on the map,” she says bustling around her husband as he continues to pour pizzelle batter onto the hot iron.
Guests soon discovered that after a convivial meal with as many as 12 at the table, they wanted nothing more than to head off into slumberland. As such, the inn was ready to accommodate. “We are not your typical B&B with quilts and teddy bears,” she cautions.
Indeed, the only thing rustic about the Inn at Little Pond Farm is its setting. Once inside, the eye rests on smooth expanses of sparkling windows, white beadboard, and antique furnishings punctuated by only the softest of dove grey and cream. Every item in the pantry is perfectly placed to be seen as there are no cupboard doors. Nary a window treatment, painting, or multi-colored Persian rug mar the milky serenity of the rooms.
That theme is carried throughout the house. The kitchen is a study in gleaming marble, stainless-steel prep surfaces, and bright white tile. The bedrooms feature iron or pale fabric headboards with snowy linens. Bleached French oak planks soothe the eye and the feet. Though reclaimed, the floorboards don’t prompt Gaye to launch into a monologue on the origin and history of the wood. It’s as refreshing as the palette. As is the utter lack of even one speck of dust in any corner. Eating off the floor suddenly seems appealing.
As afternoon turns to evening, eating is top of mind, albeit off pearly plates. Soon one of a revolving roster of chefs will arrive to begin prepping for a dinner. The menu and recipes were masterminded by Gaye as part of the continuing series. With the exception of the pizzelle, tonight’s three courses will pay homage to classic French cuisine.
Young chef Hunter Hallmark arrives and ties on his apron even before he’s done shaking the snow off his shoes. Frank is already at work, bent like a crescent moon above a tray of plump pear halves, which he decorates with pats of butter, dollops of honey, and a generous amount of white wine before sliding them into the oven. As the pears poach, the three strategize about how best to grill the lamb chops, as it’s a bit too cold to abide while they grill outdoors.
By 6:15, the other guests arrive and it’s immediately a party, even though many are meeting for the first time. Their chatter only quiets momentarily as Gaye introduces the menu and Chef Hunter explains some of the highlights before launching into an explanation of the best way to extract the beans from a pod of vanilla that will flavor a cherry Savoyarde for dessert.
Frank pours a French white Nostre Pais 2011 Costiere de Nimes to start while everyone digs into a tomato appetizer (its mellow burst of flavor thanks to Gaye’s four-hour roasting in advance) alongside tart cornichons, hard salami, and a dark nut bread that is as dense as a flourless chocolate torte.
The poached pear salad is next, followed by a heaping platter of mussels in a luxurious bath of shallots and cream. Chef Hunter explains how to make a beurre manie for the sauce as several guests venture to help chop herbs, each donning the toque and drawing laughter and applause from those assembled. Despite its French classical roots, the dinner is the opposite of haughty. We can thank Gaye’s Italian and Frank’s Cuban heritage for that.
As the party devours the shellfish, Chef Hunter sets to work on the lamb chops and their garnish. Gaye and Frank never take a seat at the table. Instead they hover around refilling glasses and pulling away empty plates. At one point, Frank hunches over a sauté pan, scrubbing the splatter off the handle with a toothbrush.
In this way, the place is nearly clean by the time dessert is placed in front of the guests. Not that they aren’t observing the Luaces’s meticulous attention to detail. One diner says he’s been to their culinary events multiple times and continues to marvel at the amount of care that goes into every experience.
Not long after, most people say goodbye and head to their rooms. I almost feel guilty seeing the couple still have a few dishes to tackle, but the siren song of the soaking tub was too strong to ignore. Thanks to a thoughtfully provided bottle of bubble bath, the evening was more than complete.
On the other side of slumber was a gloriously bright morning scented with fresh brewed coffee and the cinnamon tendrils rising from French toast. Gaye and Frank thoughtfully prepared a sumptuous breakfast replete with more fruit, yogurt, the toast studded with raisins, and warm maple syrup.
As we push away from the breakfast table, Gaye reminds everyone that Thomas Arrington of Pasture in Richmond, Virginia, and Tom Condron, formerly of Le Cirque who now owns The Liberty in Charlotte, will be making appearances in the coming months. But the Luaces’s hospitality is more than enough reason to journey back.
Inn at Little Pond Farm
208 Valle Cay Drive, Valle Crucis, NC, (828) 297-1011, ncinn.com; rates $250-$350 per night, or $395 for two people, which includes a cooking class, one-night stay, and farmhouse breakfast (good through April 30, 2013)