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Food & Travel

Vermont inn with a globally inspired menu

Thom Gorman, the co-owner, started cooking his favorite Indian foods at Millbrook Inn & Restaurant 30 years ago. Thom Gorman, the co-owner, started cooking his favorite Indian foods at Millbrook Inn & Restaurant 30 years ago. (Christina Tree for The Boston Globe)
By Christina Tree
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2010

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WAITSFIELD, Vt. - Thom and Joan Gorman’s small country inn couldn’t be more “Vermont.’’ Their menu, however, mixes local produce with the seasonings and recipes they’ve foraged in countries at the far corners of the Earth.

Stacked in a corner of a sitting room at Millbrook Inn & Restaurant, 34 plump photo albums record hiking trips in New Zealand, Peru, Nepal, and Turkey, camping in Southern Africa, kayaking in Patagonia, and more. The couple travel after ski season and again in November, after the fall foliage.

Albums aside, the inn displays no exotic souvenirs. Instead, the distillations of countless culinary adventures are here for the sampling in the candle lit dining room, the heart of this inn.

Thom Gorman’s love of Indian food began during his stint in India with the Peace Corps. He never intended to run a restaurant, but the winter of 1979-80, the couple’s first as innkeepers, was a terrible snow season. Out of desperation, Thom launched a series of “Invitation to Indian Cooking’’ nights, a success in this sophisticated valley that is home to Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen.

“We inherited a big vegetable garden from a previous owner and felt obligated to keep it going,’’ Joan recalls. That summer practically everything they made was vegetarian although, from the start, a menu staple was badami rogan josh, tender chunks of lamb simmered in a rich and spicy curried sauce. The lamb came from a farm down the road. “We were fusion and local before there were names for either,’’ she says. Thom learned to cut meat and began making his own pasta while Joan honed her pastry skills.

The inn now averages 20 diners a night and the menu has evolved over 30 years. Still reasonably priced ($15.95-$22.95 including salad and sides), it features homemade pasta and local chicken and beef. Staples include meen molee (a mild curry served with fish or scallops), discovered at a former rubber plantation in Kerala, in south India; “aku shaak’’ (small squash, sweet peppers, and other vegetables filled with a spicy peanut stuffing) from the Indian community in Durban, South Africa; and Grand Turk coconut shrimp with a mango dipping sauce (Thom adds horseradish) discovered in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The wine list has also evolved. “Over the years we’ve visited at least 30 vineyards and our favorite is Beaumont Winery in Walker Bay in South Africa’’ Joan says. “We like them because they have the same values in producing their wines that we do in managing our inn and producing our food: high quality, not huge quantity, and good value for money.’’

She explains that the couple manage to travel by maintaining the inn and restaurant themselves as much as possible. She is pastry chef and hostess and, on slow days, waitress and chambermaid as well.

Millbrook Inn’s seven guest rooms are comfortably but not fussily decorated. They have private baths and good reading lights (the Gormans were acquisition editors at a big New York publishing house when they met). There’s no TV, but this was one of the first lodging places in the valley to offer wireless access throughout. Two inviting sitting rooms and the dining room have wood-burning hearths for cold weather. There is a spacious patio set in the garden and a well-shaded hammock within earshot of the Mill Brook.

A note of caution: Beware the photo albums. Images of this mild-mannered couple beaming atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, camping in Nambia and Botswana, hiking in Turkey, or paddling along New Zealand’s North Island have lead guests to travel to places, in ways they never expected, before checking in.

Millbrook Inn & Restaurant 533 Mill Brook Road, Waitsfield, Vt., 800-477-2809 and 802-496-2405, or go to www.millbrookinn.com