Cecil County Q& A: Patrizia Krejci and Frederick Lewis, co proprietors of The Fair Hill Inn
Jun 10, 2015 10:00AM
By Richard Gaw
Q: Take me back to that day in August of 2013, when the two of you were driving through Cecil County and came upon the Fair Hill Inn. Two chefs look at an historic inn and Cecil County landmark. What was going through your minds?
Patty Krejci: The first time we saw the Fair Hill Inn, it was like a chef's dream. The property had a garden and the building had such an historic charm. It felt almost too good to be true. All we could grow and prepare...the connection to the land....Bliss! � �
Frederick Lewis: We had been looking for a chef/owner-type business opportunity for several years. The historic real estate is a rare find. This listing had some personal connection to me. In the mid '80's, my father did some work at University of Delaware. He stopped here on his commute from Bel Air, during the Graziano years. In fact, he took my family out to eat here, on occasion.
Q: When the team of Krejci, Lewis and Patrick Loftus became the proprietors of the Fair Hill Inn in 2014, it gave you a rich canvas -- one steeped in history -- to work on. What were your original ideas to modify the restaurant's physical space?
Krejci: The interior space has such wonderful "bones." We simply refreshed �the front rooms of the Fair Hill Inn (FHI), bringing in historic colors, chandeliers and window treatments. The stonework and wooden walls in the rear rooms are wonderful "as is." Less is more. We supplement with lanterns and plants. The idea of a four-season greenhouse, where we could grow �produce and plants, and offer an inviting "al fresco" dining experience, really appealed to us. Now that this project has been realized, we think it will be the perfect balance to our established fine-dining reputation. Patrick Loftus is the key player in maintaining the old "bones" of this 234-year-old property and his engineering prowess has come in handy already. �
Lewis: We strive to keep the charm. Knowing that this old property would need special care and attention, required an additional founding member, Patrick, to be our historic property steward, caring for the house indefinitely. Plus it's what we, as chefs like to do -- offer a variety of top notch services in food and beverage.
Q: For many readers of Cecil County Life, dining at the Fair Hill Inn is like a step back in time, not only to the history of America, but to their own pasts. It's a memory reflex -- the sights, the sounds, the experiences, and the tastes. How do you infuse your own imprint on the restaurant while being sure not to harm the memories that people have there?
Krejci: The historic nature of the FHI was what the original draw of the property was. Delving deeper, all the way back its origins, in 1781, is such a thrill. This property has such significance, and we feel lucky to take on the challenge as caretakers, to share its specialness with our customers. The FHI/ Mitchell House, was almost lost to history, were it not restored in 1975.
Many current customers have fond memories of the FHI over the last 20 years. We are thrilled that this place holds such fond memories for many in the local community and we strive to continue in the tradition of creating special moments for our guests.
Lewis: I value traditions and history of the Inn. We have a separate company, whose sole purpose is to ensure that the physical property will remain cared for, in perpetuity, regardless of who is operating the restaurant in the far future.
Q: Your website refers to your menu as "farmstead cuisine steeped in history." Sherry marinated New Zealand lamb chops. Pennsylvania Duck Leg Confit. Count bouillon poached wild Maine salmon. What factors went into the creation of your menu, and how does it reflect some of the aspirations you have for the restaurant?
Lewis: As an executive chef of more than 25 years -- and most importantly, a lover of�all foods and beverages� (how good is a chef who limits their likes of food?) -- the Inn provides me with a canvas to create-a unique and beautiful one. The day's menu ingredients are determined by what's the best from our local communities and markets. Using those as a base, I source other top quality ingredients from around the world as well. The best from our region combined with the best, sought-after ingredients throughout the world. That is what "true" American cooking is about, in my opinion. I am humbled and grateful to be able to create such deliciousness that guests really enjoy. Coupled with the food and beverage, is our service. We create an evening special to each guest. Their table is theirs for the night.� Tasting, sipping, chatting all become an intimate experience that is unique each visit. It really becomes a celebration of some sort. That is our core culture that we strive to deliver from beginning to end.�
Q: You're operating a greenhouse near the Inn, where you grow vegetables and herbs that are used as part of the recipes. To what degree is this a reflection of your commitment to cultivate a farm-to-table culture at The Fair Hill Inn?
Krejci: Our "Greenhaus" has just been completed and we look forward to growing an array of produce and herbs, year-round. Everything tastes better when it・s so freshly harvested. Plus, it feels so nice to dine within the growing space. You can actually meet your tomato!� It will be exciting to launch this project.
Lewis: In addition to our gardens, knowing what you eat is always best.
Q: The Fair Hill Inn is also creating what it is calling a "Biergarten." How will such an on-premise venue enhance the experience at The Fair Hill Inn?
Krejci: Situated in the new "Greenhaus," we wanted to create a relaxed environment, where guests could unwind and enjoy a variety of fine beers, wines and other cocktails, while eating food prepared in our beautiful Marra Forni brick oven. Our motto is "Muddy Boots Welcome," to draw on our local horse culture.
Lewis: Our beer garden is reminiscent of "old world" taverns, inspired�by European culture. The glass-enclosed cafes in Rome�in the old city,�social time at taverns on�spilling out on cobblestone streets in Brussels, and of course�Germany and Switzerland. We bring an American edge, specifically geared to our�farmstead cuisine, �to this "old world" concept by �adding�the grow house aspect. We hope to create an ambiance that is modern, friendly, and accessible to all guests, reaching out for a new market of the casual lunch guest.
Q: Finally, it's a beautiful July night in Cecil County. For the benefit of the thousands of Cecil County residents who will read this article and be reminded of their many visits there in the past, give them an imaginary tour of what awaits them on that night. What do you both see?
Krejci: Upon arriving at The Fair Hill Inn, one is greeted by the 18th-Century fieldstone house -- rustic and beautiful. Then the �traditional yet modern "Greenhaus" �appears, where people are relaxing and enjoying themselves ・ whether there to enjoy a fine four-course menu in one of the rustic dining rooms in the main house, or simply to wind down with a beer in the Greenhaus, The Fair Hill Inn is a welcome place for all to enjoy.