A great reason to anticipate the coming of spring sits atop a ridge just west of Berkeley Springs. The restaurant, Panorama at the Peak, closed on the last day of January and won't reopen until nearly March. Its proprietors, Patti Miller and Leslie Hotaling, will take a nice break. But I suspect that chef Scott Collinash will spend the entire time conceiving new recipes.
When presented in January with a bounty of unripe tomatoes, Collinash made an offseason harvest festival out of it. Green tomato bread and green tomato chocolate cake jumped onto the menu, along with a green tomato pie topped with Collinash's bacon ice cream.
Both savory and sweet, it was presented as a starter to a menu from which all ingredients are sourced locally and grown organically. From beef and chicken to honey, produce and coffee, the restaurant's larder is stocked with regional, fresh foodstuffs. That is the mission of Panorama at the Peak, a farm-to-table restaurant that refreshes its menu based on what the local farmers and ranchers are producing.
Collinash came to be in possession of 400 pounds of green tomatoes when one of his regular suppliers, Mock's Greenhouse, picked every remaining fruit from its vines and took a seasonal break. He found uses for the fruit in every course, including chilis and soups, salads, the expected fried green tomatoes and an entree dish that settled a baked tomato stuffed with orzo, parsley, mint and pine nuts, onto a creamy puddle of cheese grits. With it, he served a green tomato ratatouille. And to start the meal, cocktails included a green tomato martini, tangy and just barely verdant from juice.
But not every meal at Panorama at the Peak must follow a theme. The view is attraction enough. Perched at an overlook, the restaurant offers vistas including no fewer than seven ridges of the Alleghenies, as well as the Potomac River and town of Great Cacapon. Inside, the restaurant space is expanded from a 1929 wayside called Niner's Lounge. Constructed of exposed pine beams, this space contains the bar, some low tables with a backgammon set and an enormous fireplace set into a stone wall. Above the hearth is an art piece constructed of 17 varieties of wood native to the land at the time the land was timbered.
The newer room is finished in tones of burgundy, black and khaki, with a collection of mirrors along one wall. A grand piano fills one area, while a raised nook is defined by a natural garland of grapevine twined with white lights and occupied by statues: a pair of oversized herons.
But look no further than out the front wall of windows to see what art cannot covey: the seasons changing across vistas almost too wide to be mid-Atlantic. The vibe in the restaurant remains eclectic throughout; low tables are complemented by tall barstool seating, while on the sound system, you're as likely to hear Louis Armstrong as the Eagles and as much Bonnie Rait as Tony Bennett.
The midwinter menu offers such starters as lamb meatballs with a feta-dill dipping sauce and an apple-spinach salad with crumbled blue cheese, spiced pecans and a Champagne vinaigrette. House specialties include ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, mushrooms, apples, sage and garlic, served over a roasted butternut bechamel. The rustic and homey-sounding turkey croquettes begin with Virginia-raised fowl that is panfried and served over local apple-cranberry compote.
When March arrives and the restaurant reopens, Collinash will begin to receive the bounty that early spring promises. And as the seasons unwind, menus will continue to reflect what's fresh, abundant and locally grown.