Sometimes, adversity can lead to opportunity.
That’s the attitude the folks at Chetola Resort adopted after a kitchen fire put their Manor House restaurant out of commission in August 2011.
Owner Kent Tarbutton and his staff, including head chef Michael Barbato, decided that nothing less than a total makeover of the Manor House would be satisfactory to them at this moment of opportunity.
Enter one of North Carolina’s favorite artists and designers, Bob Timberlake, to take on the role of namesake for the new restaurant.
One year later, Timberlake’s Restaurant is one of the most beautiful and elegant restaurants in the High Country. With a design and menu that juxtaposes the simple with the unusual, it opened in late July and has received high marks from all who have dined there.
“You need to make bad things turn into good things,” Timberlake said last Friday on the one-year anniversary of the fire at the Manor House. “I met a couple in the restaurant the other night who were celebrating their fifth anniversary. They told me that this was the finest restaurant in North Carolina. I walked out with another couple from Michigan who said that they were retired and loved to travel and eat out. They said that this was by far one of the finest places where they’ve eaten.
“It was worth the wait, in my opinion. I enjoy being here, messing with the crowd. My reward is hearing how much they love it. I’m like the secret shopper, because I love the feedback, and I want it to be the best it can be. I’m a detail-oriented guy. I’m always trying to fine tune things.”
Of course, while Timberlake is responsible for much of the design, décor and direction of Timberlake’s Restaurant, he relied heavily on award-winning chef Barbato when composing the actual menu.
“It’s like I always tell people, I can’t cook a lick, but I know some people who can,” Timberlake said. “I met with Chef Barbato on a regular basis, while we put the menu together. Michael enjoys the whole process and is very receptive to other people’s ideas. That’s a rare quality in a chef.”
Right now, Timberlake’s is open for breakfast and dinner, with no lunch service. Barbato is in charge of the dinner service, while another award-winning chef, Guy Thomas, works the breakfast shift and preps many of the dinner items during the day.
“We might change our minds in the future about serving lunch, but so many of our guests are gone to Grandfather Mountain or Tweetsie or other places during the middle of the day,” said Marcia Greene, director of marketing for Chetola Resort.
Greene emphasized that Timberlake’s is not just for Chetola guests and tourists. “We hope to establish a loyal local following, and that seems to be happening already,” Greene said.
One of the lures of the new restaurant is the wide variety of Timberlake’s artwork—some 40 prints plus other items—on display in each of the dining rooms.
The new décor also features historic photos and items from Blowing Rock and Chetola’s colorful past, as well as unique lighting features, such as a chandelier made from wine bottles in The Wine Room.
During the reconstruction process of the Manor House, the kitchen was moved into the old Garden Room, and the main dining room was greatly expanded. After tearing down a wall in the old kitchen, workers found a brick fireplace that dates to the turn of the century.
“Back in those days, a sign of wealth was having a brick fireplace and chimney as opposed to one made out of stone,” Greene said.
The old brick fireplace has been finished with stone in one of the new dining rooms and has a mantle made from one of the original mid-19th century timbers from the foundation of the Manor House.
In addition to finding a fireplace that no one knew about, workers found a second ceiling and reported smelling the mysterious odor of fresh pipe tobacco.
All of which begs the question: Is the Manor House haunted?
“We believe that there are spirits in the Manor House,” dining room manager Clarence Stroud said. “They like to move the paintings askew. We had one guest who heard one of the spirits say, ‘Hello, my name is Harvey.’
“Bob wanted to double-hang the paintings in the new restaurant and we said, ‘Absolutely not.’ We don’t want to make them unhappy by doing that. They’re here. They seem to be young, and they put out a positive energy. Although we do have some waitresses who won’t close the restaurant by themselves.”
Incidentally, the waitresses and cooks working for Timberlake’s are mostly from the same staff that worked at the Manor House Restaurant more than a year ago.
“Kent kept the entire staff working here at Chetola, while the restaurant was down,” Greene said. “We’re a family. We’re thankful that the Meadowbrook Inn allowed us to use their kitchen. We didn’t lose one special event or wedding during that whole year.”
Appetizers and casual fare at Timblerlake’s include fried mesquite shrimp served with a tomato horseradish dipping sauce (shrimp can also be grilled and served with a mango ginger sauce), tempura fried oysters served with an orange wasabi sauce, and beer tempura-fried calamari steak strips served with roasted tomato and garlic aioli dipping sauce.
There are also “Bob’s Jumbo Chicken Wings,” with a range of flavors that includes chipotle lime, Jack Daniels BBQ, wasabi peanut or chocolate srirachi.
In addition to Barbato’s nightly specials, the menu at Timberlake’s includes entrée items, such as chicken Abaliene (pesto-rubbed boneless breast of chicken stuffed with feta cheese, basil prosciutto and artichoke hearts and finished with pan gravy), Cabernet pork loin (pork loin marinated in apple juice, garlic and Chardonnay, finished with a topping of smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato and a Cabernet-coffee demi sauce), and bison filet (North Carolina-raised bison, rubbed with cracked black pepper and mustard, grilled and served with a port wine demi sauce and crispy fried onions).
Bison is just one of the many out-of-the-ordinary entrée choices at Timberlake’s. The menu also offers roasted Carolina quail stuffed with mushroom duxcelle of shallots, brandy and cream and dressed with a cranberry demi sauce. If that’s not exotic enough for you, try the North Carolina-raised ostrich with wild mushrooms wrapped in a pecan-smoked bacon ad finished with a creamy caramelized onion sauce.
Seafood choices include a Carolina-raised trout grilled with a lemon-basil olive oil and served with a shrimp and red grape sofrito; and Atlantic-harvested and dry-packed large sea scallops tossed in walnut oil, pan-seared and deglazed with sherry and tossed with shallots, coconut milk, fresh ginger, mango, pine nuts, snow peas and fresh cilantro.
The menu also includes a “chef’s salmon special” that will change nightly.
Timberlake’s also features a special “chef’s table,” where guests can interact with Barbato, while he personally selects a menu from market-fresh ingredients. The chef’s table must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance and have a minimum of four guests.
Chetola is located at 500 Main St. in Blowing Rock. For more information, visit http://www.chetola.com, or call Timberlake’s Restaurant at (828) 295-5505.
Got restaurant news? Email editor Frank Ruggiero at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (828) 264-6397.