The Long Way Home
Innovation and history in sync at The Orchard Restaurant
By KAY WEST
Photos by CHELSEA CRONKRITE
Like many people raised in a small town, brothers Chad and Travis Boswell wanted to get out into the wider world as soon as possible. They did just that, but it wasn’t a permanent exit for either. “Once we had lived away from Cashiers for a while, we realized there is a reason people love to go there, and so we went back,” says Chad.
It turned out to be a sound professional and personal decision and an enduring gift to year-round and seasonal residents who have been dining at The Orchard Restaurant since it opened in 2000.
Restaurateuring is not unfamiliar to the brothers; their paternal grandparents operated a drive-in style eatery in Miami, Florida, and their father Bill Boswell owned White Goose Café on the property of the Oakmont Lodge in Cashiers. The family lived on-site, and both boys began working there as youth, assuming their preferred stations early on: Chad was front of house and Travis in the kitchen.
Travis was working in the White Goose kitchen when Bill Boswell closed it in 1999, offering to support him in a new venture. Travis accepted Bill’s support and invited Chad to return to the biz and start anew. Chad agreed, and they got to work restoring a 100+-year-old farmhouse first built by the Hawkins family and later serving as a rental. “We get a lot of people who tell me they used to live here,” Chad says with a laugh.
Because of its history and connection to the community, the Boswells focused on renovating the existing structure with an eye to maintaining as much of its original integrity as possible. The foyer, Oak Room and Chestnut Room are all original. The brothers did add a large commercial kitchen, modern restrooms and more dining space. “We felt we could replicate the quaintness of the farmhouse and keep that character and charm in new construction.” That vision is realized in the Pine Room, which fits like a glove with the other rooms thanks to its similarly wood-paneled walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of the verdant grounds.
The name of the restaurant is plucked from the apple orchard planted by the second owner of the property; by the turn of the century, only a couple trees remained. More significant is the Franklinia Alatamaha, pointed out by a visiting botanist as a stellar example of the species, advising them to preserve it. As they have.
In considering the concept for the restaurant, Chad says they wanted a place reflective of the area in the design and décor of the building (much of which comes from their father’s large collection of antiques) and that pays homage to their own history. In the foyer a photograph of their grandparents at their Miami drive-in hangs behind the welcome desk.
Though the service concept was initially fine dining, in acknowledgement of less formal times, it is now described as casual fine dining. The staff is well-versed in both and easily balance warmth and expertise.
The Orchard menu leans to southern infused, elevated comfort food -- meat and potatoes to shrimp and grits, ravioli and risotto to charcuterie and crab cakes (a recipe passed along from Bill Boswell and thus dubbed Boswell’s Crab Cakes).
Fans of fried chicken livers reluctant to cook them at home are in luck at The Orchard and have Dan Allen (now a successful realtor) to thank. “Dan was one of our first employees and he ordered the fried chicken livers every shift he worked,” Chad explains. “He made us promise we would call them Dannyboy’s Fried Chicken Livers.” By whatever name, these are divine, breaded and fried to fork-cutting tenderness, mounded on a bed of creamy Adluh Mill stone ground grits with a scatter of barbecue-caramelized Vidalia onions.
Travis’s wife has a marker on the menu as well – Shelly’s Shrimp and Grits, the first dish he ever made for her and over time gussied up with andouille sausage, applewood smoked bacon, Vidalia onions, red peppers, squash and shitake mushrooms on cheese grits.
Other dishes are shoutouts to the geography and botany of the area. Silver Run Falls lends its name to Silver Run Seafood and Pasta, a merger of mussels, scallops and shrimp with Franklinia ravioli (see: Franklinia Alatamaha) in a garlic herb white wine broth.
Four trout preparations have permanent places on the menu; the Continental Divide trout stuffed with crabmeat was inherited from the White Goose.
The Bohaynee Trail is an historic trail once taken as a quick route from Cashiers to lower Sapphire. At The Orchard, it is a pan-roasted chicken breast, topped with a subtly spicy Roma tomato sauce. Panthertown Pork Tenderloin is a delectable standout – slices of pink-centered meat with black cherry demi-glace. The chicken and pork mains were plated with whipped potatoes and perfectly al dente fresh green beans.
Since the opening of the private events barn, Travis Boswell has taken leave of the line in the kitchen to oversee menus and execution for parties of up to 100 people. Iwayan Sudiartama
, whose 19-year tenure at The Orchard began as a dishwasher, holds the reins as chef de cuisine.
Travis’s oldest son has worked in the back of the house, and his daughter has assisted pastry chef Ayden Nottingham. Chad says his oldest is approaching the age where he’ll pitch in, too.
Meanwhile, they love welcoming second-generation diners to The Orchard. “People who came with their parents are now coming in with their children. They’re grown adults, but they’ll always be kids to us.”
The Orchard Restaurant
905 Highway 107 South
Cashiers, NC 28717