Yes, there's room at the inn - for a restaurant

From an in-house butcher shop to personal touches, The Rabbit Hole is where the new owner hopes you'll fall in

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WORTHINGTON — J. Huntington Chase originally is from Dennis Port, and he spent 21 years working in the food service industry at establishments from Cape Cod to Denver.

The rambling ended when Chase moved to Worthington about six years ago.

"This community seems like home," he said.

He definitely has begun to settle in.

Chase — he is known as "Hunt" to family and friends — recently opened his own establishment in his adopted hometown. He owns The Fiddlehead Inn featuring The Rabbit Hole Restaurant and Tavern, a lodging establishment/eatery on Huntington Road that he opened last year, after purchasing the former Blackburn Inn.

A friend of a friend had told Chase that the property was for sale, and Chase said it was being marketed as an inn, not a restaurant. Although a restaurant has been located on the property since at least the 1980s, according to Chase, he said the previous owner had used it mostly as a venue for lodging.

"Short of private functions, no one was really in the restaurant itself," Chase said.

Chase changed that dynamic when he opened The Rabbit Hole. The restaurant has a number of personal touches that reflect his previous experience in the industry. The eatery includes a large root cellar that Chase uses to ferment items like the vinegar used at the restaurant, along with an in-house butcher shop.

"I buy whole animals," Chase said. "I buy a side of beef or a full pig and break it all down in-house.

"I've worked at butcher shops and done butchery at other restaurants," he said. "That allowed me to familiarize myself with other people that have that expertise. Now that I've been doing that for five years, I'm fairly confident in my ability to do this; I guess it's kind of the old knowledge coming into the modern workspace over here."

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He enjoys cutting his own meat.

"I dry-age steaks like rib-eyes," he said. "I hand-cut them myself. We make our own bacon and ham and prosciutto off the pigs. We've experimented with sausages. We tried different curing methods, but we haven't quite gotten to where we want to serve it. I'm sure that'll be right around the corner."

Also, making his own meat is more economical than buying it elsewhere.

"There's not any waste," he said. "Even if we take the bone out, we're still using it. It minimizes our waste in an industry that has a lot of waste. It just seemed to make a lot of sense.

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"Plus, there's something very cool about the fact that I've got rib-eye and porterhouse steaks that have 110 days of age on them. There's something really cool about watching the meat develop."

Hand-cutting the meat also means that the portions served at The Rabbit Hole are not always a standard size.

"Our steak special is between 16 and 22 ounces, because I'm not using a machine, I'm using a handsaw and a mallet," he said. "It allows room for error. ... Some people want a smaller amount of meat anyway, so it just happens to work out great if we eyeball it wrong."

Chase said he spent about $30,000 on renovations, which included fixing the inn. He improved the common room, put in a new television, and added board games and books "to make it a little more hospitable for people." Room prices are $115 per night.

Chase, who was born on the Cape, originally came to the western part of the state to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He worked for restaurants in the area, including a stint at Belly of the Beast in Northampton, before moving to Worthington to try his hand at farming.

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"I was living off of that," he said. "I lived in Western Massachusetts when I was going to UMass, and fell in love with the scenery and the hills out there. When I was looking for some land to pursue agricultural pursuits, I came across this property in Worthington."

Chase said he fit right in.

"I really like the fact that it's a rural, small-knit community," he said. "Everybody helps each other. Neighbors know neighbors. That's what led to me calling this home."

The Rabbit Hole features several locally sourced products, including maple syrup, and beer that comes from a brewery in Worthington. Chase prefers buying local because he said it helps to sustain the local food system.

"We're trying to be focused on the community aspect of it," he said. "Even some of the customers come by with handfuls of vegetables from them garden. I buy them a beer for what they have, and that's kind of cool."

The local approach also ensures that local money stays in the community.

"You have to drive down both valleys to buy our groceries and get our foods," Chase said. "It's like hilltown money doesn't stay in the hills. We're not trying to close the gap entirely, but we are trying to make it a little tighter."

Chase's inn and restaurant is a start.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.


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