They come for the history. They come for the hauntings. And now, they’ll come for the haute cuisine.
The Myrtles Plantation’s much anticipated Restaurant 1796, an eatery specializing in seasonal, wood-fired fare, has been the talk of the community for months. Set to open early 2019, it’s part of a major addition at the famed site that also adds six more guest rooms, an adjoining courtyard for outdoor dining, and walking trails through a forthcoming orchard and potager.
Owner Morgan Moss, who took over leadership of The Myrtles four years ago from his parents, John and Teeta Moss, said that expanding the plantation’s culinary offerings had been a major priority.
“We really wanted to do something significant with the restaurant so that our guests would have another reason to enjoy the property,” Morgan said. “They already love the historical aspects of The Myrtles, and, of course, they love the ghosts, but this gives out-of-town guests and locals alike a chance to experience something else.”
An unexpected opportunity to re-evaluate The Myrtles’ hospitality infrastructure came in spring 2017, when its former restaurant, the Carriage House, burned beyond repair. The decision was made to rebuild the restaurant from the ground up, with construction commencing last fall.
It was also important to rebrand The Myrtles’ food and beverage offerings, says Morgan. The twenty-six-year-old, who grew up at The Myrtles before leaving to spend six years on the professional motorcycle racing circuit, explained that it was time to create a buzz-worthy dining destination whose theme complemented the Myrtles’ history. Moreover, unlike the Carriage House, which had been run by an outside partner, the new restaurant would be managed internally.
“We thought we could do a lot with the seasonal and farm-to-table theme, and we really liked the idea of creating a memorable experience for diners with an open hearth in the middle of the restaurant,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t get any more Southern or historic than cooking over a big fire.”
The new restaurant and guest room complex features an Acadian-style design and elegant courtyard trimmed in wrought iron. The restaurant’s L-shaped floor-plan gives diners the option to tuck away in a cozy lounge area, or sit in full view of the hearth. Breakfast is served to overnight guests in an adjoining wing.
The kitchen is commanded by Executive Chef Ben Lewis, a Woodville, Mississippi, native who spent several years working in restaurants in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Chef Ben and Morgan have worked on Restaurant 1796’s menu for several months, experimenting with recipes in an onsite test hearth and smokehouse.
They also traveled to notable open hearth restaurants across the country to study the principles of wood-fired dining. Restaurant 1796’s hearth is nearly nine feet wide, and includes three different stations for grilling, roasting and braising. It’s powered by hardwood cut from the Myrtles’ grounds, which is stacked tastefully on iron racks along the interior walls.
Bank of St. Francisville, a long time partner of The Myrtles, was pleased to assist in financing the construction project.
“We are really excited about The Myrtles’ expansion,” Melvin Harvey, Jr., vice president of commercial lending, said. “These new amenities are going to help this important historic site build on its legacy of success. It already sees 60,000 visitors a year, and this will help create an even richer visitor’s experience.”
To support the restaurant’s sourcing of local and seasonal ingredients, Morgan is establishing a nine-acre working orchard and produce farm. He’s recruiting an outside partner to run the farm, which will ultimately supply fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to the restaurant. Visitors will be able to meander through the farm via a walking trail.
“We want guests to enjoy the grounds and connect what they see with what’s on the menu in the restaurant,” said Morgan. “This just extends the culinary experience even more.”
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