Just a 10-minute ride from downtown Ithaca, the John Joseph Inn and Elizabeth Restaurant has risen from the ashes of the historic Rose Inn. Owners John and Elizabeth Hamilton have taken every opportunity to create quality hospitality in a five-star atmosphere, with absolutely stunning results.
I arrived to chat with John and Elizabeth 15 minutes early. Uncertain as to where we would meet, I noticed the inn doors were open so I stepped inside. I was greeted by a handsome couple; a gentleman seated in the sunken foyer, and a lady sweeping the floors. They were the most well-dressed cleaning duo I had ever seen.
I introduced myself and the sweet lady sweeping wiped her brow and said, “Oh, hi, I’m John’s mother and this is his father.”
Such is the case at John Joseph Inn and Elizabeth Restaurant. It is a labor of love for all those affiliated with it.
Both John and Elizabeth were born and raised in Ithaca and are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. They were married in August of 2003 at the Rose Inn. Built in 1851, the Italianate inn was famous for its beautiful mahogany circular staircase, high ceilings, marble fireplaces and antiques throughout. The 13-acre grounds were lovely and totally fit the bill for an outdoor wedding. Little did John and Elizabeth know that less than four years later they would own and run the place.
After graduation, the Hamiltons went to California where they opened a restaurant in Sonoma County. A trip to Maine followed with the hope of buying property there, but another opportunity became available that was too good to let go.
On a Thursday morning in the fall of 2006, Elizabeth came across an online real estate advertisement for the Rose Inn, which had been severely damaged in a March 2004 fire – just seven months after their wedding there. Both saw this as their ticket to come back home and raise a family. They returned on Friday to take a look at the estate and by Tuesday they were owners of the Rose Inn.
“Keeping up with it all”
When they first came to the inn, they knew there was a lot of work to be done. The fire destroyed about 65 percent of the inn, leaving only its six-room addition salvageable. But much of the furniture had been left in addition to glassware and other items, which the Hamiltons use today.
In addition to the inn and the restaurant, the property includes living quarters for John and Elizabeth and their three boys, ages 4 years, 19 months and 3 months.
In eight months they had made the necessary renovations, and by May of 2007 the John Joseph Inn and Elizabeth Restaurant were ready to go.
The owners hope to make it a sustainable property in the future, a process John described to me as “mainly impossible to do in New York because of the winters. In this day and age of being sustainable, the ultimate is being a chef/farmer yourself.” Still, they’d like it to be as sustainable as possible. With the help of a Cornell doctorate student, an 80-by-40-foot garden was recently planted. The Hamiltons are also applying for grant money that will aid in purchasing a fence for their pasture and provide updates on their barn to make it suitable for raising more livestock. Already pruned and ready to go is an 80-year-old apple orchard. Chickens have been raised, although at the time of my visit about 50 of them had been consumed by a weasel. Initially they hope to have cattle and hogs. Eventually they expect to raise lambs and game birds. For the time being John and Elizabeth buy locally as often as possible.
To keep the costs down, the Hamiltons do everything themselves, from landscaping and painting, booking guests and cleaning rooms, to creating the website and, of course, the cooking.
I asked Elizabeth what she thought was most challenging. “Keeping up with it all. Most of the time we just live through it, but when someone asks how we do it all, it is a bit overwhelming,” answered the woman who gave birth to their second son at the same time they were breaking ground in November 2006. To say the Hamiltons take things in stride is an understatement.
I was able to tour the grounds with Elizabeth and was quite impressed with how well manicured the land was. Elizabeth noted the grounds were not as up to par as they once were, but for a couple that does all the landscaping themselves, along with a little help from their friends, it is striking. Elizabeth mentioned that their garden was rototilled by their neighbors, and John’s parents will come over to either watch the children or help clean the inn. Eventually the Hamiltons would like to take advantage of the externship program offered by the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua. Through this program, a student would work on their property for a period of time and receive school credit.
Here come the brides
The menu at Elizabeth Restaurant changes daily which John, who creates all entrees, prefers, as he feels this is the “only way I can stay on top of seasonality to a true degree. Something that is in season this week may not be in season next week.” Elizabeth, who is the pastry chef and also makes wedding cakes for their onsite weddings, refers to their style of food as “modern American rustic.
“When we serve things like bison, pheasant or rib eye, I think of them as rustic foods,” she said, also noting that it’s hard to clearly define, as so much of the food is made in a combination of styles.
Guests at the inn and restaurant immediately feel relaxed with John and Elizabeth, thanks to their laidback personalities. There is no formal check-in; guests are encouraged to go to the restaurant when they arrive. They are also welcome to enjoy the property as if it were their own, even to pick the apples from the trees.
When I talked to the Hamiltons, there were seven weddings scheduled for the summer, an increase from three last year. Graduation in the spring is the inn’s busiest weekend, and October has been the busiest month, which Elizabeth attributes to Cornell football games.
The Hamiltons are flexible and accommodating to all guests – from wedding planning to lodging, they graciously cater to their clientele while offering a first-class culinary destination in an historic atmosphere. Rooms at the inn are top notch – each one has a modern elegant feel, a Jacuzzi tub, a flat screen TV and striking views of the property. “We’ve worked to create a total package that can contribute to an amazing experience,” John notes. “We want guests to enjoy a high-end culinary experience with personal service. The experience is the one word that sums up what we should be known for.”
John Joseph Inn and Elizabeth Restaurant offers a delicate combination of rustic surroundings, sleek furnishings, antiques and extraordinary cuisine. All give way to an overall unique experience of comfort and elegance anyone can appreciate.
Elizabeth Restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and Sunday for brunch. Reservations are required. John Joseph Inn is open year-round, excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. For more information, call 607-533-0097 or visit www.jjande.com.
by Katie Irish
The author makes her home in Ithaca. During the day she works raising millions of dollars for Cornell University and spends her evenings writing everything from goat stories to sestinas.