Justin and Dillon Naylor operate the occasional restaurant in their farmhouse along the Old Tioga Turnpike near Benton, serving dishes made of homegrown local ingredients. They grow most of the spinach, lettuce, kale, carrots and other vegetables year round in their own kitchen garden or 20-by-30-foot plastic-covered quonset greenhouse, or hoophouse. The rest — meats, cheeses, milk, cream and eggs — come from local, sustainable family farms.
“What we do wouldn’t be possible without the other people, businesses doing the same thing,” Justin said.
The restaurant, which is near the midway point between Williamsport and Wilkes-Barre, is modeled after a farmhouse restaurant where the Naylors stayed in Italy several years ago as they worked on farms in that country in exchange for room and board. It’s where Justin learned to cook Italian.
Diners who come to 1830s-era farmhouse for dinner are served in either the green dining room with its fireplace and hanging pictures of scenes from Italy or in the burgundy private dining room for a smaller group. The larger room seats 10 to 12 diners, while the smaller burgundy room seats four to six.
The six-course meal costs $50 plus tax and gratuity and is the same for everyone on a given night, though Justin said he could make adjustments for vegetarians or vegans.
A menu could include the likes of fried piadini filled with ricotta, emilian spinach pie, lasagna with ragu bolognese and braised pork with porcini, juniper and bay accompanied by warm polenta.
Last Saturday, the menu for the unusual second weekend serving consisted of mozzarella di bufala wrapped in prosciutto di Parma; leek and Parmigiano tart; tortelli with butter and sage; braised chicken with celery and bay, and braised apples with amaretti and cream.
If you want to make a reservation for something similar, you’ll have to wait until August, unless someone cancels before then. The place is booked through July, and the proprietors don’t foresee opening the restaurant full time because they want to keep it small.
The couple traveled to Italy for the summer in 2005 to learn Italian cooking. They worked on the farms, doing everything from pruning vines to milking cows and making cheeses, as part of a work-exchange program near Cremona in the Lombardy region of northern Italy.
“There was a farm doing something similar to what we’re doing,” Dillon, 31, said. “Dad was the cook and would have infrequent dinners. That inspired us.”
Shortly afterward, Justin apprenticed in a restaurant in Woodstock, Vt.
The couple, who met at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., playing chamber music — Dillon played violin, Justin, piano — moved to Huntington Township in 2007 to be close to Dillon’s parents, Wade Wright and Carol FitzGerald. Justin, 35, decided to teach cooking classes on the side. The Wilmington, Del., native also teaches Latin at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston.
Justin and Dillon, now parents of boys ages 5, 3 and 6 months, opened the restaurant in 2008, and its popularity has grown by word of mouth.
The farmhouse, perched on four acres of land, was the inspiration to open the restaurant.
The garden inspires the menu.
“We always start by what’s ripe in the garden,” Justin said.
Then they determine the meat, purchased from local farms, such as organically grown produce and pasture-raised eggs from Dancing Hen Farm in Stillwater; pastured chicken, eggs and turkey; grass-fed beef and lamb; pork raised outdoors, from the Forks Farm Market in Orangeville; milk and cream from The Lands at Hillside Farms in Shavertown; and wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, from Steve and Jenn Kurian of Bloomsburg.
The Naylors also determine the menu by what they are excited about cooking.
“By far, the vast majority of clientele come from Forks Farm Market (customers),” Justin said.
The priority given to vegetables is reflective of how Justin got into cooking in the first place. He raised vegetables before he cooked, and cooking grew out of that.
“We moved here actually with the intent of opening a CSA,” Dillon said of a community-supported agriculture farm, in which a farm sells its products to subscribers.
But the farmhouse restaurant took off. They started the CSA two years ago, though last year they took a year off because their third child was due in September, Justin said.
Besides the other local farms, the freshness of the produce plays a role in Old Tioga Farm’s success.
“I think a big part of why people enjoy eating here so much is the fresh broccoli we’re serving was picked that morning,” Justin said.
He said it’s not so much about what he does in the kitchen as it is about the fresh ingredients.
It’s all about that personal touch.
BRAISED APPLES WITH CREAM AND AMARETTI (SERVES 6)
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup or so cream
Drizzle of vanilla
6 amaretti cookies
1. Peel three apples and slice into 1/4- to 1/2-inch half moons. 2. Saute the apple slices over medium heat in a medium pan with 3 tablespoons butter. The apples can overlap a bit but not too much. 3. After a few minutes, add 1/4 cup brown sugar and toss. 4. As the apples begin to caramelize, add 1/2 cup cream and a little drizzle of vanilla and lower the heat so the apples braise very gently. 5. Braised uncovered for five minutes or more, adding a little water or additional cream if necessary to keep the liquid from drying out. 6. Plate the apples, pouring the sauce over top, and finish by crushing one amaretti cookie over each plate.
• Recipe courtesy of Justin Naylor