Taste Buds

One cooks, one designs, both enjoy

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

countrymans-pleasure0817For nearly 30 years, Austrian Chef Hans Entinger and his wife, Kathy, have hosted guests at their Mendon restaurant, The Countryman’s Pleasure.

One look at the menu at The Countryman’s Pleasure Restaurant in Mendon is all that’s needed to know this is a restaurant with Austrian and German roots. A trio of German sausage options rounds out the appetizer menu that also features a fiddlehead toast, PEI mussels, gravlax, fois gras, and calamari among its delicacies. Spaetzlis are a side option to go with entrée classics such as sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, a wurstplatte, and jäger schnitzel. Sweets like apfelstrudel and a lineup of tortes beckon to all but the strongest among us.

Austrian Chef Hans Entinger and his wife, Kathy, bought the 1824 farmhouse with a marble stone cellar and a big barn in 1975, and opened The Countryman’s Pleasure on a cold day in January 1978. “It was freezing cold!” Kathy exclaims. “I mean really freezing — there was frost on the floors!

“We chose the name when we were planting tulips that first year,” she continues. “It was so cold, and Hans said, ‘Countryman’s pleasure!’ We had thought of names like Sumac Hill, but we both said, ‘That’s the name! The Countryman’s Pleasure.’”

This was hardly Hans’s first foray into restaurant work. Born in Austria, he moved with his parents to Munich, Germany, as a child. A culinary graduate of the Simon Knoll School in Munich, he trained as a pastry chef at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, after which he “wandered out to different places; had seasonal jobs,” he says.

They were places that increased his knowledge of the world: Pontresina, Switzerland, about seven miles above San Moritz; the Hotel Villar in the French part of Switzerland; and England before enrolling, in 1963, in the hotel management program at the Hotel Fachschule Bad Reichenhall.

His travels gaining experience in management read like a tour package, and included the front office at the Hotel Schwarzer Bock in Wiesbaden; Marseilles (working a year in the front office of a hotel); Montreal; the Cote d’Azur; and Cannes, where he worked at the Hotel Carlton for eight months.

But the kitchen was beckoning. “I said, ‘I always wanted to be in hotel management, but maybe for me was to be more in the kitchen.” Working in the front office of a hotel in Canada, he replied to a position-opening at the Summit Lodge in Killington and was hired to come to Vermont.

That was where he encountered Kathy. “She was going to college at that time, and I hired her for that season,” he says. “We started playing tennis together, and that was the time when I started dating her.”

Kathy studied speech at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, and was planning a career path in it when she had a job offer to become the first kindergarten teacher in Proctor, where she worked for many years.

They married in 1973 and have two children: a daughter who’s a physician’s assistant at New York’s Columbia Hospital and a son who just finished his residency in podiatry at Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, New Jersey. They have two grandchildren, Ryan, 31/2, and 6-month-old Sarah.

It was the early ’70s, and the Rutland Holiday Inn was just opening, says Bud McLaughlin, one of its former owners and a former owner of the Mountaintop Inn and Resort. “I hired Hans as food and beverage director,” he says. “He was part of our original team to set it up and open it. And then we worked together a while at the Mountaintop Inn. After that, we left, and he got a job as chef at the Quechee Club and I came to work for him as his dishwasher.”

The two have become fast friends and get together fairly regularly. “He’s a character, and a really hard worker,” McLaughlin says. “He has some other ventures with land, and we’ll walk his land and talk about the future and have a good time together.”

Hans was food and beverage manager and chef at the Quechee Club when he had an epiphany. “I decided it’s time for me to buy a place, remodel it, or buy a restaurant, and I did. It’s kind of where people decide all of a sudden what they want to do, and they do it.”

The January 10, 1978, opening of the restaurant was supposed to happen before Christmas of 1977, but the required permits were late, and they still hadn’t finished the exterior. “We had so much snow, so everything looked great,” says Hans. “But we had to wait.”

In the spring of ’78, the couple started a garden on the site, and planted fruit trees: pairs of apple, pear, plum, and cherry trees — and two blueberry bushes. “Some were successful, but it took a lot of effort to protect the harvest from birds,” says Hans. He chuckles. “We said maybe we could plant some Colorado spruces. But we still have the garden.”

Over the years, the Entingers have added on, until the space now features five interconnected dining areas including a tavern, added in 1980. In 1985, they converted a big red barn on the property into a gift, kitchen, and furniture shop, which they ran for about seven years. “It was gorgeous,” says Hans, “with Simon Pierce blown glasswork, Limoges china, Calphalon pots and pans, in a two-story, beautiful building. But I was busy at the restaurant, and we decided we shouldn’t keep on doing two businesses, so we closed it.”

Dinner hours are from 5 to 8:30 or 9 Wednesday through Saturday, and the restaurant hosts the occasional rehearsal party. When that happens, Hans comes in around noon; otherwise, it’s later. He does all his own paperwork, computer work, menus, and the accounting.

“What’s interesting about Hans’s restaurant is that every dinner that comes out of that kitchen comes from his hands,” says McLaughlin, who worked there for a while. “You work at his direction and get things ready for him to put everything together before it goes out.”

Hans says that Kathy helps him a lot, but does not work during dinner hours with him. “I make sure things are clean,” says Kathy. “I do the flowers, the table decor. I grew miniature pumpkins last fall, and arranged straw flowers until Thanksgiving. I make miniature pine cone trees for the tables in December. And I put together a picture montage for the entrance using photos taken over the years.”

A curving series of red brick steps that Hans constructed lead up to the main entrance, which opens into the entryway and the tavern. Each dining area has its own flavor, including a lovely windowed area that used to be a porch. Downstairs is an event room.

The Entingers live seven minutes away from the restaurant, which makes the commute easy. Away from the restaurant, they like to be active. “I’m an outdoors person, so I might be hiking, might be biking, may swim, be outdoors. I cut my grass at home, am always very much involved with the outside as well as the inside.” And, yes, he skis. Gardening is Kathy’s favorite pastime, and she grows the flowers and vegetables she uses for holiday decor.

“People have been coming here for 30 to 40 years,” says Hans, who admits he’s “reaching towards retirement.” Asked what else he thinks our readers might find interesting, he laughs. “You could say that the restaurant is for sale! At a reasonable price, and for a professional or professional couple, that will be a great opportunity to move into a turnkey operation. I certainly would be helpful in facilitating new owners.”

He hesitates, then says, “I think my journey is really saying I never thought to leave Germany, then always wanted to come back to Germany. And then I came to Vermont, and one thing after another, I was at the Summit Lodge where I met my wife, and then said, ‘I’m going to build a property.’ Then you build a house, then a business venture, and then a building, sort of a step-by-step thing. And that’s the story.” •