While working on Martha's Vineyard last summer, he picked up a tip from a seasonal island police officer with ties to Torrington that the Crown & Hammer's building was available in Collinsville. Less than a year later, the Farmington native debuted the renovated pub with a fully revamped menu.
The Crown & Hammer, which re-opened in May, is White's first ownership venture, together with business partners Susan and Jim Tancredi (his sister and brother-in-law) and John and Lori Brandon.
Before he took over the historic site, the Johnson & Wales-trained chef honed his skills in a variety of settings, from France to New York to sunny Key West. He also spent 14 years in the ski business, working at Mount Snow and Killington and serving as director of hospitality for Stratton Mountain.
But it was the three years with now world-famous Jean-Georges Vongerichten that shaped his experience, he says. White worked alongside the famed French chef as he opened the Lafayette restaurant at the former Swissôtel in Boston, and then joined him as he opened Lafayette in Manhattan.
"He's the most incredible chef to walk the face of the Earth," White says of his mentor. "I learned more from him in three years than I did in [my entire career.]"
The breadth of his experience ("hot dogs to foie gras," he jokes) works well in the new space, which attracts customers from Canton and neighboring Farmington Valley communities.
"We have a very eclectic mix of people here. It makes for a great energy in the restaurant…[for example], a carpenter sitting next to a judge."
The menu reflects this, with classic pub favorites (chicken wings, nachos, burgers, fish and chips) sharing equal billing with entrees like braised lamb shank, a seafood pasta dish with pesto cream and fresh tomato fettuccine and organic New York strip with sautéed garlic shrimp.
While summer specials featured lots of fresh seafood, White is now working on a fall and winter menu, with heartier seasonal fare such as venison stew, cheddar-and-apple stuffed chicken breast and butternut squash ravioli. White buys local ingredients when possible, sourcing meats, produce and fresh pasta from Torrington's Ruwet Farm, Canton's Wild Carrot Farm and Avon's New England Pasta Company.
Other menu items are almost autobiographical, paying homage to White's travels. A spinach salad has some Vermont flair with goat cheese and a creamy maple dressing. Fresh lobster highlights his time on Martha's Vineyard, showing up in a pot pie, macaroni and cheese, fritters with lime-cilantro dipping sauce and even atop nachos.
The pub's design, though, is all Collinsville. The building, a former freight station, is situated next to the former Collins Axe Factory, and relics of the factory's production – axes and other tools – adorn the restaurant's walls. (The name itself refers to the former company's symbol.)
The cozy interior is accentuated with wood paneling and a fireplace, which was lit for the first time earlier this month during the first hint of fall chill. The decor is "local," too, as the restaurant features the work of town artists on a rotating schedule.
Future plans for Crown & Hammer include a renewed focus on weekend brunch, with selections like quiche, strata and eggs Benedict over crab cakes with Hollandaise sauce served alongside the lunch menu. Weekday specials and deals will feature a Wednesday pasta night (with wine) for $13.95 and a Thursday prime rib dinner for $17.
As the restaurant continues to serve Canton and surrounding towns, White says he'll hold fast to the advice he learned long ago from the great Vongerichten, about the importance of quality.
"Jean-Georges would always say, 'You start with garbage, you end with garbage.' That's been at the forefront of my mind for my entire career. So that's why we always try to put the best product on the plate."
>>Crown & Hammer Restaurant and Pub is at 3 Depot St., in the Collinsville section of Canton. It's open 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch and lunch are served concurrently Sunday starting at 11 a.m., with brunch ending at 2 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A pub menu is available all day. The restaurant is closed Mondays. Information: 860-693-9199 and crownandhammer.com.