Vanilla Bean Cafe
Corner of Routes 44, 169, and 197, Pomfret, CT 06258
If Jack Kerouac were still alive and decided to trade in his notepad for a frying pan, he probably would open a place like the Vanilla Bean Cafe. This impossibly funky Connecticut restaurant is full of character (and characters), and is truly in a class by itself. Located on Route 169, a national scenic byway a bit more than an hour from Boston, but in a surprisingly remote part of New England, the Vanilla Bean Cafe is a comfortable, friendly spot. Customers order at the counter and can sit either in one of the rustic rooms or, if the weather is decent, on an outdoor patio (and unlike a lot of places, you can have a beer on the patio without having to order food). The Vanilla Bean specializes in sandwiches, but also has breakfast and dinner entrees. A few standouts at the Bean are the rich and hearty chili, the surprisingly juicy buffalo burger, the roast beef and cheddar sandwich with zesty horseradish, the salty and smoky pastrami reuben; and the fresh roast turkey; the soups (including a spicy veggie curry and a delectable Italian wedding soup) and salads are also terrific, and are freshly made here. The Vanilla Bean has daily specials, too, such as a wonderful steak and bean burrito and an equally good bean and cheese burrito. Another plus is the decent beer list, which includes several microbrews. Finally don't forget the desserts (including an outstanding chocolate tiramisu cake, a similarly sinful chocolate mousse pie, a sweet-tasting pecan pie, and a rather odd but satisfying Almond Joyful), many of which are made on the premises.
The Vanilla Bean Cafe has something most comfort food places don't have--entertainment. You can hear folk, blues, country, and bluegrass here on weekend nights. This is indeed a terrific spot to hear good music, and the ride from Boston isn't that bad. In fact, if you live in suburban Boston, it might be easier to drive to the Vanilla Bean than to head into the city and deal with traffic and parking.
Before I started writing this review, a couple of acquaintances told me that perhaps the Vanilla Bean Cafe wouldn't be a good choice for Boston's Hidden Restaurants, mainly because this place has won accolades from nearly every major newspaper and magazine in the region. While this may be true, I decided to include the Vanilla Bean because: a) only two people I know have even heard of this restaurant; b) Pomfret is an out-of-the-way hilltop village that is in the heart of Connecticut's "quiet corner"; and c) the Vanilla Bean Cafe deserves all the kudos that it gets. Do yourself a favor and head out on the road to this New England jewel.
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