Boston Restaurant Blog -- July, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
We recently headed up to Vermont to spend some time at the Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival in Shelburne (see blog entry: Photos from 2011 Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival), and while we were up there, we spent some time around Stowe, Jeffersonville, Waterbury, and Waitsfield, trying some restaurants along the way. Nearly all of the meals we had were good ones, but one spot in particular really stood out, making for one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had at a restaurant (more on that later).
On the way up to the Stowe area (where we were staying), we stopped at The Norwich Inn in Norwich for lunch, having a leisurely meal at Jasper Murdock's Alehouse, a pub within the place. The alehouse was classic Vermont, located in an historic structure that had much in the way of charm, and it felt a little like we were in someone's private home. The pub itself was a bit small with a tiny bar and a handful of tables, though outdoor dining added a bit to the capacity of the place. We decided to eat inside, as it was a hot day, though we soon regretted that as the interior was nearly as hot (and stuffy to boot). Other than that, however, our experience at Jasper Murdock's was a very positive one, with excellent meals and terrific small-batch beers made on the premises. Our food included a delicious pulled pork sandwich with big chunks of meat and a house-made BBQ sauce made with red ale, and a plate of crunchy, golden-brown Asian potstickers stuffed with ground pork. We tried a couple of their beers, with the wheat beer being refreshingly mild and the Dark Humour (a Beligan dark ale) being spicy and slightly dry. Our server was a bit sassy but friendly overall, and prices were moderate. I'm glad we found this place, as the restaurants around nearby Quechee and Woodstock can get awfully crowded, making this a good alternative for lunch while heading up north.
We arrived in the Stowe area around mid-afternoon, making the rounds to some favorite places (including the wonderful Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center), then settling into the Jeffersonville area on the other side of Smugglers' Notch, where we had dinner at a place called Stella Notte. I had some trepidation about going to this place, not because I've heard bad things about it (quite the contrary, actually), but because it replaced one of my favorite Mexican restaurants for many years, a homey spot called Cafe Banditos. But while not quite making me forget about Banditos, Stella Notte was quite impressive, with good food, a decent beer list, nearly flawless service, and reasonable prices. We ate on the scenic outdoor patio (which has views of the massive wall of mountains making up Smugglers' Notch off to the east), which in retrospect may have been a mistake, as the bugs were out in full force that evening, but it was almost worth it for the cool breezes and the scenery. Our food included a tasty brie appetizer, a zesty farfalle Tuscano with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and chicken in a mild cream, and a hearty chicken and sausage risotto with loads of meat throughout. Drinks included a Switchback Ale, which is kind of a "cult" beer that is generally only found in Vermont and is one of my personal favorites. We decided to hold off on dessert, instead visiting I.C. Scoops in Stowe, where we enjoyed some maple walnut and mocha almond ice cream.
Sunday morning was mostly spent at the cheese festival, and oddly enough, even with all the cheese, chocolate, and cured meats that I tried there, I was pretty hungry by the time we left early in the afternoon. We soon found ourselves in Waterbury, stopping at a restaurant and bar called Arvard's in the center of town. I've heard mixed reviews on Arvad's from people I know, but our lunch was actually pretty good, though service wasn't quite as warm and fuzzy as other places we tried while on the trip. When we arrived, the restaurant wasn't all that crowded, so we were able to sit on the comfortable outdoor porch overlooking Main Street. The first thing we noticed was that the beer list was very impressive, with brews from all over the world as well as a large selection of local beers. After some tough decision-making, we settled on an Arvad's Ale (a bit too mild for me, but a nice summer drink) and a Trapp Golden Helles Lager (a well-balanced beer from the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe). Our meals included a delectable roast beef sandwich with cheese and mayo and a grilled bacon cheeseburger made with local beef that, while fresh-tasting, was coarsely ground and included some hard bits of bone in it. Prices were ok, and as said earlier, service wasn't exactly friendly, but was efficient from start to finish.
After lunch, we spent some time at Cabot Cheese and Cold Hollow (again) in Waterbury as well as the always-interesting Stowe Mercantile, then relaxing by a wooded pond in Jeffersonville before reversing direction and driving down Route 108 to Route 100 south to our next destination, namely American Flatbread in Waitsfield. Now I have had more than a few people tell me that this place is a must when visiting Vermont, but never did I expect it to be the utterly memorable experience that it turned out to be. First, the setting: Imagine an old barn in a deep valley that is so quiet that your ears seem to ring. Now imagine the smell of wood burning not only from a primitive wood-fired pizza oven inside the barn, but also from fire pits outside that are near an outdoor dining area in a verdant field. Sound good? Well, it was, even though the pizza, while excellent, didn't seem any better to me than that of the Flatbread Co., a kind of offshoot of American Flatbread that no longer has any affiliation with them, and that has locations in Somerville and Bedford in the Boston area. No, this was more about the overall experience than just the pizza, feeling almost like a communal spot where strangers talk to one another while eating pizza in the field out back and servers are laid-back and friendly and clearly seem to enjoy what they are doing. We soaked this all in while munching on pieces of white pizza (with asiago and grana padano cheese and herbs as well as bacon on one side of it) and a pepperoni mushroom pizza (which featured a truly fantastic red sauce), and, eventually, a decadent brownie sundae that was every bit as good as the pizza. Prices for the pizza were a little high, but the pizzas were probably big enough for two people, and we indeed packed up a good amount of it for the road. Bottom line: This was easily the best dining experience that I have had in 2011, and perhaps the best I have had in many years, even beating out places such as Mulino's in White Plains, NY, and Auberge La Goeliche in Ste-Petronille, Quebec, which is saying a lot.
It would be hard to beat American Flatbread in Waitsfield, so it was kind of fitting that this would be our last full meal of the trip, other than breakfast on Monday, that is. And breakfast was quite nice, actually, as we hit an offbeat little place within the Grey Fox Inn in Stowe called the Dutch Pancake Cafe. As the name implies, this comfortable spot in a corner of the inn features Dutch fare, including crepe-like Dutch pancakes that are prepared in a skillet. I tried a maple walnut version of the pancake, and it came not with maple syrup (well, it did, but it was already on the pancake), but with something called Stroop, a molasses-like syrup that isn't quite as sweet as maple syrup. The combination of Stroop and maple syrup nearly put me into a food coma, but the dish was a good one, with an ultra-thin pancake about a foot in diameter that definitely tasted more like a crepe than a typical pancake. Other highlights of our meal there were the excellent coffee and the slightly sour-tasting (but delicious) hash browns. Service was a bit reserved but friendly, and prices were decent.
The main focus of our trip to Vermont was to cover the cheese festival, but the rest of the trip was great, as the beautiful scenery, low-key locals, and impressive food all helped make for the type of trip that I would gladly do again and again. Now if only American Flatbread in Waitsfield were a little closer to Boston....
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