I just got back from a trip to Vermont and feel like reporting on some of the noms I had there. Not to document hidden, undiscovered gems, but to say OH! is the food good.
This blog entry is dedicated to C & C, my fearless hostess and fellow traveler on this trip, respectively, who endured constant updates about the state of my stomach--at various points empty/thrilled/wonky/cautious/needful/rhapsodic/peckish/excited/precarious/etc.--as well as other parts of me with very great good grace. Thank you.
• Fresh, very fresh, warm cider donuts and cold cider at Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury. We noodled through back roads to get there (our bleat was How Far Until Donuts?), but could smell it before we saw it. The cider donuts at Cold Hollow were small--maybe half the size of a regular donut--fragrant, not very sweet, and beautifully cooked, with crisp edges and no greasiness. The three of us got a dozen to share and then I went back for more (this will be a theme). Just wonderful. We all felt that a little sugar on the outside, dusted or in the form of a glaze, might make them even better, but I also wondered if there was something I didn't know about how or when these donuts would be eaten best. I think if you had them on a freezing Vermont morning with nothing else yet in your stomach, you might not want the sugar. Not sure. But they were delicious, regardless; yeasty but substantial, a nice donut texture compromise, and the cold cider was great. Tourist quotient was high at this place, but not too bad. Because we were there the week before Columbus Day, apparently the busiest time of the year in Vermont for visiting by the leafer/peeper types, we dodged a lot of tour buses, but it wasn't too bad.
• We stopped for maple syrup and Creemees, Vermont's version of soft-serve ice cream, at the Morse Farm sugar house in Montpelier. Like a good foodie I bought some Grade B (haven't tried it yet), then had a lick of my friend's Creemee that was both made with maple syrup and had a maple flavoring dusted on the outside. I have to say the lick was amazing. I didn't have enough to compare its consistency and flavor to non-Vermont soft-serve, but it was grand. The maple kettle corn was pretty good, but not salty sweet enough to make it crazy addicting.
• The P&H Truck Stop in Wells River was spectacularly good. I had the meatloaf special. I don't often have or crave meatloaf, so I felt as if I were throwing myself on their culinary mercy a bit, especially as a picky eater, but it was a good gamble to take and not really much of one in the end. 'Cause they know what they're doing. The high, squishy P&H dinner roll is unbelievably good. I want one now. And the meatloaf...I chased after every last crumb, which you don't always want to do with dried-out meatloaf edges, only theirs wasn't dried out at all. The gravy (I needed extra) was dark and savory, amazing on the buttered homemade bread and rolls and with coleslaw on the side. Honestly, the whole experience is kind of a fog, it was so good. I got my dessert to go and had it a couple days later, and I don't think I've ever had such good chocolate cream pie. People don't usually take this dessert very seriously, I find, especially as a medium of chocolate conveyance. There are so many other ways to have chocolate, and people seem to want other flavors for their pie. But this one was deep, rich chocolate. Love.
• You can't talk about food in Vermont without noting the free sample at the Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour in Waterbury. And it was really good, in fact: Mint Chocolate Chunk, which the tour guide told me was an old B&J flavor, but as a major mint & chocolate hound I know I've never seen it. I should have questioned him further. (Now I am wondering: was it a dream?) I chewed up some Lactaid tablets (terrible without water) and ate only half my sample. I spent a lot of time cynically pondering the nature of the B&J experience while I was there--the branding is so thorough and the way they position themselves as bumbling yet sincere is so clever but not too clever-clever--but none of it really mattered when I was licking my ice cream.
• Must note: really good pizza from Leonardo's in South Burlington, whose grand crust is made with King Arthur Flour, bringing us to:
• The King Arthur Flour Baker's Store & Cafe in Norwich, which on a beautiful sunny day was such a happy place. As a person on a budget, shopping at the store was an extremely clamped-down and careful experience (I could not resist these chocolate sprinkles), but the bakery in store is gorgeous. I don't know that I've ever seen such solidly beautiful baked goods. We sampled basics. Their croissant was extremely flaky, but not papery or dry; the layers smushed together when you bit into it in that good buttery way that real croissants do. The challah was delicious, the rich brownie so deep brown it was almost black, and my friend assures me the eclair was the real thing. It was a little painful to be in that store and not more engaged in baking-related commerce (someday-I'll-get-a-stand-mixer), but it was inspiring.
• Hostess-C & I found Curtis' BBQ in Chester after stopping at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham (I did not long to buy much there, even after a lifetime of perusing their catalogs, although I would really like Mountain Weave tablecloths and napkins someday). At that point we were both fed up with sugar and twitzy-twee and longing for protein, and turned into Curtis' lot, nudged by no less than God, I think, via our growling stomachs and a traffic jam that slowed us down to see the Curtis' sign and smell the outdoor smokers. We sat in the quiet pre-dinner rush restaurant and worked our way through a pile, a downright pile, of lean but juicy pulled chicken (for me) and pulled pork (for C). We chatted with the waitress and owner, who is Curtis' daughter, and watched as the restaurant cat sniffed our car. I got some extra honey BBQ sauce on the side for my chicken. It was so, so great. Curtis' calls itself "the 9th Wonder of the World"--yay for BBQ in VT.
• We visited the Lake Champlain Chocolates factory in Burlington. Twice. Oh sweet lordy jebus. I don't know how to keep this short. Their chocolates are astonishing, and there was not a ding on them, not the slightest bit out of place on each integral piece: no bloom, no dullness, no chalkiness; all glossy dark shine and snap and full sweet scent. I am a huge fan of their hazelnut 5-Star Bar and was sad not to find any in their seconds bins, but did manage to get some beautiful mint coins and milk chocolate bonbons on sale. Also tried and loved: their Legendary Dark truffle, the Dark Chocolate Almond Caramel Clusters, and Milk Chocolate Pecan Caramel Clusters. I got some dark and milk chocolate chips for baking and cannot wait to see how some oatmeal cookies made with them turn out. Their chocolate is really, really good.
• One of our last days there we visited Shelburne Farms, petting the goats and calves, chasing the fluffy fretful chickens, soaking up the architecture and the setting. The place is beautiful and strangely intact: 3,800 acres of gentleman's farm built by a member of the Vanderbilt family in 1885 with $10 million (that's 1885 dollars). I have never seen farm buildings on so big and artistic a scale. Beautifully detailed but clean-lined, sort of Richardsonian, farm buildings blown up to a gargantuan size, in a gorgeous palette of dark, natural colors, traced against the greens and oranges of this Vermont valley. It's amazing and almost fantastical. And the parts of the farm on the shore of Lake Champlain are even more magical. Luxurious in the strangest, most practical way.
The three of us were hungry after frolicking in the petting zoo (more perfection: we were visited by a naughty escaped Corgi while looking at the pigs!) and stopped by the little store in their cheesemaking facility and then the organic bakery. We sat in the car by the lake, wind-waves crashing, and ate one of those magical unplanned meals: fresh, chewy ciabatta, bottles of cold cider, chunks of farm sausage, and two-year-old cheddar cheese. I had avoided cheese most of the trip, but let myself taste some here and felt it melt on my tongue: sweet, really sweet, but tangy and sharp as hell, thick and milky. All so good, and I am very lucky.