Less than an hours drive north of our previous overnight stop in Lenox is the small city of North Adams, located just shy of the Vermont state line. Knowing that it’s a popular centre for art and culture – and the home of the country’s largest contemporary art museum – we really only breezed through town for half an hour to stretch our legs and grab a coffee and sniff about the antiques at the Berkshire Emporium Cafe.
Crossing into Vermont and driving through the Green Mountain National Forest was the point where fall was beginning to really take hold. Rust-coloured trees dotted the rolling hills and banks of meandering streams and as we drove through the small village of Wilmington I couldn’t help but pull over to get a better feel of it.
The town is nestled in the picturesque Deerfield Valley with quiet streets brightened up with colourful historic buildings, specialty shops, galleries and places to grab a bite. Many businesses seem to be geared towards cashed-up visitors, but looking past that, it’s well worth some exploration.
A coffee and nibble was all we wanted and Folly Foods provided us with just that. This is the pride and joy of husband and wife team Peter and Kathleen Wallace, a couple of hospitality veterans that switched from fine dining to what they have now on West Main Street. Homemade cakes and breads, ice cream, fresh juices and some serious beans from Nantucket Coffee Roasters.
We couldn’t look past the chocolate, cayenne & chilli cake – a perfect accompaniment to our beautiful macchiato and espresso.
Driving north on Route 100 took us through more forest and a couple of small towns and when it was about time to consider a lunch stop, Londonderry was the pick. There’s nothing much to the town itself other than a small section of the highway offering the very basics of services. The Mill Tavern would have been my pick had it not been closed for renovations but we did end up just grabbing a couple of sandwiches at The Garden Market Cafe, behind the more upmarket Garden Cafe Gallery & Restaurant.
I’m guessing the market acts as one of the towns food suppliers, or perhaps just for the gourmet stuff. A decent variety of baked sweet and savoury foods can be taken home or eaten inside at one of the few tables, or outside beside the water. Providing the West River isn’t flooding like it did when hurricane Irene hit.
It was turkey Reuben (8.95) for me – served toasted with “Bubbies best organic sauerkraut”. Not bad, actually. The other sandwich was Mickey’s favourite (9.95) – filled with roast beef, salad and horseradish mayo.
Barely 10 minutes up the road we arrived at Weston, a blink-and-miss-it town that’s more than worthy of a visit. Vermont was putting on its best with warm sunshine, bright green fields and golden leaves falling from the trees. Inns, eateries, galleries and craft shops dot the small village that has the West River meandering through its backyard.
One of the towns drawcards is The Vermont Country Store, a sprawling shop that has just about anything you need. Outdoor clothing, novelty gifts, cooking utensils, books, toiletries, food items, you name it. It’s set up in a barn-like space that feels like you’ve stepped back in time and walked into an old general store. The food section clearly stood out for us and the bonus of tasting samples of things like maple syrup, cookies, chocolates and cheese made it all the better.
Driving north through the mountains we could see that this was a bit of a popular skiing area in the winter months. Okemo Mountain Resort and Killington Resort looked like two major playgrounds for those that like to get out on the slopes. No snow for us, though.
As I drove us through the small township of Bridgewater I was distracted by piles of old stuff stacked outside and leaning up against the walls of an antiques shop. A quick u-turn on my behalf and, before we knew it, I was sniffing about the old wares in the dim rooms. You never know what can be found in places like this, and much to the relief of the other half, I left empty handed.
As the road wound alongside the Ottauquechee River we found ourselves in one of the most picturesque villages we’d seen so far. Woodstock is built on the sweeping curve of the river with a narrow brook cutting straight through town; nestled in a valley surrounded by greenery – and at that time of the year – foliage ranging from red though to yellow.
When people think of Woodstock they imagine the 3-day music festival of 1969. That happened in Bethel, New York 370km away. However there still is a bit of a hippie vibe remaining from when it was a stomping ground for Van Morrison, Hendrix and Dylan; with shops peddling crystals, smudge sticks and tie-dye.
This gorgeous little village – dubbed “The prettiest small town in America” – was home for the next few days. A place to base ourselves, find a laundromat, take a breather from driving and get out and explore the surrounding landscape.
The location of our motel couldn’t have been more perfect. A short walk from the centre of town with a rear outlook over the reflecting river, fields and autumnal hills. There was even a guy down there fly fishing. A private veranda provided a lofty lounging space complete with rocking chairs, or a row of Adirondack chairs on the riverbank that was our pick – perfect possie for some much needed gin & tonics.
Some would say the choice of restaurants in Woodstock is fairly limited but there is a decent grab for anyone with relatively discerning tastes. The Italian-inspired menu at Osteria Pane e Salute celebrates Vermont’s seasonal and local ingredients that make it to the wooden farm tables in its cosy dining space. Green-painted walls, vases of blooms and foliage, candle light and a very unique wine selection.
Husband and wife team Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin regularly travel to Italy for regional food and wine inspiration; bringing back ideas and flavours to share with their guests and retain the pulse in their passion. The menu reads from antipasti to primi to secondi and is based on slow food principles – simply prepared so that the ingredients shine.
The 4-course $45 Prix Fixe gave us a taste of what was up for grabs on the nights menu. Not before Deirdre talked to us and got a feel of what wine we were wanting. Neither of us know a great deal about Italian wines so an experienced hand was needed.
Our first plates of antipasti were a perfect introduction to the rustic fare this place is known for. A simple caprese salad and prosciutto e mozzarella. Sweet tomatoes, basil from their own vegetable garden and creamy mozzarella drizzled with grassy olive oil.
Both of us end up choosing the same primi dish – pasta con zucchini. Simply prepared and simply flavoured. The pasta was very al dente and had nothing more than zucchini, red onion, grated cacio and olive oil going on.
More flavour made it to the salsiccia – a butterflied roasted Italian sausage served over wilted bitter greens from the home farm. And as much as I loved the rainbow trout with rosemary, red wine grapes, potato and beans, I thought the fish was rather tiny for a secondi dish.
Even the sliver of pear tart – as incredible as it was – didn’t make me feel like I’d just eaten four courses. Perhaps my appetite had become accustomed to the over-sized portions of this country?
Several cafés can be found in the downtown area and the first one we visited was The Daily Grind. It’s difficult to miss the counter adorned with home-baked pastries and cakes, releasing their sweet aroma into the dining space. That’s got to be a bonus. There’s a little bit of DIY involved in terms of finding your own seat, going up to the counter to get your menu, placing orders and paying for your food before you sit back down and wait for it to arrive.
The coffees we had over two visits we ok but won’t win any awards and the breakfast, well, it’s just ok as well. Rather dry scrambled eggs, toast, well-done bacon and a rather blackened little Vermont Country Farms Maple sausage (8.5). The berry jam that came with it was divine.
The fried eggs & hash (7.95) was a rustic affair topped with lemon & parsley butter. The eggs reminded me of those that you get in the plastic tray in an aircraft. Not that I minded that. The corned beef hash was pretty generous in quantity and salt content.
We almost left without trying at least one of the pastries on the counter. So good was the raspberry & cream cheese croissant that I went up and bought another one before they disappeared. Incredible, and still warm.
Thanks to Woodstock’s location there’s a whole lot of stuff to see and do in the stunning surrounding countryside. Wintertime may attract the skiing crowd to nearby resorts but for us it was jumping into the car to drive the quiet roads and stop wherever we wanted.
Not all that far away is some mighty-fine hiking that can be done in and around the Quechee Gorge. The busloads may gravitate to the slightly tacky Quechee Gorge Village – complete with toy & train museum, candle store, diner and somewhere to buy your next souvenir mug – but for us it was the perfect place to park the car and hit the forest walking trails. Fresh air, multicoloured leaves falling from the canopy and me feeling a little on edge because this is the kind of place people see a sasquatch.
About twenty minutes away from the gorge is the picture-perfect town of Hanover, just across the state line in New Hampshire. We were really only in town to find a place to have lunch, hence the lack of street scenes, but one thing I can say is that this is one busy little college town.
After checking out several places on Main Street, it was when I looked down a driveway past a gelato bar that I noticed a sign saying 3 Guys Basement BBQ. This will do!
Stepping down off the laneway into the basement transports you to a themed dining/bar space that has a variety of places to park your glutes and get stuck into meat and beer.
It seemed the dry-rub chicken wings were a bit of a go-to with the lunchtime college crowd surrounding us. Had there been another mouth or two at our table I would have ordered them, but instead we kept to the three dishes we’d set our gaze on. We both swooned over the grits sticks (4) – golden fingers of crunchy fried goodness with hot and creamy innards. Buttermilk or maple syrup are the dipping options and for us it was the latter.
The burnt ends sammy (11) is “Smoked daily! While it lasts!” – An excitable menu statement that sure got our attention. Must be good, right? Large chunks of meat overflow the small bread bun, half of which are decent and smoky. The other half was incredibly dry, way overcooked and very much like eating jerky. Something tells me it wasn’t meant to be this way. Red beans and dirty rice come with it.
My show stopper burger (15) was described as being “equal parts burger & bacon” – something that gave me the impression of a meat patty with bacon mixed through it. Now that’s something I’d happily sink my teeth into. Instead, it’s a delicious meat patty with charred onion, blue cheese dressing and several very chewy and burnt strips of bacon shooting in all directions. Kind of like a burger stuffed with long strips of chewy jerky – a bit of a challenge for anyone that wants to just pick it up and take a bite. The side of mac & cheese was not only enormous but mouth-burningly delicious.
Heading back to Woodstock was via a few quiet backroads – perhaps a few wrong turns as well – and stops to see a couple of covered bridges in the area. The double span Taftsville Bridge (not shown) and the latticed Middle Bridge in Woodstock.
Another place that saw us for dinner was Melaza Caribbean Bistro. What prompted us to eat there was what we saw on the menu displayed near the entrance. Roasted pork shank, but more on that in a sec.
Themed Caribbean touches can be seen around the restaurant – like colourful paintings and murals, plastic ferns and structural columns that have been made to look like palm trees. Lovely. I was quietly grateful for the lack of reggae music blaring from the speakers.
One thing for sure is that menu isn’t all about mangoes and pineapple, as many would expect. Plantain, yucca, rice & beans, guava and jerk seasoning can be seen across the menu and there’s a bit of a New England inflection as well.
The mussels “Meijillones” (8) were nothing short of delicious. These little babies are from Prince Edward Island and sautéed with chorizo and a beautifully rich Cuban Creole tomato-based sauce.
The next two dishes we order are the house signatures. First, the plantain-wrapped salmon (19). The neat parcel of fish sits in the centre of the bowl, topped with olives, palm hearts and more of that delicious Cuban Creole sauce. A little mamposteao rice flecks the sauce. Sadly, for us, the fish was quite overcooked and incredibly dry; something that couldn’t be finished.
The initial drawcard to the restaurant was the roasted pork shank (22). The gargantuan piece of meat and bone sits erect on the plate; slow-cooked and lovingly basted with rum guava glaze. Copious amounts of tender meat that retains a gorgeous smoked and brined flavour. I can see why this one is a firm favourite for many of the diners at this little piece of the Caribbean on Central Street.
It was almost time to make our move from Woodstock and hit the highways once again. Not before an early breakfast at Mon Vert Café. While the name of the place may be French (for “my green”), the menu is very much of the American variety – sans the hash, fried eggs and waffles. It’s actually not much more than muffins, bagels, frittatas and croissants. Good enough for this pair as all we wanted was a speedy breakfast and dose of caffeine.
Toast & jam, yoghurt & berries (9) and a bagel with avocado, tomato, egg & local Pawlet cheese (6.25). A nice little start to the day before driving north to our next port-of-call. Stowe.