(At The Bee’s Knees in Morrisville, VT – YAY for free wi-fi!)
This is the final post I will write about our travels to New England this fall. Last time I wrote about a “Localvore Dinner” at a nearby farm, and how “eating local” is not just a buzzword in this part of Vermont. Today I want to expound upon that, and talk about restaurants that are “doing it right”.
I got a bit of an education about Eating Local while in New England this year. Here in Florida, we have a nice year round Farmers Market with several produce stands, local artisans and various other sundry products. When you drive around the state, you see billboards that exclaim: “Eat Local!”. But what does that really mean? You would think in FL, where the climate is warm, people could eat their local farm produce year round, but I have been disappointed time and again going to the market, and seeing organics from CA mixed in with what is available locally. As for the restaurants, my idea of “eating local” has meant supporting local businesses vs. chain restaurants. Which I think it is great idea. However, in Vermont it is brought to a whole different level. I was actually quite blown away. Let me explain.
Outside of the larger cities in Vermont, of which there aren’t many (Montpelier, the state capital has the smallest population of any state capital in the United States, but has also been rated as one of the top ten places to live in the States by AARP), people might have the idea that things of necessity are scarce or hard to come by, especially when you are used to the variety that city, or even suburban life brings. In VT, it is pretty much life in the country. This is true, however, there is an abundance of good things, where someone like me who is very discerning about what they buy, and eat, can have a certain level of comfort and trust. As Roberto and I toured the area, we noticed there might not be a lot of variety, or duplication, or tons of stores, but that what was there, was well done. Take for example the pet/feed store. It is the only one in town, but they sell only the highest quality foods for all the animals in your life. Then there is the awesome holistic vet we found who does both family pets and livestock. We came to find this level of quality true of the eating establishments in the area as well.
There were a few restaurants in our general area that we were able to visit on this trip. One is The Bees Knees in Morrisville. A stone’s throw from where we will be living. Their menu focuses on home cooked meals with locally grown and organic ingredients. So there it is – a locally owned business that also serves local food. But it is more than that. The owner Sharon Deitz had a vision to start a cafe where people could come and stay as long as they wanted. She wanted the atmosphere to feel like a place that would be like “going to a friend’s house — you never know exactly what’s in the fridge, but you know it will be good.” That is exactly what it is like at The Bee’s Knees. It has a coffeehouse atmosphere by day, and then in the evening, more like a pub and restaurant. It is a well rounded and family oriented place that the people of Morrisville and surrounding towns enjoy for the food, local music and the company of their neighbors. When you are dining, you see families with children and elderly, couples and groups of friends, everybody.
The Bee’s Knees also has a very special story behind it. You can read more about this community effort on the Bee’s Knees About page. But here it is in a nutshell.
Over a year ago, Bee’s Knees owner Sharon Deitz “had considered selling her little restaurant, which desperately needed a new kitchen and more seating. The problem was, the money wasn’t there. But, the community came to the rescue. People who cared about Bee’s Knees and what it means to their town came in droves to offer support, either financially or with their time and hard work. Deitz realized the Bee’s Knees must continue. “The response she got- that this is a really important part of life in Morrisville- just seemed to light her fire,” said Nina Church, a Morrisville resident who contributed financially and showed up to work a screw gun in the final days of the expansion project. “As the economy goes south and global warming continues and all these other things happen, we need a place like Bee’s Knees. We need a place to gather that’s local, a place that brings people together and refocuses us on what we have on hand…People come here to eat Vermont food,” Deitz emphasizes. “Morrisville is where normal people live. This is where locals come to listen to local music and eat local food and connect with their community.”
How cool is that?! So yeah, it is true, there aren’t hundreds of choices of restaurants in Morrisville, but you don’t need many when one does it so right! This one little place really defines what local eating can mean – a locally owned business, serving local food, that has the community’s blood, sweat and tears in the foundation.
There is music every night of the week, awesome food, you can feel good about supporting and eating, great coffeehouse drinks made from Fair Trade coffee and roasted in VT and several awesome local microbrews on tap. Check out their menu on their website! We went there several times, once for lunch and once for dinner and had a great experience and great food each time. There is a warmth to The Bee’s Knees. You really do feel at home. I loved that parents brought their kids to listen to music and have dinner. It reminded me of the pubs in Europe, where it is not an “adults only” atmosphere, but where all locals are welcome, no matter what their age.
The next restaurant I would like to talk about is Claire’s in Hardwick, VT. I found out about Claire’s when they started following me on Twitter (@clairesvt) many months ago. They also have a blog New Vermont Cooking . I saw from their Twitter profile that they are a restaurant in Vermont with a menu focusing on seasonal and local foods. I was excited to hear that such a place existed (this was before I knew about The Bees Knees or any other place like that). So when we finally got up to the area, I was excited to see that Hardwick is about a 15 minute drive from Morrisville! Small world! So we knew that during our trip, we had to have a meal at Claire’s.
Claire’s is another amazing place, and their blog New Vermont Cooking really talks a lot about their challenges with buying exclusively local ingredients (for example, some needed are not available locally, like cooking oils). But yet they strive to do the best they can. For example, “9 cents of every dollar of our food purchases within 15 miles of the restaurant, with the bulk of the remaining purchases to farms and artisans within Vermont.”
We went one day for lunch, to find out that Clarie’s does not serve lunch, so we made a point to go back the next night for dinner (they also have “blunch” on Sundays). Claire’s is what I would describe as affordable upscale dining. Small plates are under $10 and main courses under $20 and each featured dessert is $7. But the style of the restaurant, as well as the menu layout, and food prep is much like what you would find in an upscale place. However, I was happy to see, again, people of all walks of life there for dinner. This is part of their misson : “farm to plate model needs to be carefully planned on the basis of three principles: profitability for farmers and food businesses, affordability for Vermonters, and availability of product”. There are several restaurants in and around Northern Vermont who are working on this very thing. I really suggest reading the whole blog post if you want to learn more about this movement.
Since we had never been to Claire’s and were so excited to be eating there, we decided to get all three courses. Generally we don’t have stomachs big enough (well, Roberto might disagree with that statement!) to handle three courses. But we had to indulge. I must apologize for the photos – the lighting in the restaurant was very dark, and this was the best we could do! LOL!
(Bread with Trout River Chocolate Stout, Fried Calamari small plate)
First they brought a delicious chunk of country baked bread with chocolate chips inside. We decided to pair that with a Trout River Chocolate Stout. It was delicious. As a small plate, we shared the Fried Calamari with radishes, green tomatoes and Kalamata olives. It came with a Feta vinaigrette and aioli. We both agreed this is one of the most delicious and interesting versions of fried calamari we had ever tasted. It looked like it was fried in a cornmeal batter. The crunchy veggies playing off the super crunchy calamari with the tangy, salty vinaigrette was amazing!
For main courses we both got something different. I went for the Chicken with Mole sauce. It came with mashed potatoes and warm Napa cabbage slaw with apples. I very much enjoyed this meal. The chicken was falling off the bone, the sauce was the perfect balance of chiles, chocolate and spices and the slaw was a nice crunchy counterpart. Roberto had the Brisket with Carrots, Early Riser polenta and wheatberries. It was served with Apple, cranberry and BBC Coffehouse Porter Sauce. The brisket was super tender, and the Coffeehouse Porter sauce was incredible. We decided to get a glass of the Coffehouse porter to share for the main course and it paired really well with both of our dishes. In New England I really discovered my love for coffee porters. Wolavers, our favorite brewery, which just happens to be in Vermont, and is organic, makes a version as well (called Alta Grazia )which is out of this world and officially my favorite beer!
Unfortunately the pictures of the main course were just not salvageable. So you will have to use your imagination!
The same cannot be said about the dessert course! We just were too enthralled with our desserts, that we actually forgot to take a photo! There were many desserts I would have loved to try. But I finally settled on the Gingerbread with caramel apples, eggnog ice cream and maple fluff. This dessert was incredibly good, each element executed to near perfection. I would have loved the ice cream to be a bit more egg-noggy, but nonetheless, it was amazing. The gingerbread was dark, spicy and moist, and the maple fluff, a fun little substitute for whipped cream. Roberto had the Strawberry Chocolate Pudding Cake. It had strawberry ice cream as well as strawberry caramel swirled in. He liked it. Strawberry and chocolate has never been a real exciting flavor combination for me, so I wouldn’t be a good judge of this dessert. But if he liked it, that is what mattered!
From Claire’s website: “From farm to table, emphasizing local and sustainable produce, artisan products, and responsible business practices that support our communities. From Hardwick, Vermont, an open philosophy inspired by the flavors and cooking of the world.”
So what I learned this fall is what “eating locally”, “farm to table”, “sustainability” and all these other buzz words that are being thrown around lately ACTUALLY can and should mean. It was enlightening and encouraging. So when people ask us why we want to move from Florida to Vermont, where it is so cold most of the year, this is why. These communities are a microcosm for how things could be in the world. So when you see any of the above words being used in your communities, find out if it can be backed up by business practices – and if not, ask why not. Demand better! Be a voice for change in your community. As you can see community efforts can really make big changes. I am proud to be a Vermonter!
If you want to learn more about Real Food check out Real Food Wednesdays on Cheeseslave.