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A Notch Above

Stowe may still get the glory, but creative chefs are heating up the Jeffersonville food scene


Published January 26, 2010 at 5:22 p.m.

On Jeffersonville’s Main Street, Hanley’s General Store has served its community for more than three-quarters of a century. Chad Hanley, a 31-year-old descendant of the original owners, calls his family “local local.” But, though he was born and bred in the tiny town that serves as a gateway to Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Hanley has moved in rarified culinary circles. Trained in France, he counts Roy Yamaguchi, the king of upscale Hawaiian fusion, as his mentor, and lists Nobu Matsuhisa and Masaharu Morimoto among the chefs for whom he’s cooked.

Now Hanley is back in Jeff, where he’s been serving customers at resort-adjacent The Brewski since last summer. Can we expect sea urchin tempura at the bar?

Not quite. But Hanley, who is currently working on two cookbooks, is putting his stamp on classic pub fare. And he’s just one of a handful of ambitious chefs working to turn Jeffersonville into a culinary as well as a winter sports destination.

As après-ski meccas go, Jeff certainly lacks the cachet of Stowe, its bigger, glitzier neighbor across the Notch. In 2000, according to the U.S. Census, the village had just 568 residents, with a downtown covering eight-tenths of a mile. (Many of its restaurants are located farther up winding Route 108, which leads to the resort and hiking trail access.)

But this is a hamlet where you can start the day with crème brûlée French toast bathed in “drunken” blueberries; lunch on a tuna melt featuring seared ahi steak with spinach, red onion, Taylor Farms smoked gouda and sea-salt aioli; and dine on cedar-plank-roasted sturgeon with caviar and champagne beurre blanc. In short, foodies who come to Smuggs should exercise a bit of moderation, or they may find themselves waddling down the slopes.

The rapid expansion of great tastes in Jeffersonville has a lot to do with two couples who went into business together. First Akash Parikh brought in chef Shawn Calley to revivify Smuggs’ old warhorse resort restaurant, Hearth & Candle. Then the two men’s wives, Carrie Ferguson and Tonya Calley, respectively, opened The Mix Café and Bakery downtown in the Smugglers’ Notch Inn just off Main Street.

When owner-manager Parikh, 38, bought into Hearth & Candle eight years ago, quaint Vermont classics such as New England seafood chowder and chicken stuffed with apples, ham and cheddar were the basis of its menu. When Calley, 36, came on board as chef and co-owner in 2008, the resort restaurant got a lot less stodgy.

Previously a NECI chef-instructor, Calley worked with former head chef Rick Gencarelli at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, an experience he says nurtured his love for keeping his food in the neighborhood. There, too, he learned to make his dishes taste rich enough for the most jaded palate. He reminisces about those days: “It was Aaron [Josinsky, of the Bluebird Tavern] and myself and Rick, and everything was new and Rick had no budget [restrictions] that first year. He would douse everything in truffle oil.”

Calley shares a soft spot for “bacon and pig” with his former Shelburne Farms compatriots. In the summer, he and his team smoke and cure their own bacon. The result is one of his favorite dishes of the year: a BLT appetizer, with bacon “double smoked and lightly rendered over brioche, arugula and local red and yellow tomatoes, and a drizzle of truffle oil,” Calley says. Hearth & Candle’s menu displays its chef’s deep affinity for game meats. Current choices include crisp-edged ricotta gnocchi covered with wild boar, sitting in a light pool of fig-balsamic reduction. Calley and Parikh also offer vegetarians plenty of menu options, from homemade butternut squash tortellini in deeply sage-redolent brown butter to coconut green curry seitan with soba.

Parikh says his own dining criterion is “If I’ve never eaten it before, that’s the thing I’m ordering.” He admits that Hearth & Candle’s creative menu is in part a conscious effort to flout the expectations of resort dining. “When you hear ‘resort,’” he says, “you think overpriced, corporate style. We want to be the cool local place in the resort. The guests are so pleasantly surprised.”

The Mix Café and Bakery, which opened last June, wasn’t exactly a long- meditated venture. When the space occupied by the Inn’s bakery became available in June, “Akash and Shawn and we got together and said, ‘What if the girls did this?’” remembers Ferguson. The ladies signed a lease that required they open within two weeks.

Luckily, both Ferguson, 40, and Tonya Calley, 35, had experience. The former has been in the food business since she was 14. She and Parikh met working at The Hungry Lion and Lion’s Den Pub, former tenants of the Smugglers’ Notch Inn space.

After a long break taking care of their children, ages 7 and 3, Ferguson was feeling the call of the restaurant business. So she teamed with Calley, who was general manager of Sirloin Saloon and Sweetwater’s for Reel Hospitality before becoming a stay-at-home mom to her and Shawn’s first child, Aiden, 13 months ago.

With the lease signed, the women quickly set to work planning their dishes. “We didn’t really want any influence from anyone else,” says Tonya. “With Shawn being who he is, we didn’t ask for any help.”

Except, that is, on the childcare front. Each day when the women come to work in the wee hours to prepare chocolate croissants, cinnamon buns and bread that draw regulars from as far away as South Burlington, their husbands go on daddy duty. At noon, Parikh and Calley head to Hearth & Candle and switch responsibilities with their wives. “It just works,” says Ferguson. Adds Tonya, “We don’t have to do the daycare thing. Shawn is a pretty spectacular father.”

The arrangement leaves time for the women to oversee the preparation of their creative takes on breakfast and lunch favorites, all of which are available from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week. One standout is The Mix’s gingerbread waffles with apple-vanilla bean compote and maple whipped cream, also a staple in Ferguson’s home (though when she makes them for her kids, she adds a healthy dash of flaxseeds and nuts).

Other menu items came from preopening brainstorming sessions. “We had some wackadoodle ideas,” says Tonya. One idea that stuck was the Bright Eyed Burger, a thick Boyden patty rubbed with coffee and chili, then topped with Cabot cheddar. Breakfast choices include a nod to Ferguson’s Garden State heritage, the Jersey Benedict, a homemade English muffin topped with perfectly poached eggs, spinach, crispy Taylor pork roll (think fried pancetta) and the world’s most buttery hollandaise. Ferguson, a vegetarian, also makes sure there are plenty of meat-free options.

With a new cook poached from Penny Cluse, the owners have refined some dishes, and a new menu debuted this past Monday. Calley and Ferguson say it will continue to change with the seasons. Most of the produce comes from the Farm Between or Valley Dream Farm right down the road. Tonya picked all the berries herself at Nee’s Farm in Georgia, and every cheese at The Mix is made in Vermont.

Of course, there’s more to community than produce. Ferguson calls The Mix her “social outlet.” Shawn Calley feels the same way about Hearth & Candle. “We know we’re not getting rich here, so we just want to have fun,” he says.

The fun includes Tuesday night Snowshoe Adventure Dinners, when the Hearth & Candle kitchen crew takes the Sterling Mountain lift to the Top of the Notch cabin and cooks four-course dinners for hardy guests. In the summer, when business slows down, Shawn pits his sous chef and line cook against each other in popular Iron Chef challenges.

Events like that — and the food itself — could help draw more summer tourists to Jeff. As Parikh puts it, “We’re all restaurant people; we’ve got a nice community. The more the town blossoms, the more everyone grows with it.”

Transplants have benefited from Jeffersonville’s growth, too. Jayme Bechtoldt says that when he opened Stella Notte six years ago, across 108 from Smuggs, “it was this area that brought me. People were receptive to trying new things.” Bechtoldt, who prepares dishes such as a maple-seared beef tenderloin and sausage-and-chicken risotto in garlic cream sauce, also flexes his creative muscles on his bar menu with wings in novel flavors.

Meanwhile, the space that once housed local hangout and comfort-food standby Jana’s Cupboard, at the intersection of 15 and 108, will be reborn in February as The Family Table. John Raphael, a Massachusetts native and Belvedere resident with two degrees from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, hopes to attract locals and tourists alike with his “really good, simple food with flavor,” he says. He chose his restaurant’s name because “all the world’s biggest decisions, from kings’ and queens’ to presidents’ and families’, have been made around a table.”

This table will bear offerings such as maple-brined pork chops and fried chicken, which Raphael brines for three days before double-breading and frying it. Though he plans to keep his menu simple and in the $10 to $20 range, he also expects to run specials such as a rack of lamb with chipotle demi-glace and braised pistachios, he says. Come summer, the Table will get a smoker and a fish-fry shack, with seafood shipped daily from Rhode Island.

When it comes to pub food, Hanley has already attracted a following at The Brewski, just down 108 from the resort. He says each week he sells 300 pounds of wings. Among his other top sellers are fried pierogis with cabbage and carrots in a garlic-brown-butter and Pinot Grigio reduction. Barbecue specials, including ribs and pulled pork, have been so popular that Hanley plans to make them full time beginning in the spring, when he can bring his smoker to The Brewski.

Though his parents sold the general store that bears the family name, Hanley still stops in there to buy his bacon. Straddling the worlds of old and new Jeff, the chef says he welcomes each new addition to the food landscape of his hometown.

“The community of foodies that we have here motivates and pushes us to be creative in the food that we do,” says Hanley. “The food here is only going to get better; we’re thriving off of this stuff.”