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Essex Excitement

Side Dishes: Essex Resort & Spa gets a culinary facelift

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Fans of Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa, may have noticed a recent changing of the guard. Two weeks ago, Shawn Calley — formerly chef at Hearth & Candle in Jeffersonville and most recently executive sous-chef at The Essex — took on the role of executive chef. According to Calley, previous chef Dave Coolidge left to pursue other avenues. Coolidge may join an existing food business, says Calley, “or possibly [do] something on his own.”

Calley’s brief tenure has already brought big changes. The tavern will have a new dinner menu beginning September 1, then premiere updated breakfast and lunch choices the next day. The Essex’s famous Sunday buffet brunch is now a thing of the past. Calley says that, without the extra hands of New England Culinary Institute students, the luxe spread was nearly impossible to produce. Instead, he’s switching to high-quality, creative à la carte options, including lobster Benedict and deconstructed carbonara with homemade pasta and meaty local bacon lardons.

Calley’s farm-to-table focus will get even sharper in upcoming weeks, when the tavern and the more upscale dining room become separate entities once again. (They were joined after NECI and The Essex parted ways in 2009.)

The new eatery, to open by the end of September, will be called Butler’s Farm, the site’s name before the inn was built there. At the Farm, Calley plans to announce five or six daily appetizers and the same number of entrées on a chalkboard.

What can diners expect? Calley says he’s already purchased every lamb saddle and venison shank Black River Produce could offer him.

Food and beverage director Tom Brooks says that, in keeping with the new eatery’s name, one goal is to grow as much as possible in an on-site garden and supplement it with produce from Burlington’s Intervale. “We’re focusing on [making the resort] self-sustaining,” he says. Likewise, the restaurant kitchen will rely heavily on items from its own bakery.

Calley is giving himself time to get comfortable balancing the tavern’s menu of “really nice wings and great burgers” with the more creative (but still casual) fare at Butler’s Farm. Once he has his footing, he says, he plans to slowly introduce more handcrafted products, a wide variety of charcuterie and smoked meats. “Basically, I have to do the walk before I can start running,” Calley says.

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