- Matthew Thorsen
- Chefs at Brown Dog Bistro
Five years ago, Newport was designated one of two Vermont "food deserts," meaning its residents lacked access to fresh, affordable food. It was a gentle call to arms for the passionate farmers, chefs and activists of this city on the shores of Lake Memphremagog.
A string of community gardens sprang up, and a downtown natural-foods market expanded. Then, last year, a clutch of food producers transformed an ex-department store into a locavore mecca anchored by a butcher, baker and cider maker — and a café called Brown Dog Bistro.
- Matthew Thorsen
- Braised short ribs at Brown Dog Bistro
The airy, boho-chic eatery has floor-to-ceiling front windows that look out on Newport's main drag, while its side is exposed to the wealth of cheeses, meats, veggies and maple products inside the ambitious new Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center. Chef Bill Small blends these raw materials into hearty, Québécois-style comfort food, with local goodies spiking everything from drinks to dessert.
The rose-hued Orleans Bitter aperitif is distilled from local apples and flavored with fresh herbs. The bird inside the duck-confit rillettes, served with fig jam, was raised just over the Canadian border near Lac-Brome.
These Nordic delights are just the beginning of a leisurely French Canadian feast of mustardy corned-beef-and-cabbage soup, citrus-spiked rice salad, and luscious braised short ribs slathered in a peppery sour-cherry glaze. Small supplies plenty of creative flourishes. Sautéed calamari arrive in a tart ice-cider sauce dotted with raisins; grilled-cheddar sandwiches are laced with kimchi; and succulent, smoky cider-glazed pork belly comes on a roll with tarragon-spiked coleslaw.
Brown Dog's fare is some of the most imaginative and satisfying in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. From this vantage point, the "desert" appears to be blooming.