Snowy blacktop is the bane of the Vermont culinary explorer. Planning on driving two hours for dinner? Better make that four.
When new leaves and temperate breezes arrive, there’s a rush to enjoy all that Vermont has to offer — from swimming holes and scenic hikes to snack shacks. Indeed, for certain eateries, T-shirt season is the only season. Some are simply more accessible in warm weather.
Want to take a delicious road trip? We’ve got three special suggestions, ranging from a burger shack featuring local patties and French cheeses to a Rutland gas station that offers, of all things, freshly made Indian food. Happy trails.
Burger Barn, 4968 Route 15, Jeffersonville, 730-3441
Where can you get a succulent, grass-fed beef burger topped with shaved prosciutto, creamy Camembert, tart Chapin Orchard apples and homemade maple mustard? Forget Burlington gastropubs. The only place to bite into a “Samuel de Champlain,” as it’s called, is in Jeffersonville. The Burger Barn, just across from Cupboard Deli & Bakery where Route 15 meets 108, is a small structure that shares a sometimes-muddy driveway with Ace Glass & Windows and Cambridge Cutters. But it takes its inspiration from far more exotic places.
According to co-owner Kierstin Colaceci, “We’re probably the only snack shack that sautés their mushrooms in wine.” She and her co-owner, boyfriend Jud Gravel, began selling their uncommon sandwiches at the Jericho and Williston farmers markets four years ago. Friends of Stony Pond Farm’s Tyler Webb, they hoped to duplicate his success by using the same flavorful organic patties that he sells each Saturday at the Burlington Farmers Market.
After a profitable nomadic first year, the couple decided to make their venture permanent by plunking a cow-spotted trailer on a piece of property on Route 15 in Cambridge. This year, to accommodate the growing business, Gravel — who repairs cars in the off season and once owned the Rabid Rabbit body shop in Cambridge — built the current shack just down the road.
When Gravel and Colaceci met, she was working at the Cambridge General Store — owned by her father, Jim — and studying culinary sciences at the Center for Technology, Essex. Colaceci credits the school’s senior chef, Jonathan Hoffman, with helping nurture her love of food, which blossomed into the Barn’s 28-burger menu.
Gravel developed his palate over many years spent working in local kitchens, including the Burlington Three Tomatoes Trattoria. Because of that Italian influence, says Colaceci, “Jud is all about fruit and prosciutto.” He makes his own pesto for the sundried-tomato-speckled Italian burger.
Both owners are also “all about” cheese. Customers can choose from 15 varieties — including sharp Cabot cheddar, fresh mozzarella, Camembert, feta, Muenster and Brie — to sit atop the naturally lean patties. Cheese-heads can try Hanna’s Montana, with brandy-sautéed mushrooms, banana peppers and smoked Gouda. Not classy enough for you? The Bleu Royale has bacon, caramelized onions and Roquefort.
“Some of the things you wouldn’t think to put on a burger, but they come out really nicely,” says Colaceci. And how. Take the Tuscany, an elegant combo of spicy capicola, artichoke hearts, red-pepper aioli and fresh mozzarella. Colaceci says her personal favorite is the garlic burger. The well-seasoned patty is cooked medium, then spread with pungent roasted garlic. Lettuce, tomato, onion and cheddar keep the flavor bright.
As at most burger-based businesses, fried food figures in here, too. Mr. Chicken and Friends features homemade chicken tenders, herb-covered mozzarella sticks, gigantic, beer-battered onion rings, breaded mushrooms and hand-cut fries with a wide variety of homemade sauces for dipping. There’s plenty of seafood, too, from an Alaskan salmon burger to fried clams to the disturbingly named Nemo’s Soul fish sandwich.
The combination of chicken and waffles is a rarity in Vermont. Here, the Southern fried dish comes with juicy chicken in a devastatingly crisp coating atop a deep, almost malty-tasting buttermilk waffle. Breakfast is served all day, and all the Burger Barn’s choices come with maple syrup tapped by Colaceci and Gravel’s next-door neighbor. The couple sampled a bunch of different batches before deciding on their preferred syrup — a particularly complex and rich version. They put the stuff on everything from a $4 meal of an egg, toast and hash browns to a waffle with steak and eggs.
Vegetarians won’t go hungry at the Burger Barn. The falafel is crisp and redolent of cumin. Its slight heat is cooled with the addition of creamy homemade tzatziki sauce. Plus, any burger can be made with a veggie patty instead of the Stony Pond Farm beef.
How’s the burger-for-every-palate concept working out? “We’re always busy,” says Colaceci, adding with a hint of Martha Stewart diction, “That’s a good thing.”
Mountain Creamery, 33 Central Street, Woodstock, 457-1715
As summer days approach, the tiny town of Woodstock awakens. Vermont’s postcard village lies just beyond Quechee Gorge on an easy, pastoral drive that draws cars like moths to the flame. And whether they’re from Colchester or Keene, hungry for barbecue or banana splits, many eaters make the pilgrimage to Mountain Creamery.
By all accounts, the modest diner has been a Route 4 fixture for a quarter century. But one misplaced sneeze and you’re likely to miss its swinging country sign. Inside, weathered, wide-paned windows stand floor to ceiling, filling the one-room restaurant in natural light.
While the booths are rather cozy, it’s tough to ignore the stretch of countertop where half a dozen “mile-high” pies await under glass domes. Cinnamon-dusted and packed with 3 pounds of Cortland apples each, these are the Creamery’s Clydesdales — an American standard that stops bikers and Beamers alike.
Still, most folks come to 33 Central Street for breakfast — and no wonder. With hand-ground corned-beef hash, organic eggs and homemade cranberry-pecan granola, there’s plenty to covet.
Our grail was the promise of farm-fresh brisket, a lunchtime favorite. To pass the wait time, we ordered black- and-white frappés from the soda fountain. They arrived minutes later, satin-smooth and stuck with straws. The tall glasses of cocoa-colored ice cream were just milky enough to sip, and so rich we glanced around in search of the neighborhood herd.
Truth is, Mountain Creamery ships in its milk from Massachusetts-based HP Hood, but nearly all of its meat and produce are sourced much closer to home. Owners Boris and Sheila Pilsmaker — who opened the diner in 1987 — bought Killington’s Hinterland Farm in 1998 and have been practically self-sufficient ever since. The family’s organic vegetables and year-round husbandry afford goods such as heirloom tomatoes and hormone-free steak, even off season.
Why settle for a sandwich with out-of-state tuna when there’s Black Angus from just down the road? Slathered in housemade sauce, the shredded BBQ brisket sandwich boasts a heap of slow-cooked, molasses-sweet beef with a punchy vinegar bite. Buns, baked daily at Chester’s Baba-a-Louis Bakery, are soft and porous, perfect for mopping up savory bits that slip away. In lieu of fries, each plate comes with a choice of cold sides, such as pale yellow potato salad mashed with egg and minced carrot. The delicate concoction softens the meal’s prevailing tang.
Farm-to-restaurant specials include the Creamery’s fresh-pulled ham sandwich, stacked with Swiss cheese and coleslaw. Doesn’t sound like much more than a melt, but the prized pork stands tall. Hinterland’s Tamworth swine are a lean breed, producing superbly flavored meat without excess fat. Cured and smoked right in town, the ribbons of ham we sampled were succulent and subtly salty. You’ll want to order seconds, but it may be better to save room for the cold treats that await.
Savvy diners break for a postprandial stroll before charging into the Creamery’s bakery. Spare though it is, the garden-level shop — attached to the main structure with a separate entrance — sells pies and small-batch ice cream even after the diner closes.
Pistachio was a purist’s delight: two ivory scoops, oversized and speckled with gray-green nuts. Unsalted, the chewy kernels provided bite-sized detours from the slow-churned cream and sweet pistachio extract. Cones are fine, but waffle bowls come as thick as rolled pancakes and are cooked to a crisp.
Grab one and wander over to Teagle’s Landing — a sylvan oasis just steps away. There you’ll find Kedron Brook winding lazily on its way to the Ottauquechee River. And, chances are, a few moments of bliss.
Jia Indian Restaurant, 377 West Street, Rutland, 773-0066
West Street Corner Store is known in Rutland as the cheapest spot around for gas. Less than a mile from downtown, it’s convenient, too. But more than cheap fuel and a great location recommends the station: A counter inside serves what may be the best Indian food in Vermont.
When Rajesh Harchind opened the pit stop four years ago, offering his native cuisine was not part of the plan. He did sell food from a deli counter near the front of the store — remnants of that initial foray exist in the form of 99-cent pizza slices and sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches stacked by the register. But when Harchind and his co-owner father and brother prepared their own lunches at the counter, customers found the aromas alluring. Today, the American-style items share space with Indian flatbread sandwiches.
Harchind’s father, Ranjit, is no stranger to introducing Americans to Indian food. When the family first arrived in the United States, he supported them by cooking in Boston-area restaurants.
Three years ago, overwhelmed by requests for him to ply his trade from the gas station, Ranjit developed a menu based on the fare he’d practiced in Beantown. The Harchinds officially opened Jia Indian Restaurant, named for Rajesh’s now 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, inside the station.
Pump-side fare doesn’t usually inspire confidence, and newcomers may have doubts that the complex, aromatic qualities of Indian food can be pulled off in such a venue. Leave them at the door; this is the real deal.
Ranjit taught his sons well. Everything is made from scratch, including house-made paneer, the farmer cheese used as a meat-free protein by many Hindu vegetarians. At Jia, the cheese is toothsome and mild, akin to fresh mozzarella without the bounce. The shahi paneer korma is dark red, a change from the creamy white sauce that often accompanies the cheese dish. But the taste is the same — a mild sauce sweetened with raisins and enriched by cashews. It’s delicious paired with the soft, wonderfully chewy naan bread, served so hot it almost melts the plastic wrap in which it’s folded.
Chicken tikka masala, which Harchind says is the most popular dish at Jia, is another home run. The creamy tomato sauce is more tomato than cream. In fact, the flavor brings to mind an Italian-Indian marriage in which spaghetti sauce is spiked with garam masala and ginger. The boneless chicken chunks within are tender, white-meat morsels of high quality. Both the tikka masala and the shahi paneer come in containers loaded with supple basmati rice.
A fridge on the restaurant’s counter, labeled simply “Indian Food,” contains treasures of its own. Gigantic lamb samosas can be heated and served with a sweet tamarind sauce, which gives unique character to the mildly spiced meat and peas inside. Biodegradable corn cups full of mango lassi are boldly fruity and satisfyingly creamy.
Then there’s dessert. The luscious little balls of fried dough made from milk solids are known as gulab jamun. Though I’ve never met an iteration of the dish I didn’t like, this rosewater-scented cup seemed downright elegant with the addition of a single almond atop each ball. These are the Hindu versions of those memorable sweetmeats called “nipples of Venus” in the film Amadeus.
If you prefer a Western dessert, there’s always the candy shelf. This is a gas station, after all.