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Vermont Dining Delights That Offer a Taste of Spring


Published March 1, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated March 2, 2022 at 3:31 p.m.

George Schenk outside one of the three private dining cabins at American Flatbread at Lareau Farm - GLENN RUSSELL
  • Glenn Russell
  • George Schenk outside one of the three private dining cabins at American Flatbread at Lareau Farm

In the dreary days of March, when Vermont is cloaked in mud and the greens of spring have yet to sprout, dining out should be a mood-lifting experience. Luckily for us, the Green Mountain State has an array of special settings that serve up sustenance for the body and soul — whether that means dining by the pastureland where your food was raised or near a greenhouse brimming with lush plant life. And when was the last time you ate pizza by the woodstove in a one-room cabin?

Read on for three restaurants with alluring ambience — each suffused with a vibe you're unlikely to duplicate at home.

American Flatbread

46 Lareau Rd., Waitsfield, 496-8856
Local beers, salads and freshly fired flatbreads inside the cabin - GLENN RUSSELL
  • Glenn Russell
  • Local beers, salads and freshly fired flatbreads inside the cabin

Eating pizza in the old wood-splitting shed at American Flatbread in Waitsfield is like drinking sparkling wine in a vineyard in the Champagne region of France or eating lobster on a fishing boat off the coast of Maine: as close to the source as you can get.

The shed was built in 2001 by George Schenk, who founded the original American Flatbread 37 years ago. In the simple wood-frame structure with a dirt floor, he and others split the logs that fired the pizza oven. Schenk also made the oven, crafting it from local clay that he shaped around an armature of alder saplings.

These days, the logs that fuel the oven are delivered split. So Schenk transformed the shed into a private dining cabin, one of three open by reservation to parties of up to six. (The restaurant dining room is temporarily closed, with tentative plans to reopen in May; food is available to-go.)

The woodshed is past the gardens and greenhouses on the 25-acre Lareau Farm, where Flatbread settled in 1991; the farm is a source of its ingredients. A lone balsam fir growing outside the cabin door is a guidepost to the building. Inside, a woodstove warms the space, and a stack of split logs invites stoking. A red-checkered tablecloth covers a table in the center of the room. The flame of a single candle complements the glow of a lamp and a string of lights that hang above a window.

"It's pretty rustic," Schenk said on a February evening in the shed, "but beguiling in its own way."

The three private dining spaces at Lareau Farm include the woodshed, a heated and insulated office, and the Christmas Tree Log Cabin. The latter has a stone fireplace and is used during the holidays as a warming hut for folks who participate in an annual Christmas tree sale to benefit Harwood Union High School.

"It's a great little place for little kids," Schenk, 69, said. "Magical."

The dining huts are available by reservation in 90-minute blocks and at no additional cost to a meal. Schenk established the option, designed for safe dining during the pandemic, in mid-December, and it will continue into the spring.

Parties place their orders by phone a few hours before their reservation. Dinner is timed for the guests' arrival, which gives them the full 90 minutes to enjoy pizza, salad, drinks and dessert in their cabin.

My party on a recent Friday included longtime Flatbread regulars, and we had our order ready when a staffer called for it: a Punctuated Equilibrium pie (olives, onions, red peppers and goat cheese) with pepperoni, and a second flatbread that was divided in two: half Medicine Wheel (cheese, tomato sauce, herbs) and half Revolution (onions and mushrooms). We each had an Evolution salad — a must-eat, with its standout raspberry-ginger-tamari vinaigrette — and a local beer.

In the cabin, we unpacked our salads and fresh-from-the-oven flatbreads and ate by candlelight. The setting offered all we needed: warmth, family and flavorful pies just minutes out of the fire. I stood by the woodstove to finish my beer and wished I could move into the cabin.

On that evening, the reservation after ours happened to belong to Schenk, his wife and some friends. It was the first time he shared pizzas with friends in the wood-splitting shed he built two decades ago. A few days after the meal, Schenk told me by phone that eating in the woodshed was a "fabulous experience." (I concur.)

"One of the things that's powerful about it is, it's so in contrast to our normal understanding of shelter," Schenk said. "It's kind of reaching back to the very beginnings of how people imagined shelter.

"And, in some ways, it parallels the beginning of Flatbread," he continued, "which was reaching back to the beginnings of bread baking."

Cloudland Farm

1101 Cloudland Rd., North Pomfret, 457-2599
Outdoor dining at Cloudland Farm - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Outdoor dining at Cloudland Farm

About a century after the Emmons family's 1908 purchase of Cloudland Farm in North Pomfret, the current Emmons clan added a feature to the agricultural enterprise: on-farm dining.

On their 1,000-acre property near Woodstock, Bill and Cathy Emmons raise Angus cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys. They also grow some produce and tend the apple trees.

In 2010, the couple opened a restaurant at Cloudland, where they offer three-course, prix fixe dinners ($55) that change with the harvest.

"There's not a lot of farm-to-table dining where you're actually on the farm," she said. "All the meats that we serve come right from Cloudland."

A pair of meals in mid-February highlighted the farm's beef with a brisket entrée one night and a strip loin the next. Accompanying dishes included beef chili, cheddar gnudi with shaved turnips and carrots, warm potato salad, and parsnip cake.

Beef tenderloin at Cloudland Farm - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Beef tenderloin at Cloudland Farm

The meat is amazing, but chef Mike Borraccio will prepare a vegetarian entrée and accommodate other dietary requests made in advance. Borraccio, who grew up in a restaurant family in Michigan, regularly makes homemade pastas.

At an elevation of roughly 1,450 feet, Cloudland is located about four miles up a dirt lane. Guests are welcome to stroll the road near the restaurant, Emmons said, where they might see grazing animals on the surrounding farmland.

More avid hikers pass through Cloudland on the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the farm on its 2,190-mile route from Georgia to Maine. In past years, those hikers often stopped at Cloudland's farm store to fill their backpacks. Due to COVID-19, farm store access and hours are limited, but the store is open during restaurant service.

Peach salad at Cloudland Farm - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Peach salad at Cloudland Farm

The farm restaurant is closed for the month of March and will reopen in April for service on Friday and Saturday nights. Dinner menus are posted on Tuesday; expect ramps, rhubarb and other early spring crops to appear on upcoming menus. The meals could be served by Meg Emmons, one of Bill and Cathy's three grown children.

"She's wherever we need her," Cathy said. "A server or in the kitchen."

In that respect, Meg takes after her mom.

"I am on the farm and in the restaurant," Cathy said. "I'm at the restaurant every night we're open."

Garden of Eatin' Café

472 Marshall Ave., Williston, 872-7687
Maple, apple and butternut bisque and the Vermonter sandwich at Garden of Eatin' Café - FILE: JORDAN BARRY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Jordan Barry ©️ Seven Days
  • Maple, apple and butternut bisque and the Vermonter sandwich at Garden of Eatin' Café

With its close proximity to the calming influence of bromeliads, cacti, Norfolk Island pines and jade plants, the Garden of Eatin' Café in Williston is a refuge from big-box shopping and suburban sprawl — not to mention a verdant spot for a quick bite.

The café, open daily, is in the Williston location of Gardener's Supply. The counter-service eatery offers a selection of housemade soups, sandwiches, frittatas and wraps.

Inside the greenhouse at the Williston location of Gardener's Supply - FILE: JORDAN BARRY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Jordan Barry ©️ Seven Days
  • Inside the greenhouse at the Williston location of Gardener's Supply

Table seating is available next to the café; in non-pandemic times, customers can carry their food to tables in the greenhouse section of the store. There is also seasonal dining outdoors.

Even with the tropical setting of the greenhouse off-limits to diners for the time being, customers can stroll the plant aisles after lunching on a bowl of Long Trail cheddar ale soup and a Caprese sandwich.

With gardening days on the near horizon, diners might be inspired to do more than browse. After all, a houseplant can help carry you through mud season, and there are seeds and bulbs packed with the promise of warmer days.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Taste of Spring | Dining delights in mud season and beyond"

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