“Can you guess who Caroline’s biggest competitor is?” asks owner Steve Burke, then pauses for effect. “The Village Cup.”
The news could be worse: Burke also owns that bakery and coffee shop. He’ll close Caroline’s on February 16 and, after a two-week kitchen update, reopen the Jericho building that holds both businesses as a single eatery named Fields Restaurant.
Fields will open on March 25 with the tagline “Honest Vermont Cuisine.” Executive chef Jonathan Gilman says the merger will enable him to keep sending out the big, rustic plates that are his signature at Caroline’s without the pigeonhole — and prices — of fine dining.
The cozy area that held Caroline’s will become the new dining room. The Village Cup’s larger floor space will remain a bakery and café during the day and become a bar and waiting area for the restaurant at dinnertime.
The bakery case full of coconut-cream pies and chocolate mousse will soon be joined by a new one stocked with local cheeses and house charcuterie. Gilman is working toward the certification he needs to dry-cure meats such as saucisson sec and speck; for the time being, he’ll sell pork rillettes and terrines.
Gilman envisions a charcuterie setup similar to a raw bar. He’s already hired a chef who will assemble plates for guests, offering her expertise on the meats, cheeses and house-baked breads, as well as on the soon-to-widen beer and “neo-classic” cocktail selections. Those who don’t wish to partake on a couch in front of the fireplace can purchase the delicacies by the pound to take home, along with products such as house-made mustards and compotes.
Since he took over the Village Cup in 2008, Burke has frequently polled customers on their preferences, and he and Gilman will take a similar tack with Fields. On February 22 and 23, a pair of preview dinners called Fields Test Kitchen will allow diners to choose the new restaurant’s opening menu.
For example, Gilman will offer three different versions of steak frites, then select one based on orders and feedback. Other dishes up for analysis include burgers, fritters and a range of grilled-cheese sandwiches to appear on the daytime menu.
That’s not to say Gilman won’t still entice guests with fine-dining dishes such as roasted duck with lavender-honey glaze and pea purée alongside the wood-grilled local burgers. As long as it’s honest.