For me, Vermont has always been a perfect state, a blend of the hippie mindset with strong sense of community and being green as a way of life intermingled with unbelievable scenery, great brewpubs and fantastic camping opportunities. Vermont has picturesque small towns, big cities with a small town feel and beautiful mountains and lakes to visit. In most towns, people are very supportive of their local economies; restaurants take huge pride in supporting their local farmers and food artisans take the Farmer’s Diner in Quechee, Hen of the Woods Restaurant or even Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory both in Waterbury. It seems as though almost every little town has a great food co-op stocked with local beers, cheeses, breads, pies, vegetables, meats, fruits and poultry. It makes for a great place to stock up for the next stretch of road or the next bout of camping. All make for a great way to taste the local flavor. Southern Vermont
Vermont has one of my all time favorite spots to camp offering a wide variety of spots in wide variety of sizes. Definitely some to fit all tastes. The area is located off of Stratton Arlington Road, a dirt road located north of Mount Snow up route 100 in West Wardsboro running to the town of Arlington. This dirt road offers great hiking opportunities, the Appalachian Trail crosses it, as well many other hikes and ponds to canoe in. It is a seasonal road and is pretty much off limits in the winter time. The climb up 3936' Stratton Mountain is moderate and almost anyone in reasonable shape can make it up.
From the parking area on Arlington West Wardsboro Road (also signed as Kelley Stand Road), follow the A.T. into the woods. After passing a beaver pond, you will begin to ascend gradually, crossing an old woods road.
At mile 1.1, pass by cellar holes and the well of an old farmstead. In another .25 mile, cross a dirt road and begin your ascent of the southwestern ridge of Stratton Mountain. The trail follows switchbacks and reaches the bench below the summit of Little Stratton Mountain in another .75 mile. The trail follows the bench to a col between Little Stratton and Stratton Mountains, ascending steeply by switchbacks.
At mile 2.8, pass a piped spring, and at mile 3.4 reach the tower at the summit. After the spring, keep an eye out for an outstanding view of Grout Pond to the south. During the season (May through October), a caretaker with the Green Mountain Club lives in the cabin atop Stratton. The caretaker is often available to provide hikers with information about the area.
Return via the A.T., heading south to the parking area.
A Moose wandering in a pond off Branch Pond Access Road
Lucy enjoying some down time off Stratton - Arlington Road
Aswah standing by a small pond off Somerset Road
accessed from route 9 between Wilmington and Bennington
Molly Stark Campground ****
Molly Stark located just east of Wilmington on route 9 is a great fair priced campsite. Wonderful hot showers and fairly private sites make for a great pay per view spot. Enjoy the hike up to the fire tower.
Lucy running down a snowmobile road where we winter camped
Central Vermont is blessed with some cool small towns and great tourist attractions. Lisa and I always indulge our inner child at Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory on route 100 in Waterbury. http://www.benjerry.com/ Coldhollow Cider Mill is another great nearby stop just a little further down the road from Ben and Jerry. www.coldhollow.com/aboutus.html
Some of our favorite towns to visit include Waterbury where you can enjoy a great beer and pub food made from local ingredients at the Alchemist Micro Brew (route 100); wash your dirty cloths at a laundry located next to the Rusty Parker Memorial Park which also offers free wireless connection. If you want to indulge at a great restaurant featuring local food in amazing ways I highly suggest Hen of the Woods at the Grist Mill.
Hen of the Woods as reviewed by Aswah
“Find the shortest, simplest way between Earth,
the hands and the mouth”
Lisa had struck up a conversation with one of our customers at Dayboat this summer. During the course of conversation he had mentioned a restaurant tucked away in an old grist mill in Waterbury, VT that was conceptually very similar to what we were doing… an ever changing menu featuring mostly local food that was creatively prepared. We tucked this bit of info away into the memory banks and figured we would get there when we could.
Last night we had the opportunity to dine there. We first emailed the restaurant asking if they minded a brightly colored bus and two slightly gamey casually dressed customers in for dinner on Tuesday. No response. While doing laundry Lisa called and asked if they had any space that evening. The person replied that they were fully booked with no room whatsoever for stinking hippies. At that point I wondered if they had indeed gotten our email. Not deterred so easily Lisa and I decided the best plan of attack was just to come in at 5 when they opened and beg, bribe or whatever.
The gentleman at the door told us indeed they were fully booked but that we could sit in their bar like area known as the window box. We didn’t care… in fact I would have been perfectly content sitting on milk crates in their kitchen. As it turned out, the window box was actually the best seats in the house. We had views of their three outdoor seats, a river and trees. That’s not to say that folks sitting in the regular seats didn’t have comfortable seats or pleasant views, quite the contrary, we just prefer natural features. The dining room was mix of exposed wood beams and stone with an open kitchen.
Our waiter came and offered us a drink to start with. He then asked if the painted bus was ours. If we weren’t in Vermont I would have feared deportation. He then told us he had a 1980 bus sitting at his house that unfortunately was used more by mice than himself. I already liked this guy. He had me at bus.
We started our meal with a bottle of Vision Cellars Chileno Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir and three appetizers. We had Wild Vermont Hen of the Woods mushrooms sautéed in a Vermont apple brandy and cider sauce served over Red Hen Bakery bread with a slice of Vermont bacon over. Excellent flavors, great simple presentation. Sometimes it is refreshing when talented Chefs do simple dishes unmolested. We also had an appetizer of Rhode Island Calamari with Pine Nuts, Hot Peppers and Basil and the show winner, Slow Roasted Niman Ranch Pork Cheeks on Mustard Crème Fraiche. The calamari was good but the cheeks were off the hook damn good. I suppose if you know me at all you would know that I gravitate towards cheeks… halibut cheeks, cod cheeks, beef cheeks, pork cheeks. I am a bonafide nose to tail eater.
Our waiter was wonderful, in fact all the waiters were wonderful. We wondered if this was in part due to the fact that we were eating in our normal Bacchus style or that other people seemed to get the concept less than we did. The table next to us had no concept of food and came in with many preconceived notions like big scallops were inferior because they were big. We spoke with several waiters throughout the course of the meal. All seemed to be knowledgeable and into working here.
The next round of food and wine started with an Owen Roe ‘Seven Hills and Saint Isidore Vineyards’ Walla Walla 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, a big muscular wine with blackberry and leathery notes. Lisa had picked it to go with my Rib Eye. For main courses we had the rib eye steak with a Hen of the Woods compound butter, roasted potatoes and braised greens; smoked LaBelle Farms duck breast with buttered parsnip puree and braising greens and finally a dish of Sheep’s Milk gnocchi with local sweet corn, pine nuts and arugula. The rib eye was a tad overdone but still wonderful and extremely satisfying. The duck breast went well with both the pinot noir and the cabernet. The sheeps milk gnocchi were amazing with the corn and arugula. All in all a very satisfying meal.
We ended the meal with a few cheeses off their cheese tray. We tried the Jasper Hill Farm ‘Constant Bliss’ which is a raw ayrshire cow milk aged sixty days, Consider Bardwell Farm “Manchester” which is an aged, raw milk, goat cheese Tomme styled cheese and Champlain Creamery “Champlain Triple Crème” that is exactly what it sounds like it is. The cheeses were served with slightly salty crostini’s and toasted hazelnuts and apple butter.
Overall the meal was unbelieveable and great. The downside, if there is a downside, would be the selection of desserts. That night was the new Pastry Chef’s first night and there were only three offerings. I am cutting the new pastry chef a little slack and would hope that the choice of desserts would reflect the ever changing menu with the same enthusiasm as the Chef apparently has. I would highly recommend Hen of the Woods to anyone travelling through this part of the country. Their information can be found at: http://www.henofthewood.com/
Montpelier is Vermont's state capitol and a great city to visit, numerous restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, bookstores, food co-op, vegetarian restaurants and breweries. If you like big parks with excellent foilage during the leaf peeper seasons. There is an old stone tower located in Hubbard Park. Get to Hubbard Park by driving up Main Street (route 12) turning LEFT on Court Street and RIGHT on Cliff street, a super steep twisty road.
An amazing stealth spot we literally stumbled onto during backroads exploration. It is accessed by driving down route 100 from highway 89 towards Stowe. Turn left onto Moscow Road. Moscow Road is a main shortcut leading to route 108 and Van Tramps Lodge. Continue down Moscow Road till it meets up with Nebraska Valley Road. Look to the left for a dirt road called Cottonbrook Road. Drive down Cottonbrook road to what appears to be the end. You will see a forest road gate barring the way. Immediately to the left is another less travelled dirt road that leads first to a mid sized field and eventually to a canoe river access. If you got there you went too far! When you reach the mid sized field you will see yet an even less used dirt and grass road leading west to what eventually becomes a larger field. The last time we were there (October, 2008) There was a small fire ring someone had put in. In all honesty I have no idea who owns the field or why it is there. We have camped there a few times and never seen anyone. I think it must be owned by the State and is part of the canoe access.
I highly suggest taking a very scenic drive from Stowe to Smuggler's Notch. Route 108 starts tamely from downtown Stowe winding thru a beautiful valley ladened with small shops, restaurants and chi chi country Inns. Before you hit the closed in the winter section of scenic 108 are one of my favorite Vermont waterfalls.
Bingham Falls are located off Route 108 in Stowe, about 1.5 miles southeast of Smugglers Notch. Hike down a 1/2 mile path to the top of the 90 foot falls. You can swim in the lower pool but beware both of very cold mountain waters and occassional tree limbs shooting down the falls.
Aswah standing by the middle Falls with Lucy
People used to jump off the last falls into the bottom pool. A sad sign mentioning someone's death sets a somber tone for cliff divers. I have been visiting the falls almost every year since going to the New England Culinary Institute in 1984. From personal experience, the water is warmest in the hot days of early August.
Continuing up route 108, the road twists and turns like a natural rollercoaster thru Lincoln Gap and down the highway to Morses Mill. The 272 mile long Long Trail can be accessed at Lincoln Gap. It is particularily impressive when driving thru during foilage season in October. Luckily Lisa and I were able to enjoy two years of visits during foilage.