Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aswah's VDUB Travel Guide to the Galaxy

ASWAH's Travel Hints

For those of us Volkswagen owners that enjoy life slightly off the beaten path there are no great guides printed, no great listing of microbrews, food co-ops, natural attractions, coffee shops, mechanics or restaurants featuring great local cuisine. Lisa, Lucy and I have done a lot of rubber tramping across the States and now Canada. We are always in search of the next great stealth campsite or restaurant, whether it be a roadside clam shack, pit bbq or upscale restaurant. This list is by no means exhaustive… it needs community input. Speak up and be counted. Please feel free to add your words and experiences. This after all should be by us for us.

Lisa enojying buckwheat pancakes in the early cool morning of October

VERMONT: The Green Mountains

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

Paradise Farms, West Brattleboro

A great to place to stop on the way out of town if you are travelling down route 9 towards Wilmington. They have fantastic pies, our favorites being the Apple Crumb and the Blueberry. The real show stopper for Lisa and I are the cider donuts made on premises...

Brattleboro Food Co-op

The Brattleboro co-op is a Gilligan's Island of modern culture with all kinds of people happily shopping, working and interacting there. It has a feel of a community center to it. We were there on a recent Friday night enjoying a mixed salad and chicken quesadilla before camping on the outskirts of town. The store was packed with families, friends and groups of teens dining. Next to us was a group of young teenagers discussing why they shouldn't rent dvds from Netflix. One young man reasoned that renting from Netflix put small business owners out of work because they couldn’t keep up with the inventory or pricing. Sure you could support a mass big box corporation like Wal-Mart and get stuff cheaper. But by making that decision you knock another average citizen out of having a good livelihood. Folks it's time to UNFUCK the world. Start thinking about your brother and your sister and stop thinking just about yourself. Crap, got to get off that electronic soapbox. I am so prone to that! Lisa and I love the great selection of local microbrews, hard ciders and great wines. A great place to pick up a salad, bagel or healthy lunch/dinner option. The store has many great cheeses, meats, etc. For shopping for your grocery needs stop at any food co-op in the state. There are a million and everyone I stopped in was amazing. Support the local economy and buy from a local farmer. The best co-ops I have been in are the ones in Brattleboro and Burlington. The one in Burlington is downright amazing. The selection of goods is wide standing and outstanding.

for more info:

Brattleboro Food Co-op2 Main Street / Brookside PlazaBrattleboro, Vermont, 05301 Phone: (802) 257-0236FAX: (802) 254-5360

City Market - Onion River Co-op82 S. Winooski Avenue Suite 2 Burlington, Vermont, 05401Phone: (802) 863-3659 FAX: (802) 863-0227


McNeill's Brewery, located at 10090 Elliot Street in downtown Brattleboro, is probably Lisa and my favorite microbrewery. They have great beers with an awesome atmosphere. I would suggest bringing your own food or buying something from a restaurant on the street. Great selection of beers. I last enjoyed a great IPA. Great cask conditioned offerings! Actually just was there one hour ago and enjoyed three different IPAs... Imperial IPA a big bad ass full strength offering, Hip Hops IPA full of hoppy love and a hand pull Dark Horse... kind of a starter IPA... A little low in hops and bitterness for me. I am the guy that loves huge, hoppy beers...

Maple Leaf Malt and Brewing, located at 1003 North Main Street in Wilmington, is an okay choice. Lisa and I have been there about four times and almost each time they are out of their own beers and have a limited selection of guest brews. The food is good. Last time there I had a great Torpedo Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California.

Madison Brewing Company, located at 428 Main Street in Bennington, is another okay choice. Lisa and I enjoy their homemade root beer, Reuben’s and great French dips. As for beer, I would say they are more beers for people who like generic beers. None of their beers have great character and I do not believe they are trying to shake the tree.

Vermont Brewing Company located at 144 College Street in Burlington is great. They have a nice selection of beers, great food and a nice pub like atmosphere. I generally like hopier IPAs but there's was pleasant and worth the ride. Lisa enjoyed her stout!

Harpoon Brewery located at 336 Ruth Carney Drive in Windsor is a more mass produced microbrewery. It's the kind of place that is great for those just starting in the world of beer. Nothing to over the top or out there for the beginner. Lisa and I happened there once after a great drive thru New Hampshire's White Mountains. They have a great facility to drive your Westy up to, grab the dog and sit outside and be served. The food was great!

Long Trail Brewing Company located at the junctions of route 4 and route 100A in Bridgewater Corners is awesome. Eco beer! Great selection! Cool Folks working there! They now have a pub as well. Haven't ever been so I couldn't tell you about it.

There are many other microbrews including probably the most famous, Magic Hat and the most anticipated by myself, the Alchemist in Waterbury. I have heard rumors of their excellent brews and their commitment to serving nothing but great local fare in their pub. and

Favorite Camping and Stealth Spots

Southern Vermont

Route 142, Vernon Street, just south of Brattleboro ***

Lisa and I tend to always camp at this great pull off (actually a small field by a river - yes mother I camp in a van down by the river). We always like to start our camping trips with a stop at the co-op to stock up on fresh vegetables, organic meats and dairy... It's also a great spot to use the restroom, order a bacon, egg and cheese bagel and grab a cup of fantastic chai!

Stratton - Arlington Road *****

Kaya parked on Branch Pond Access Road

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.
Lucy on top of Stratton Mountain
The Hike (from the GORP website)

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.
Sratton Mountain Firetower
On several occasions I have seen moose. There is at least one pay per view camp site at Grout Pond and one million developed stealth spots to pop your top and enjoy Vermont’s beauty. Explore the labyrinth of Forest service roads that criss-cross the area. The roads venture as far south as route 9 near Bennington. There are more river spots in the southern section.

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.

Central Vermont

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. Coldhollow Cider Mill is another great nearby stop just a little further down the road from Ben and Jerry.

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:

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.

The Stone Tower in Hubbard Park, Montpelier, Vermont
Coldhollow 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.

Lucy enjoying the big open field by Cottonbrook Road

Stratton - Arlington Road *****

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. On several occasions I have seen moose. There is at least one pay per view camp site at Grout Pond and one million developed stealth spots to pop your top and enjoy Vermont’s beauty. Explore the labyrinth of Forest service roads that criss-cross the area. The roads venture as far south as route 9 near Bennington. There are more river spots in the southern section.

Cool Drive and great Waterfall

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.

Route 108 winds thru boulders near Lincoln Gap, VT

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.

Very scenic bottom pool

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.


1 comment:

MotelVW said...

Great stuff Aswah. My wife and I are going fulltime in about five years and I'm keeping all this juicy information for our travels. Keep it coming!