VT: Southwestern Vermont: More Than Just Maple Syrup
One of the best features of living in Albany is relatively close proximity to New York City, Montreal and Boston…not to mention the Adirondacks, the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires. All of these places (Albany included) have great restaurants, but for the most other-worldly experience, the nearby area around Dorset, Vermont (near Bennington) tops the list.
About an hour east of New York State’s capital city, Dorset is nestled amidst Vermont’s famous green mountains (which turn orange, yellow and red in fall). It is surrounded by farmland that evoke the kind of 19th Century agrarian America that Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Houses tend to be white with green shutters and very well maintained. A great old marble quarry is now filled with spring water and provides a Huck Finn-style swimming hole. Farmers markets dot the many greens on the weekends, and cheese shops, stands and farms abound.
Many restaurants make the most of the abundant local ingredients. Three we are particularly fond of:
• Barrow House, Dorset. The Barrow House looks like a stately old inn located on an expansive, bucolic green lawn. We haven’t stayed here, and the interior dining area seems maybe a little too 1960s. But this is probably the furthest west we’ve been able to find great lobster rolls. That’s all you need to know: lobster rolls. OK, we had good lobster bisque, too. The Barrow House doesn’t portray itself as a lobster shack or a seafood restaurant, but this is what we get here and we’re very happy we do!
• Dorset Inn, Dorset. This is where we stay. The 200-year old inn is located on a phenomenally picturesque green, across the way from an old-style general store that has a great selection of Vermont Cheeses. Owner and Chef Sissy Hicks is especially great with “Vermont” foods — she has made possibly the best turkey and ham dinners I have ever had in a restaurant. She’s also great with desserts (particularly the cookies she leaves on the pillows in the inn rooms).
• Pascal’s Bistro, Pawlet. This is the best of the three. A high-end French restaurant, Pascal’s is located in a tiny, quaint town a few miles from Dorset. Chef Pascal Nebois seems to specialize in pressed meats. He makes them himself (we’ve seen him selling them himself at a farmer’s market). We’ve eaten here now three times and the place was crowded each time. I especially enjoyed the merguez, which is a kind of lamb sausage. I liked the Pot du Chocolate for dessert so much that I ordered it on all thee visits (though it seemed watery on one of these three occasions).
Our last visit to Dorset was in late summer. We ate lobster rolls outside at the Barrow House. Few people were around, but Dorset isn’t really a seasonal vacation community. The summer is self explanatory, but the area is appealing in fall for the foliage and winter for the skiing, if you’re into skiing. We’re not. We’ll go back for the food.