ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


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This Week in Breakfast: Mountain Creamery

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Sam and I drove out to Woodstock, VT on Sunday to eat at Mountain Creamery. It was a bit of a drive, about 35 minutes, thus in the category of “too far away” to be a regular breakfast joint. Woodstock, VT is an adorable little town propped up by rich tourists visiting the Rockafeller mansion and people with “second” homes.  Mountain Creamery is doing a good job of providing the authentic Vermont breakfast experience, but with enough consciousness-raising menu items to meet expectations from affluent New Yorkers. For example, the menu included maple sausage made from free-pastured Berkshire hogs and organic eggs from the owner’s Sister’s farm. Of course there was real Vermont maple syrup.

So I rag on the vacation spots of the elite, but they do have really good breakfast. Really good.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled. Note the real maple syrup, and that I had already smeared the salted whipped butter onto the pancakes before taking the picture. 

Never in my memory have I eaten such good blueberry pancakes. My breakfast came with two, along with some eggs and sausage. I could have eaten four more. That good. Platonic Ideal pancakes. Fluffy and syrup-absorbing, slightly tart, with little crispy bits around the edges from direct contact with butter in the hot pan. The blueberries were tiny, full of flavor, and the chef rolled them first in flour, so they didn’t explode blue goo all in the pancake. Each and every bite was full of blueberry flavor and maple-y syrup goodness.

Whatever Sam had for Breakfast

Sam had an omelet with roast potatoes and toast. Three things were remarkable, but not as remarkable as the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself. First, the omelet had apples and cheese. This is a local flavor, methinks, because who would have thought to put apple in an omelet except for people who also serve apple pie with cheddar cheese. Second, the potatoes were very good due to a generous tossing with a mixture of herbs and garlic. Third, the ingredients in the strawberry jam (jars were available for sale) were, “Strawberries, sugar.”

Sam's breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Sam’s breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Back to Discussing the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

If I were to close my eyes in envision my ideal blueberry pancake, it would be just about exactly what I had at Mountain Creamery. The only difference would be that I would still be a kid and my Mom would have served the pancakes to me. Mind you, my mother made pancakes infrequently when we were kids, and I only remember a handful of occasions that she made Blueberry pancakes. My point is that the only way these could have been made better was by adding Mother’s Love. Even the whipped butter was salted – adding the mix of salty, fat, sweet, fruity, tender, crispy… All of the ideal flavors and textures.

I think my ideal Upper Valley Breakfast is forming. The biscuits and gravy at Quechee Diner were fantastic. I think I have effectively lauded the greatness of Mountain Creamery’s  Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Eggs cooked at 4 Aces Diner were made with real butter and left a little underdone, close (but not exactly) how I like them.

We will likely be back… Almost certainly.


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This Week in Breakfast: EBA (Everything but Anchovies)

We’ve had a long couple of weeks without Sunday Breakfast. Last Sunday, I was sick with a terrible cold, so I stayed in bed for the day and kept my germs to myself. As much as I would have loved breakfast, I was still feverish.

This week, I’m healed up, and we went into Hanover to a old-standby restaurant Everything But Anchovies, that has recently started serving a Sunday brunch. I guess EBAs has served a Saturday breakfast buffet for some time, but is only now expanding breakfast service to Sunday morning.

The service at EBAs is typically a buffet – in the evenings they have a pizza and pasta buffet set out. Following that theme, EBAs set out a brunch buffet. Since the Sunday service was rather new, the place was mostly empty at 9:30. The service picked up more toward 10am. We stayed until almost 11 and the place didn’t fill up. This was our first Brunch Buffet and so had to set the standard for diversity. The buffet included:

  • standard breakfast fare – steam tray eggs, roasted potatoes, sausage links and bacon, pancakes, a waffle machine,
  • Toast, bagels and muffins
  • Breakfast burritos (Unfortunately I didn’t have one, as good as they looked, because they all had cheese in them.)
  • Cold plate (lox, onions, capers, tomatoes)
  • Fruit salad
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Salmon with wild rice pilaf (the lunch-like entree)
  • A collection of deli-style salads and greens salads
  • Vegetable sides like roast green beans, roast squash

EBAs also had a standard menu, but we didn’t even look at it. The buffet was pretty good, and worth the $11.95 (including drinks) price.

I’m sorry that I didn’t take any pictures. Sam and I were actually really chatty through breakfast (no TVs to distract us this week), and were well-ignored by the waitstaff, who probably struggle to make a living serving breakfast buffet. We gabbed over a long breakfast, going back for TWO plates each and ignoring our books.

My impression was that EBAs had all the benefits of a brunch buffet – fast service, great for big groups, meets different dietary needs, etc… But I admit, the buffet was missing a “star.” It needed the one dish that was so darn good that everybody had to take a bit. I’ve been to two extraordinary brunch buffets, the Buffet at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC (PDF), and the Brunch Buffet at Granite City Grill in Madison, WI. I could gush for hours about brunch at the Capitol Hilton. The food is excellent quality, the tea service is spot-on, and the items rotate around for great diversity. The “star” at the Capitol Hilton is the fruit parfaits – local fruits, tart yogurt and homemade granola. They bring them out in trays because everyone wants one. Plus, their croissants are very flaky and buttery. Granite City is a big indulgence – a place to goto brunch when you don’t want to eat for the rest of the day. Granite City has a egg benedict station and the chef has ingredients to make 5 or more variants on the dish. Yes, they will do Hotel Benson eggs – biscuit with ham and a poached egg, topped with cheddar-based mornay sauce. Plus, they put out sauce for everything – gravy for biscuits, au jous for the carving station, homemade ketchup for potatoes.

So missing at EBAs was the “star.” Everything was ok, but nothing was exceptional. I guess it came off more like a mid-tier hotel “hot free breakfast” rather than a coherent breakfast buffet.

I do give them a lot of credit for having a lot of seafood on the buffet: lox, roasted salmon, and shrimp.

We’ll likely go back, but probably for pizza and pasta, rather than breakfast.


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This Week in Breakfast: The Lebanon Diner

Note the stark contrast between the white-and-black checked flooring, the stainless steel bar, the pressed tin tiles,  and the “retro” dropped ceiling.

Today we had a good breakfast. We drove down the hill to the Lebanon Diner (Yelp) that is located on the corner of the pedestrian mall in Lebanon. The Leb Diner is a red0-retro. The Quechee diner and 4 Aces used to be dining cars and were refit to modernize the kitchen and increase the size of the service areas. The Leb Diner was never a diner – it’s just a first-floor retail spot on the mall in Lebanon. The pressed tin walls and the stainless steel counter are afterthoughts.

I was happy with their menu selections – basic American breakfast fare. Sam had hash and eggs. I had biscuits and gravy. The B&G wasn’t as good as Quechee diner, but it was made with very good, spicy sausage. Sam’s H&A was also pretty tasty, but they obviously didn’t make their own brisket. The coffee was robust but didn’t taste burnt.

Yes, they serve only real maple syrup, and the don’t charge extra for it.

The bill was a little less than some other places – $23 with tip.

I was quite happy with our experience, but I have to admit, I really hate eating in a restaurant with a television. If you’re in a “sports bar” while “sports” are being broadcast, sure, fill every vertical surface with televisions, pour me a beer and serve up the hot wings. Everywhere else – Please get rid of your TVs or flip them over to the video-of-a-roaring-log station. I just don’t want to see it. The Leb Diner had a flat-panel TV over the counter playing highlights from Saturday’s college football games. The food was good. The service was good. I can’t see myself going back because I don’t want to have to see TV every Sunday morning. Mickey’s Roadside Diner also had televisions, but they were a _bar_ serving food on Sunday mornings before the football game. Leb Diner didn’t have much of an excuse – Turn the TV off.


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This Week in Breakfast: Quechee Diner

This is the second “Diner car” we’ve visited for breakfast.

So, for all of you from Onomonowoc, Neenah-Manasha, or Waukesha, it’s pronounced “KWEE-Chee.” Sam and I had been out to Quechee once before to go hiking at the Quechee Gorge.

We drove about 20 minutes west into Vermont to the village of Quechee to goto their Diner for breakfast. It’s a greasy spoon attached to a tourist-trap strip mall within Quechee, the downmarket tourist area in Close-enough-to-New-York-City parts of Vermont.

It’s also near Woodstock, Vermont, which is the place where Mitt Romney’s friends save each other in their yachts and Sotheby’s sells “cabins” worth millions of dollars.

Tourist-trap “Antique Mall” with a Yankee Candle Company.

So we found the place to be pretty empty, but we were also there very early (8:15, they open at 7) because our hungry bellies don’t respect Daylight Savings Time. By “our” I mean Pidi and Molly – who graciously awoke us at 6:15am with demands for breakfast. Being there early, we had our choice of any booth in the place. By 9am, the booths were full and the counter stools were also filling up. We ordered from the menu of standard breakfast faire – I had a “Hunter’s Breakfast” with eggs, sausage, bacon, french toast, and fried potatoes, $9.50. Paid an extra $1.95 for real Vermont maple syrup. Sam ordered Biscuits and Gravy and a scrambled egg, $7.95.

I ordered the wrong thing for breakfast. Although the french toast was good, it was only warm when it reached the table. The potatoes were good, with crispy exteriors and fluffy interiors. The eggs were blah, but they all are (see more later).

I ordered the wrong thing for breakfast.

Sam’s biscuits and gravy were frickin’ awesome. Best we’ve found out here. Spicy gravy with spicy sausage. Fluffy biscuit. Absolutely YUM. No lumps in the gravy, with an excellent smooth texture with no flour grainyness. I was very impressed.

The waitress was a little rushed, but she was by herself as the place was filling up. The second waitress didn’t come on until about 8:45 and they didn’t have anyone to bus or seat, so tables couldn’t turn around much faster. That being said, we didn’t feel rushed.

Total bill: $23.00.

On the way home, Sam and I lamented that we have not found good scrambled eggs at a restaurant anywhere. Full stop. When I make eggs, I make them very slow, and leave them with some moisture. However, this technique doesn’t work at a diner because it takes a long time, and because the cook works on a flat griddle. I had suggested keeping the egg slurry just at about custard temperature and holding it there, so when an order for scrambled eggs comes in, the chef ladles out hot but not cooked egg slurry into a pan with butter and finishes the last cooking. However, the idea of a warm-but-not-cooked vat of egg slurry causes Food Inspectors’ temple veins to pop out – that’s not going to happen in any restaurant I know. What’s the solution? Sous-vide eggs. This way, the eggs can be kept in a closed environment and brought up just about to done and kept at that temperature until it’s time to serve them. Then the chef can remove the egg packet from the sous-vide water bath and finish the eggs in the pan with butter, a crack of fresh black pepper and some chives or other fresh herbs. I think it would work out great.


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This Week in Breakfast: Stella’s in Hartland, VT

A tiny potion bottle full of real maple syrup. Tiny flower pots full of creamers. Handmade boxes holding equal exchange tea.

I saw a bumper sticker recently: “Vermont. I get it.” At Stella’s for breakfast this morning, I kept thinking, “Vermont. I get it.” Maple syrup. Beautiful foliage. Hills split by green pastures and picturesque farms. Organic sustainable shade-grown coffee. Local blueberries in the pancakes. From what I’ve seen, there’s a different character just over the Connecticut River. For example, Vermont Public Radio and New Hampshire Public Radio were both holding fall pledge drives. VPR met their fundraising goals two days early while NHPR fell short of their fundraising goal.

More compare-and-contrast later. But first – breakfast!

Stella’s is in Hartland, Vermont, which is about 20 miles south of Hartford, Vermont. No wonder we got confused and drove 25 minutes south to breakfast. I thought it was well worth the drive. Stella’s shares a building with the Hartland post office, and a “gen’ral” store. Next door, the local church was preparing for their annual Turkey Dinner: $5 or $10. Preschoolers for free.

Stella’s is tiny – it barely seats 27 diners at 6 tables and 5 counter spots. We got there at just the right time, walked right in and sat at the counter. I couldn’t take too many pictures because we were right in front of the kitchen and I was honestly worried about offending the chef who kept a very close eye on the dining room. I did have to catch a quick snapshot of the little potion bottles full of maple syrup.

I ordered blueberry pancakes, scrambled egg and a sausage patty. The blueberries were local, as were the eggs. I didn’t catch the whole description on the menu, but their eggs are local, pasture-raised, and I think there was something in there about tuition remission and paid volunteer time off. The waitresses wrote down orders and took them to the kitchen with, “Order, Please.” Vermont. I get it.

The pancakes were fan-stupid-tastic. The berries were tiny and sweet. The pancakes themselves had just a little tug but still sucked up the maple syrup. I was so happy to gobble down my pancakes, I don’t think I even took a moment to ask Sam how his breakfast was. What even did he order? Was it good? I hope he replies in the comments to fill in my missing details. Like everywhere else, the bill was $26, including tip.

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Last Week in Breakfast: 4 Aces in West Lebanon, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Atwood from Yelp.

Last Sunday, Sam and I headed for another breakfast joint, the 4 Aces in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. It is an “official” roadside diner, with an old railcar diner with a bigger restaurant built around it. After breakfast, I was on my way to the airport to fly to a 4-day conference. So here I am, a week later, getting back to my notes to let you all know about the GREAT food we ate.

A confession. I’m really bad at puns. I struggle to use them casually and they always come out awkward. So I had written most of his post making horrible card-playing puns and after re-reading what I had written, it was unbearably bad. So, I will spare you the bad puns. Maybe you can add them back in the comments?

Service was slow because the waitresses were fighting with the new maple syrup pump dispenser. They had tiny beer steins with tiny glass handles they would fill with real Vermont maple syrup and bring to the table – 4 hooked in one finger. Like Lou’s and The Fort, there was no “pancake syrup”  – only good-ole Vermont maple syrup. And they didn’t charge extra for it. The staff really didn’t need the extra hassle of the pump dispenser – it seemed that most everything else was falling apart while they tried to serve breakfast. Two waitresses ran into each other and spilled hot water. A small child was running around loose and getting underfoot. We sat at the counter and the waitress came past four times before she was able to take our order. She was certainly apologetic for not being able to take our order, but still… We watched the syrup-pump show with hungry eyes.

Sam ordered the Irish breakfast that came with bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, scrambled eggs, and baked beans. I was weak at the knees looking at the home-made cider doughnuts under glass behind the counter. I ordered one, plus a scrambled egg and some hashbrowns with peppers and onions. Something about me and doughnuts around here – maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Just to note, I have no idea what bubble and squeak is… it looked like cooked cabbage. According to Jaime Oliver, a cockney wanker if ever there was one:

Bubble and squeak is a classic British dish of smashed-up winter vegetables, traditionally made from the Sunday roast leftovers. Use about 60 percent potato to get the right consistency, then whatever vegetables you like – carrots, Brussels sprounts, rutabagas, turnips, onions, leeks or savoy cabbage.

Supposedly the name comes from the sound the food makes while cooking. Only Klingon food should squeak while cooking… gak. (Sam notes that Klingon is closest in the linguistic family tree to Welsh. Mwynhewch eich bwyd! MP3)

I was pleased to note that my eggs were cooked in butter. Bonus.

Sam’s breakfast was good – as good as “traditional” Irish breakfast can be – but the beans were underdone. They needed another hour of cooking and probably once the “real” brunch rush showed up they would be perfect. My cider doughnut was a good doughnut, but not as good as anything from Greenbush Bakery. Please, someone go out and eat a raspberry rabbi for me…

The bill, like everywhere else we’ve eaten, was just shy of $22. We got there just shy of 9:30am and beat the rush.

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