Boston Restaurant Blog -- October, 2011
Thursday, October 13, 2011
It seems like every year I find myself in Vermont during foliage season, usually doing some leaf-peeping in Central Vermont (near the Ludlow area) or Northern Vermont (Stowe and Jeffersonville). Well, this year, it was all about Southern Vermont, and I got to try two restaurants along the way--both of which are on Route 9 (the main east-west road through the southern part of the state) and one of which I had been to a few times years ago.
After several stops to look at the leaves around Brattleboro, Marlboro, and Wilmington, we continued west into Bennington, where we had lunch at a cozy little place on the eastern edge of town called Papa Pete's. Set up like a classic greasy spoon diner, the restaurant had a good amount of tables and counter stools inside, with the added bonus of outdoor seating on its sunny deck to the left. Since it was such a gorgeous day, we took one of the outdoor tables, having just enough shade from the attached umbrella to keep things comfortable (it was unseasonably warm that day). Our server greeted us after a few minutes and took our order, and though she seemed very affable and funny, I could tell that she was a bit stressed. We soon found out why--one of the cooks was not on the job that day, leaving only one other to do all the work, and being that it was a foliage weekend, the place was pretty crowded. We sipped our drinks and waited nearly 45 minutes for our meals to come, with the server repeatedly coming back to apologize. And while no food is worth that kind of wait, it was quite good, actually, with the open-faced roast beef sandwich having a delicious dark gravy and lean meat, and the turkey sandwich being more than adequate. The handcut fries were very tasty, and the aforementioned beers (a couple of pumpkin ales) really hit the spot on this warm summer day. I had read that the breakfasts at Papa Pete's are excellent, so perhaps I can try the place again earlier in the day--or when I'm in the mood for pancakes or waffles at lunchtime--and hopefully there won't be as long a wait for the food the next time around.
From Bennington, we partially retraced our steps, heading back east to Wilmington, then north to Grafton to stop at the always-terrific Grafton Village Cheese. Then we wound our way back down to Brattleboro, where we had dinner at the Chelsea Royal Diner. It was great getting back to this wonderful spot, which is partly housed in a vintage 1938 diner car (and the newer part has just as much charm, with its well-worn tables and old-fashioned counter seating). The diner's menu is a bit offbeat, with a mix of classic diner fare, authentic Mexican food, pizza, and ice cream, but I've always stuck with the first and last of these, and this most recent visit was no exception. Much like Papa Pete's earlier in the day, our server was friendly and humorous, but unlike the Bennington spot, we didn't have to wait for any of our food. We started with a decent--though not outstanding--clam chowder and a fantastic house-made split pea soup with shredded ham, then quickly received our main dishes. The macaroni and cheese with a foot-long hot dog really hit the spot, with the mac and cheese containing real Vermont cheddar (a big plus) and the hot dog being a perfect complement to the macaroni. The "Buffalo Bill's Feast" was a mixed bag, with the meaty buffalo hot dog being one of the best dogs I've had in recent memory, and the fries being excellent, but the bison burger was a bit dried out and had little in the way of taste. Our desserts were impressive, with the pumpkin ice cream having just enough pumpkin flavor to make it interesting, and the carrot cake being moist and sweet. Prices were very cheap, especially for the main dishes, which were both under $10.
It was nice getting back to Southern Vermont, and it was certainly nice getting back to an old "friend" (the Chelsea Royal Diner) as well as trying out a new spot (Papa Pete's). I'm not sure when I'll be back in that area, but when I do return, both of these restaurants will surely be on my short list of places to go to for dining.
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