Since last winter Vermont’s ski country has exploded with interesting and eclectic new après-ski destinations.
This past summer The Wall Street Journal discovered what skiers and riders who have been coming for years already knew: “Southern Vermont is slowly morphing into a sophisticated destination,” a headline read. Ummm.. we’re not sure when it ever stopped being sophisticated (didn’t Rudyard Kipling write The Jungle Book at his home in Dummerston and Fred Pabst found Bromley Mountain Resort in Peru?) But one thing that is certainly changing: the number of really interesting new restaurants, bars and hotels in ski country.
A southern Vermont icon is about to come back. Peru’s Ryan Prins bought Johnny Seesaw’s, the first ski lodge in America, at auction in 2015. Since then, he and his partners have been quietly rebuilding the lodge and cabins on the 6.8 acre property next to Bromley Mountain and hope to reopen later this winter.
John Ivan Sesow, a Russian lumberjack, built The Wonder View Log Pavilion as a dance hall in the 1920s using only hand tools. He lost it, legend has it, in a poker game. In 1938 Bill and Mary Parrish bought it and converted “Johnny Seesaws” into one of the country’s first ski lodges. It went on to host the likes of Charles Minnie Dole (who founded the National Ski Patrol), aviator Charles Lindbergh and Gerald Ford. During the 1970s it was the site of wild nights around the circular fire pit and it made it onto the National Historic Register. It closed in 2015 and since fell into disrepair.
Prins and his team are working hard to retain the authentic character while rebuilding the lodge and guest cabins. The round hearth is going to stay and as much of the original building as can be salvaged, will be reused. They hope to open later this winter, under the name Seesaws with a 60-seat restaurant and several guest cabins. Also in the plans are a distillery and coffee roaster and shop, and possibly a bakery, as well.
Just north in Ludlow, Eliza Greene and Justin Hyjek of Homestyle Hostel—a place that has a near-cult following (see vtskiandride.com/poshtels/) are renovating an old Victorian building across the street as Main + Mountain, a hip motel. The motel will feature the same, clean design elements that inspired Homestyle but have en-suite bathrooms. Hyjek is already known for mixing a mean cocktail, but he has recruited Vermont Bartender of the Year, Matt Farkas, to run Main + Mountain’s bar. The term “motel” is a misnomer. The building is classic Victorian on the outside and superbly modern on the inside. The couple hopes to open Main + Mountain on December 15.
For dinner in Ludlow, head down the road to Mama’s, which opened in October. Abby and Rogan Lechthaler, who own The Downtown Grocery, have reinvented the old Mama Valentis’s into a classy, family-focused restaurant and take-out spot with homemade pastas, cured meats, and a bar. There’s no website, no phone, no reservations. But there is a killer cured-meat cone, squid-ink pappardelle with shrimp and fennel sausage and, of course, meatballs.
For something a little fancier, head to Chester where Jason Tostrup (formerly executive chef at Okemo and The Inn at Weathersfield) has become a partner in Free Range. Tostrup, who hasworked at Bouchon and appeared on Emeril Lagasse’s cooking show will be dishing out local, farm-fresh fare with an ethnic twist.
Woodstock is never short on good places to eat and stay and the lynchpin of the town, The Woodstock Inn, is upping its game. The Inn has been undergoing a series of renovations to the rooms and public spaces and will be adding a demonstration kitchen and culinary gardens.
In town, Matt Lombard, formerly of posh Twin Farms, has turned the former Osteria Pane e Salute’s space (where he worked most recently) into Mangalitsa. Mangalitsa takes “local” seriously, working with farms in the Upper Valley such as Fat Sheep Farms. The restaurant opened this past fall and is already getting rave reviews for dishes such as fried quail with polenta, soy-braised pork belly and house-made tortellini.
Set between Woodstock and Ascutney, Fat Sheep Farm in Hartland is a working 60-acre farm that this season is offering five newly-built cabins. Todd Heyman, a former lawyer in Boston and Suzy Kaplan, a former zookeeper, bought the farm in 2016 and have been raising sheep, chickens and goats and selling their product to local restaurants and farm markets. The five “cabins” —more like small houses—are fresh and comfortable, come with kitchens and linens and a chance to help out on the farm or to enjoy the farm-fresh eggs and produce. Starting at around $1,060 for a week for up to four, they are a bargain.
Royalton is not exactly a ski town. But if you are headed north or south on I-89 there’s now a reason to get off at Exit 3 (other than the legendary Worthy Burger). Sommelier Jayne Sully Coyle (a Vermonter) and her husband Josh Walker were diehard
And across the state, if you’re headed down to Middlebury after a ski at the Middlebury Snow Bowl (newsflash: the college-run ski area will finally offer beer this winter at its cafeteria) or a Nordic outing at Rikert, save some energy. You can now head to town to ride the mechanical bull (set
in the midst of a padded red vinyl playpen) at The Rough Cut BBQ (formerly 51 Main) which opened in November. If you want something a little fancier than BBQ, head across the town green to Coriander for a “Charles de Gaulle” sirloin steak or a Georgia Mountain Salmon, marinated with maple soy and a drizzle of Rheaume Family Sugarworks birch syrup.
If you want to truly sample the best of Vermont, The Taste Place, in Waitsfield is the new place to do so. The pet project of Robin Morris, who started the food incubator, the Mad River Food Hub, it’s an emporium with more than 100 local products, including more than 50 Vermont cheeses, as well as local brews and spirits, charcuterie bread and baked goods.
Since its official launch party last March, Shepherd’s Pub has been pulling locals and visitors into its space in downtown Waitsfield (just near, coincidentally, the Mad River Woolery). Some come for the live music and weekly dart tournaments (Thursdays), others come to sit by the fireplace and tuck into one of the savory meat pies (or the amazing vegetarian one— mushroom-walnut bourguignon). Either way, a meal in the barnboard-trimmed room with rustic wood beams overhead is just plain cozy.
Up the mountain at Sugarbush, Timbers Restaurant at the base has morphed into the more casual Rumble’s Kitchen (named in memory owner Win Smith’s Bernese Mountain Dog who passed last season). Aprés-ski favorites include lobster wontons and chickpea fries and pork belly tacos or you can dig into a grilled lamb kebob with a cucumber yogurt mint sauce.
In Waterbury, the former Arvad’s has had a compete makeover and is now Allium, serving a creative menu that goes anywhere from Taco Tuesdays (half-priced!) to a pulled barbecue jackfruit (yes, you read that right) to a torched tuna ceviche to Wagyu hangar steak. With such popular staples as Prohibition Pig across the street, and the legendary Hen of the Wood at the gristmill up Stowe Street, Allium adds a new dimension to this growing foodie town.
The food scene is spreading north, too, with Waterbury Center’s Zenbarn drawing folks to the old Tanglewoods for nearly nightly shows featuring anything from jazz and acoustic trios to political discussions to yoga workshops. The tagline “building community from soil to soul” holds true.
Just north on Route 100, Vermont Artisan Coffee Roaster’s new headquarters not only serves killer cappuccinos and baked goods in its stylish coffee bar, but also offers behind-the-scenes toursand Coffee School for future roasters and baristas.
In Stowe, the biggest news is the return of the much-loved Rusty Nail nightclub with a Mexican restaurant, Tres Amigos. New owners Chad Fry and Mark Frier have a great track record with The Reservoir in Waterbury and The Bench, just down the Mountain Road in Stowe. The Bench’s current chef started this fall cooking up Mexican favorites such as queso fundido, empanadas and tacos of all sorts. It’s a welcome addition since The Cactus Café closed. The Rusty Nail Stage features some of the best local talent such as trippy Mellow Yellow and Zach Nugent’s Disco Dead.
There are also more opportunities to buy local. Adding to the Stowe Public House (local beers, cured meats and cheeses) which opened last winter, Pete’s Greens, Stowe Seafood and Commodities Market, The Butchery is coming to town. The Waitsfield butcher will feature cuts of meat from local farms. And for even more farm-fresh fare, head north to the new Morrisville Coop (Mo-Co), which will also feature soup and sandwich specials and baked goods. It’s local at its best.