Scenic views, fabulous food – a sampling of the Valley’s outdoor dining possibilities.
There is assuredly a certain romance to sitting at a cramped café table on a Parisian side street, sipping a glass of wine and eating a baguette while taking in the bustling energy of the city. But when it comes to outdoor dining, I am not sure even Paris is a match for these unique outdoor dining choices in Vermont’s Mad River Valley:
Historic Bridge Street (Waitsfield)
Tucked quietly behind Bridge Street’s high-end shopping stretch lies a swath of green grass topped with square tables and surrounded by an ivy-covered pergola and flowering bushes. This oasis of rural tranquility invites patrons of a number of Bridge Street businesses to sit back, relax, and enjoy a bite.
Stop in to the Sweet Spot for the hands-down best latte in town, and pair it with any number of delectable baked goods (I have a terrible time choosing between the scones and the coffee cake). If it’s lunchtime, visit Bridge Street Butchery for a custom-made sandwich or house-made soup (and take home some fish from Wood Mountain Fish for later). Or step into Peasant for a glass of wine from the owner’s vineyard—though you won’t stop there, as the staff is so friendly and the aromas so inviting you’ll want to stay for dinner. Lastly, Round Up at the River is an every-other-Wednesday summer gathering of these and other food purveyors, accompanied by live music and an even livelier community. (Sweet Spot: Monday–Wednesday 2 p.m.–8 p.m., Thursday–Sunday 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; Bridge Street Butchery: Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Peasant: Thursday–Monday after 5:30 p.m.)
Warren Store (Warren)
This could be the coolest general store in the state of Vermont, selling a smorgasbord of items everyone loves. Penny candy, a variety of magazines that even the most literate would find satisfying, kooky T-shirts, fine yet affordable wines, a deli you’ll want to visit early or late but not at noon, when everyone and their brother is there, and, finally, a second floor filled with unique clothing, jewelry, and gift items that guarantee a compliment. But back to the food: the Breakfast Burrito and the Morning Muffin are local favorites; for lunch, made-to-order sandwiches like the Number Six (turkey with cranberry mayo) and the Foxy Lady (smoked ham and Swiss) are what keep the crowds coming. Not to mention the oversized cookies, which include the Long Trail—a dreamy treat made with dried cranberries, walnuts, and white chocolate chips.
The store lies to one side of the river, with a picnic-tabled porch extending above the water. Grab a table here, or kick off your shoes and find a place on the gigantic river rocks below. (Monday–Saturday 8 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.–6 p.m.)
The Pitcher Inn (Warren)
In my estimation, dinner at the Pitcher Inn is always an affair to remember, but how to make it even more memorable? Request a table upstairs on the porch, overlooking the perfectly green lawn and the coursing river bordered by grape vines, and relax in the stillness of a Vermont summer evening. Chef Sue Schickler’s food pairs well with the setting, and you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu, though if available, I always begin with the foie gras and the wine that longtime waiter Mason Cobb recommends with it, a 2010 Heidi Schröck Beerenauslese from Austria. Tracks, the inn’s more casual basement bar, has its own outdoor patio. (Both venues are open for dinner Wednesday–Monday 6 p.m.–9 p.m.)
One final tip: If the outside tables are in high demand, hotel guests take priority. As it should be.
Timbers Restaurant at Sugarbush (Warren)
The outdoor patio at Timbers, surrounded by spilling-over flower boxes often teeming with hummingbirds, provides a front-row view of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Take a seat at one of the wrought-iron tables, order a glass of wine from a carefully chosen by-the-glass list (or a bottle off the “30 for $30” list), and settle in to catch the last glorious rays of the evening sun before watching it set in the west. Pair that with any number of small plates (I like the asparagus lyonnaise and the mussels) and an order of steak-frites or fresh catch from Wood Mountain Fish. All this, while restless kids can romp on the swing set or somersault down the slopes in full view. A perfect Vermont evening is at hand. (Breakfast daily 7:30–10 a.m.; dinner Thursday–Monday 5–9 p.m. Lunch across the courtyard on Castlerock Pub’s patio: daily late June through Labor Day, and weekends through Columbus Day.)
Hogan’s Pub at Sugarbush Resort GOLF CLUB (Warren)
When you are ready for spring, but Mother Nature is not, enjoy lunch inside at Hogan’s Pub, surrounded by windows, and take in stunning eastern views of the painstakingly maintained golf course and the Roxbury Mountain range. As warmer weather arrives, take your Arnold Palmer outdoors to the porch—but remember your sunscreen. The Neill Farm Burger is a longtime favorite here—with sautéed onions and blue cheese—along with an assortment of sandwiches and salads. Open through Halloween, celebrated with the Glow Golf Costume Party. (Sunday–Tuesday 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Wednesday–Saturday 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sushi Nights on select Fridays.)
American Flatbread (Waitsfield)
Summer at American Flatbread means you can get a table here without waiting for hours, the kids can join in a game of soccer or Frisbee on the huge field out back, and you can relish this season’s slower pace while sipping a featured local draft in an Adirondack chair. Organic salads, pizzas, and homemade desserts like brownie a la mode keep me returning over and over again. (Thursday–Sunday 5–9:30 p.m.)