Vermont’s New Country Cuisine

Getting off the beaten path to explore Okemo Valley kitchens

By Jen Rose Smith

The winding byways of Southern Vermont are made for leisurely drives and afternoons of exploration, with picture-perfect villages and country inns around every turn. And in recent years, a collection of destination-worthy restaurants has put Okemo Valley on the foodie map. I packed a map and my appetite for a meandering trip through the area, and along the way, I found warm hospitality, local hangouts and one of Vermont’s most romantic destinations.

Comfort food: Fullerton Inn & Restaurant, Chester

A local institution at the heart of Chester, Fullerton Inn beckons on sunny days with a porch that looks right over the village. Owners Bret and Nancy Rugg have worked to create a gracious, welcoming atmosphere, with a comfort food menu that offers something for everyone, from a hearty burger to fresh salads and steak made with locally raised beef.

Bret handpicks beers for the tavern’s 10 taps, choosing craft brews from Vermont. I tried a full-flavored Battenkill Ale from Northshire Brewery, alongside a tender salmon topped with crunchy sliced almonds. The highlight? A basket of warm, steaming bread, sliced from the sourdough loaves that Nancy makes fresh in the inn’s kitchen.

Flavor note: Bret takes guests on custom “beer tours” of the state, so he’s on a first-name basis with many of his favorite brewers.

Cozy cuisine: Stone Hearth Inn & Tavern, Chester

This is a local gem—right down to the regulars’ personalized beer mugs, which hang in a tidy row behind the bar. The real best-kept secret, though, is the wing sauce: The chef at Stone Hearth Inn has 13 different ways to douse a chicken wing, and a family-friendly crowd keeps the Sunday wing night bustling.

I bellied up to the bar for a glass of locally brewed cider, which was the ideal pairing for a rich bowl of macaroni and cheese, hot and bubbling from the oven. Like the inn’s burgers, the mac and cheese is “build your own,” and I spent ten minutes circling, crossing out and re-circling add-ins from a tempting list, finally settling on mushrooms and spinach. My favorite part: the full, tangy flavor from locally made Plymouth Hunter cheese (along with an oozing blend of mozzarella, parmesan and cream).

Flavor note: This is the ideal destination for a warm-weather road trip, but come back in the winter and you’ll be dining with a crowd of hungry snowmobilers—there’s a trail that runs behind the inn.

Lakeside local: Echo Lake Inn, Ludlow

Chef Chris Vincent described his cooking style simply, telling me: “It’s like grandma’s cooking.” So as I tasted his creamy Brie and apple soup, crisp salad, flatbread and venison steak, I had a single thought in my mind: his grandmother must have been a master cook.

White tablecloths, bud vases and polished china give the inn’s dining room a special occasion feel. On summer evenings, the staff throws open the doors so guests can dine on the shady porch. While in the kitchen, Chef Chris keeps the menu fresh and vibrant by using the best of each week’s harvest, from locally grown squash to foraged mushrooms.

Flavor note: For the full experience, arrive early for your meal so you can work up an appetite while strolling at the edge of Echo Lake.

Green Mountain fusion: Table19 Restaurant & Bar, Proctorsville

The menu of Texas barbecue and Asian cuisine caught me off guard, but Table19’s flavors struck just the perfect balance. The harmony between the Asian half of the menu and the classic Southern options was especially clear when sampling wines from Table19’s unique four-tap draft wine system. Everything—from a dry Spanish Rioja to a crisp white from the Finger Lakes region of New York—seemed to go as well with the barbecue-sweet chicken wings as it did with the crispy, pork-filled spring roll. Co-owner (and native Texan) Chef Kathryn Evans earned her chops and inspiration while cooking her way through Asia.

Flavor note: Try the out-of-this-world báhn xèo, a “Vietnamese crêpe” that’s a luxurious combination of crisp rice pancake, tender omelet, fresh herbs and crunchy bean sprouts.

Country romance: The Inn at Weston, Weston

Owners Robert and Linda fill their inn with heart and hospitality, and the inn’s creative chef, Craig Cornell, is pushing the envelope with a gourmet menu.

I opted for an indulgent tasting menu then spent the evening by a roaring fire, nibbling my way through the chef’s “best of,” starting with a palm-sized duck confit tart, whose rich, salty depth was offset by crumbles of the award-winning Bayley Hazen Blue cheese from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. The tart was followed by a beet carpaccio, smoked pork from the inn’s Green Egg cooker and a meltingly tender scallop that tasted fresh from the sea. Robert stopped by with a glass of wine from the cellar—they won accolades from Wine Spectator magazine shortly after he took over the extensive wine list, which includes carefully chosen bottles from around the world.

Flavor note: The inn’s sweet soundtrack was the highlight of my meal! The house pianist strolled around to take requests from diners then serenaded us with an evening of show tunes and classic jazz melodies.

Wend your way through Okemo Valley’s delectable cuisine.