Scenic Spots for Dining Outdoors in Vermont This Summer

Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days

Scenic Spots for Dining Outdoors in Vermont This Summer
By Jordan Barry

Outdoor dining in Vermont, where the weather seems to change every five minutes, can be a gamble. But the pandemic has had a positive effect on the state's al fresco scene: Restaurants have expanded their patios, installed tents and heat lamps, and sorted out how to make the most of a brief but glorious warm season.

This summer, the Seven Days food team will be highlighting Vermont's restaurant decks, patios and picnic tables in a new series called "Dining Out." We'll explore lakeside lobster roll destinations, pizza down on the farm and hidden urban cocktail spots. To kick things off, here are three picturesque places — for breakfast, lunch and dinner — that give new meaning to going out to eat.

Blank Page Café
200 Leduc Farm Dr., Shelburne

Blank Page Café has been serving coffee and gluten-free pastries at Bread & Butter Farm on the Shelburne-South Burlington town line since 2016. In early June 2020, the café started brightening Friday mornings with breakfast tacos — complete with farm-fresh ingredients and on-farm seating.

When the weather's right, the taco operation stands under a tent in the driveway just outside the combined café and farm store. Blank Page chef-owner Mike Proia and the café's team crack organic eggs from Shoreham's Doolittle Farm onto a cast-iron grill and hand-press balls of All Souls Tortilleria's heirloom corn masa to order, crisping each tortilla's edges on the flat-top.

The hefty tacos feature a different local protein every week: pulled pork from Agricola Farm in Panton, chorizo from Vermont Salumi in Barre, or barbacoa made with Bread & Butter's beef. Slightly melted Cabot cheddar holds it all together, while scallions, red cabbage and cilantro pack a punch of flavor and crunch.

The café and farm store will be open Monday through Saturday this summer. Breakfast tacos are available for pickup every Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon; online preordering is recommended, but walk-up orders are welcome until the tacos sell out. Blank Page will also be adding once-a-month Saturday brunch, with offerings such as a Vermont Salumi maple breakfast sausage and root vegetable hash with wild ramps.

The café's maple cold-brew, made with beans from Brio Coffeeworks in Burlington, goes particularly well with a breakfast taco and a sweet treat. Bring it all to one of the farm's picnic tables.

The experience of sitting near a greenhouse full of growing plants and taking in the buzz of a busy morning on the farm might be the most magical ingredient of them all.

Sissy's Kitchen
10 West St., Middletown Springs, 235-2000

Sissy's Kitchen puts the "home" in home-style. Former Dorset Inn owner and chef Sissy Hicks has been serving breakfast classics, hearty sandwiches, and heat-and-eat dinners from a house in the center of Middletown Springs' idyllic village since 2008.

"It's a comfortable little spot," Hicks said of her country kitchen.

The sandwich menu is colorfully scrawled on a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard, tucked between an old woodstove and the kitchen's entrance. Options such as the veggie-loaded Bene wrap and fried pollock on a homemade bun — all served with a choice of German potato salad or coleslaw — are best enjoyed during a backyard picnic in Sissy's extensive, well-manicured gardens.

Patrons can grab a picnic table amid the hydrangeas, settle into an Adirondack chair under a willow tree, or toss a blanket between the rows of raised beds filled with cabbage, leeks, carrots and herbs.

Hicks uses the produce from these gardens, along with ingredients sourced from nearby farms, throughout her menu — as well as in her line of jams made from local berries.

"In the wintertime, there's no seating except for the front porch," Hicks said. "But people sometimes sit out in the cold anyway."

The lack of indoor seating means that the majority of cold-weather business has always centered on the to-go cooler, with locals and tourists alike taking out home-cooked dinners. That model has kept Hicks busy during the pandemic, though she adapted to add online ordering and porch-side pickup.

The fare changes every week, ranging from braised lamb shank with beans, kale and carrot topped with feta, to pan-seared halibut filet with orange sherry and honey glaze, served with forbidden black rice and green beans.

Sissy's is a destination, no matter the season. The restaurant only takes cash or check, but in a pinch Grant's Village Store down the street will give desperate diners cash back. With only a slightly admonishing tone, the cashier is likely to say, "You must be going to Sissy's."

Starry Night Café
5371 Route 7, Ferrisburgh, 877-6316

Aromas of oregano, thyme, chives, rosemary, sage and lavender fill the air on the patio hidden behind Ferrisburgh's Starry Night Café. The seasonally driven kitchen uses its fair share of fragrant herbs, and as the weather warms and the growing season takes off, they come directly from the gardens out back.

"It smells amazing back there," said Kelly Sutton, manager of the fine-dining spot. With a pond vista and ample flower gardens, the place looks amazing, too.

The stone patio has six tables — two of which seat two people, while the rest seat up to five. With the addition of three heaters, the restaurant has extended its outdoor season; patrons dined al fresco during April's warm spell this year, and Sutton expects the tables to be popular through late fall.

Starry Night holds indoor tables for its outdoor bookings in case of rain, and the popular four-season porch — complete with a stone fireplace and cathedral ceiling — offers enclosed dining with a pleasant breeze no matter the weather.

The restaurant's spring menu is full of local produce that celebrates the season, including a radish salad with strawberry whipped feta, greens and pickled shallots topped with radish-green vinaigrette. Entrées such as matcha-dusted confit duck leg, grilled strip steak with crab and asparagus, and herb tagliatelle will be available until the summer menu arrives around the end of June, Sutton said.

Even the cocktails get in on the seasonal fun — and the garden's herbs, when they're ready. The Rhuby Slippers combines vodka with rhubarb purée, fresh basil, lemon and soda for a refreshing springtime spritz.

Starry Night has developed an extensive to-go menu during the pandemic, offering complete meals, side dishes, desserts, wine and cocktails for customers to take home. With bright tulips beckoning from the patio, though, it's hard to resist dining on-site.

Outdoor dining

Photo courtesy of Starry Night Cafe

Also try...
Al's French Frys, South Burlington
American Flatbread at Lareau Farm, Waitsfield,
The Copper Grouse, Manchester
Edson Hill, Stowe
Hero's Welcome General Store, North Hero
The Kitchen Table Bistro, Richmond
Lost Monarch Craft Coffee at the Stone Mill Public Market, Middlebury
Philo Ridge Farm, Charlotte

About the series

This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run seasonally, presenting curated excursions in every corner of Vermont. The idea is to highlight the state's restaurants, retailers, attractions and outdoor adventures so Vermonters and visitors alike can plan safe, local trips and discover new corners of the state. Happy traveling, and stay safe.