Friday, August 17, 2007
Traveling Gluten-Free in Central Vermont
My mom came to stay with the girls for two days and two nights, so Dan and I headed off for a romantic 48-hour trip to Montpelier, Vermont. Both of us had never been there before and we love country drives, book hunting and small cities, so this turned out to be a very relaxing and interesting trip. As parents, we are also counting down the days until school starts, so it was a much-needed break.
We drove small highways into Montpelier, the state capital, which has a lovely gold-domed capitol building featuring lots of Vermont granite and marble and topped with a statue of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. There were lots of young folks playing frisbee, reading and basking in the sun on the Capitol lawns and we joined them the next day to loll about with our books. But the first order of the day was to scout the bookstores and find some lunch. We first stopped at Bear Pond Books, a new bookstore with lots of unusual titles and a great children's section upstairs. Got a couple of great books, then headed across the street to Rivendell Books, a used bookstore with lots of new remaindered titles. Rivendell Books has the added attraction of Veruca, the resident tortoise, whom I almost stepped on while in my book trance.
Feeling faint from our biblio-exertions, we needed some lunch, so after a walk around the funky downtown we decided upon Rhapsody Natural Foods, which was so good we ate there the next night. The place is painted a vibrant orange with art and photographs along the walls and features a self-serve buffet of cold, hot and sushi delights. All food is vegetarian (except for some fish sushi) and dairy-free, and most of the buffet salads and entrees had little signs next to them indicating what ingredients they contained. Nirvana for the gluten-free diner! The chef was right there in the open kitchen, so Dan was able to ask him about what specific items were safe for him to eat. We loaded up on Caribbean-style vegetable stews, vegetable sushi, barbecued tofu, artichoke salads and many more scrumptious offerings. They do use a soy sauce which contains wheat, so Dan had to steer away from that, but at least half of the items in the Rhapsody buffet were gluten-free, so he piled his plate high and left no crumbs behind when he was done eating. Highly recommended for gluten-free diners and omnivores alike, as everything tasted fresh and vibrant and was beautiful to behold besides.
We strolled around some more in this lovely college town and checked out another great new and used bookshop, The Book Garden, where we picked up a few local history titles and chatted with the lively owner about nutrition (she's a devotee of lacto-fermentation) and things bookish. We settled into The Capitol Plaza hotel, which was a nice, clean, family-run hotel located directly across from the town's movie theatre and unfortunately also across from the City courthouse with its hourly chiming of the clocks. However, we loved the Plaza porch and settled there for a drink and people watching both evenings.
A terrible dinner ensued at Julio's Cantina (I'll spare everyone the link to this "festive", pre-packaged Tex-Mex franchise), where our waitress kept nervously laughing at all our inquiries about what menu items might be gluten-free. Dan attempted a grilled portobella mushroom (hold the bun) and the world's smallest fungus arrived on his plate, overcanopied by its garnish, along with some tasteless beans and rice. I had a tasteless, forgettable item as well, so thumbs down on this one, even if you are not dining gluten-free.
Still hungry the next morning, we rose early in search of breakfast. We would have loved to tried Kismet Cafe for some gluten-free baked products (they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), and wistfully perused the offerings at the New England Culinary School's bakery on Main Street, but wheat was much in evidence so we had a nice egg and home fries breakfast (hold the toast) at the Coffee Corner. A busy little community diner with great eats and a good view of the breakfast grill chefs with their patterned toques.
We headed out to Plainfield, Vermont to check out The Country Bookshop, a great labyrinth of books surrounded by beautiful gardens, and then headed south to Barre, an historic granite sculpting and quarrying town, where we scrounged for books in the local thrift shops and scooped up some Vermont-made goodies at L.A.C.E., a downtown grocery, cafe, community space started up by the late and fantastic Warren Zevon's daughter, Ariel. No gluten-free baked goods in evidence, but we got some cool condiments and maple candy to bring back home.
Heading west back to Montpelier, we ended up stopping at the cool ReStore that recycles various business leftovers for people to buy and reuse. I got some homemade paper scraps to forge into bookmarks and Dan acquired some big plastic tubs to add to his collection of big plastic tubs. Oy. Then, we had a grand lunch feast at Finkerman's Barbeque Restaurant on River Street which had advertised vegetarian barbeque items in some of the hotel guides. It was fantastic. I as the omnivore had a variety of items to choose from and settled on a pulled pork with kale and coleslaw. Dan ended up selecting a pan-fried trout with sweet potato fries and something else scrumptious and the waitress and chef were solicitous in checking to see that things were prepared gluten-free and fresh to order. They were even willing to whip him up something special if the trout wasn't gluten-free. Everything was delicious and the atmosphere on the porch overlooking the Winooski River was serene. Trotter thumbs up to Finkerman's!
Another round of drinks and reading on our hotel porch ensued as we digested our fabulous lunch and then we walked around downtown Montpelier again, ending up with another great round of chow at Rhapsody Natural Foods.
All in all, a very enjoyable trip to this eclectic and picturesque college town, with lots of gluten-free, farm-fresh dining choices.
*Photo of the Montpelier State Capitol Building is courtesy of www.photoninja.com.