Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green Mountain Getaway 2

If Day 1 had been all about variety, Day 2 was much more focused: bread, bread, and more bread. All of it exceptional.

Return to Red Hen Baking Co.

The day before we'd mostly just taken a look around, found out the baking schedule, and made arrangements to come back. This time around, though, Michelle was all business. She ordered about four loaves, including their four-grain, three-seed Mad River loaf and their wonderfully sour pain au levain, because she wanted to conduct a small survey of Red Hen's line of breads.

red hen bread fig. a: Red Hen comes home to roost

As promising as our crusty, long-fermented Red Hen Baking Co. loaves looked,* our more immediate concern was coffee and breakfast, and the folks at Red Hen were happy to indulge us. And their selection of morning breads was so downright tantalizing that we didn't hold back: one croissant, one ham & cheese croissant, one lemon currant scone, and, it being just days before Easter, one hot cross bun. The croissant was quite simply a superior croissant, the kind of croissant that sets a bakery apart from 98% of the competition, the kind of croissant that secures a bakery's reputation. The ham & cheese croissant could have been just some kind of Americanized gimmick, but with that superior croissant pastry stuffed full of North Country Smokehouse ham and Boggy Meadow Baby Swiss, it was a work of art and a true Vermont original.

red hen scone fig. b: Red Hen scone

Not to be outdone was the utterly classic lemon currant scone. Michelle found it just a touch heavy on the lemon zest, and consequently a bit over-perfumed, but I was mightily impressed, and was all too happy to have more to myself.

red hen hot cross bun fig. c: Red Hen hot cross bun

The pièce de résistance, however, was Red Hen's hot cross bun. It seems a little perverse talking up a bakery's hot cross buns in June, when Lent is another nine months off, but at least this'll give you plenty of time to plan a visit. The bottom line: I'd spent years looking for the perfect hot cross bun. Little did I know that it had been waiting for me in Middlesex, VT all along. Crusty and perfectly baked, subtly spiced, sourdough-based, not too sweet, but also unafraid of adding a little bit of cruciform icing to the mix. One was simply not enough.

Another brief stroll

Loaded up on carbs, we headed down into the Mad River Valley to Waitsfield and its friendly tourist information center. When we asked about walks/hikes in the vicinity, the woman at the desk recommended the Mad River Greenway. The Waitsfield area is absolutely riddled with trails, of course, but it being the height of Mud Season at the time, she felt the Greenway was our best option. Who were we to argue? Especially when the fields looked like this,

mad river greenway 2 fig. d: shadows and tall trees

and the river looked like this.

mad river water fig. e: Mad River blue

The Greenway was friendly, too. One jogger passed us at one point, and as she did, she turned to us and said, "Hi. Or should I say, bon soir?" [sic], evidently because she'd seen the Quebec license plates on our car.

We just smiled and said, "Auf wiedersehen."

Hunger Mountain Coop

EF Co. fig. f: facing Hunger Mountain

After grabbing another coffee in Waitsfield, we made our way to Montpelier and its Hunger Mountain Coop. We were already big fans of a couple of other Vermont coops--Burlington's Onion River Coop and Middlebury's Natural Foods Coop--but we'd never been to the Hunger Mountain Coop, even though we'd visited Montpelier before. Turns out it's not that surprising that we'd missed it on previous visits--it's a little tucked away, and you kind of have to be looking for it. Which we were. You see, we'd gotten a hot bread tip from a trusted source--namely, that Hunger Mountain carried Bohemian Bread.

hunger mt. co-op fig. g: on the shelves @ Hunger Mt.

If you care about great bread and you're not familiar with Bohemian Bread, you should be. Robert Hunt and Annie Bakst's decision to say goodbye to the big city and start up an artisanal wood-fired brick oven bread operation in rural East Calais, VT is a story worthy of Helen & Scott Nearing or Mick & Alida Anderson. The fact that they make some of the finest loaves in Vermont makes the story all the better. Bohemian Bread is a small-batch operation so you have to know where to look. In addition to the Hunger Mountain Coop, you can also find them at Buffalo Mountain Coop in Hardwick, VT, Plainfield Coop in Plainfield, VT, and the East Calais Store on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, "usually after 1:00 PM." We highly recommend the effort. Bohemian's rosemary/lemon loaf was the single best bread we've tasted all year, and that's saying something, because Red Hen Baking Co. was no slouch.

Not that we limited ourselves to just getting Bohemian Bread at Hunger Mountain Coop. Vermont's coops always leave us feeling like kids in a candy store. They're so well-stocked with so many of our favorite things: cheese, beer, apples, bacon, cider, bread, flour, honey, raw milk...

Parker Pie Co.

From Montpelier, we drove deep into Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Rumor had it that there was great pizza to be found in the Village of West Glover and we were hell-bent on finding it. I mean, we'd been eating bread all day--why stop now?

PPC 1 fig. h: exterior, Parker Pie Co.

The Parker Pie Co. is yet another totally emblematic Vermont small-business enterprise. Vermonters love their general stores. They love their pizza. And they also love their micro-brewery beers. This we know. The genius of the Parker Pie Co. is that it's a pizza parlor/micro-brewery beer specialist situated ever so informally in the back of a general store. The atmosphere is just as fantastic as you would imagine, the selection of beers is limited but top-notch, and the pizzas are honestly very, very good. They don't have a wood-fired oven, but they're making awfully good pizza pies in their commercial pizza oven. We seriously couldn't have been happier with our Vermont Smoke and Cure Sausage/mushroom/red onion number and our twin pints. And we took our sweet time to relax and soak in the ambiance before the drive home.

PPC 2 fig. i: interior, Parker Pie Co.

The hospitality was friendly too. Made us feel right at home.

parker pie pussycat fig. j: hospitality, Parker Pie-style

Talk about the perfect end to the perfect Green Mountain Getaway.

Red Hen Baking Co., 961B US Route 2, Middlesex, VT, (802) 223-5200,

Hunger Mountain Coop, 623 Stone Cutters Way, Montpelier, VT, (802) 223-8000,

Bohemian Bread, East Calais, VT,

Parker Pie Company, 161 County Rd, West Glover, VT, (802) 525-3366,

Many thanks to EB.


* Later that day we were able to confirm just how excellent they actually were. The verdict: very excellent!

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