A Food Lover’s Road Trip through New England
I glanced at the date on my last post knowing that much time had passed, but had no idea two months could pass so quickly. Suffice to say that life has happened in all its manifestations — some joyous, and others, far less.
At first, I gave in to the prodding of it all, enjoying a real excuse to not write, not take photos of our food, in fact, avoid climbing the stairs to my office to work for any reason whatsoever. Then, there was a feeling of relief, somewhat like that I experienced on my last day of work. It wasn’t a face down in the sand sort of thing, but still. Eventually, I began to notice a quiet nagging that inserted itself into quiet moments, reminding me I had work to do.
So what have I done in the time that has passed beyond missing the people I’ve come to know and love who enjoy food as much as I do without saying as much as a how do you do before dropping out of sight?
After a lifetime of wanting to visit New England in the fall, I can finally say I’ve done that. Starting in Portsmouth, NH, we traveled to Maine, Vermont, Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island with New Hampshire thrown in at least twice. And we’ve done it as a couple after so many, many years of vacationing with children and others. All wonderful vacations, absolutely, but there is something different about heading out with your sweetheart to see new places and things, enjoy great food, and good company — for almost two weeks. The grand test in life is to spend time with the person you made all those promises to in front of all those people years ago on your wedding day and know that you’ll laugh, share a bit of wonder and worry, get lost a few times even though you have GPS, and squabble, yet hold hands. Crying is in order as well if you’re anything like I am, for all kinds of reasons. Oh, the sheer joy of it all. The glorious beauty. I thank goodness that I am able to travel and see where and how others live their lives. It enriches me beyond all my expectations each and every time we set out to places unknown to us.
Then there is the post vacation, back to Earth recovery.
So much has gone on it’s been difficult to care about writing about food partially because it seems so trivial in comparison. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed living life watching each day pass, busying myself with mundane tasks so I can mull over everything with the added benefit of seeming to be more organized than when I began. It’s been purposeful and restorative.
But I’ve begun to feel as if I’m playing hookey. Ditching class. Hiding out to avoid what’s required, yet missing what’s important.
You know. Work. It’s important.
So here I am. I’m back to work. I’m searching for the words and trying to explain, hoping it doesn’t sound like the proverbial excuse written on the tattered remnant of a receipt left in one of my reusable grocery bags. I’ve got recipes lined up waiting to be shared. Lots of them. And even more exciting — the discovery of a local farmer who delivers! Amazing.
But life is like that if we take the time to notice, isn’t it? Especially the very small bits and pieces.
Here are the bits and pieces of our road trip through New England.
After landing in Manchester, NH, we picked up our rental car and headed to Portsmouth for a night’s stay. Originally, we were going to drive straight to Camden, then realized how ridiculous that would be. Lucky for us, because Portsmouth is a very lovely town, and was all dressed up for Halloween. We stayed at the Ale House Inn in the historic district right on the waterfront which made it easy to walk a bit in the short time we were there. On a dark and rainy night, we set out for dinner at CAVA which is quite the wonderful restaurant — especially if you are able to sit at the bar and watch Chef Sessler prepare your food.
We immediately enjoyed the warmth and busy atmosphere of the restaurant, and on the chef’s recommendation, ordered his tasting menu. Such a variety of small plate dishes and flavors to be savored tapas style with great Spanish wine — we enjoyed it all so much, I can’t say which was best, but the Day Boat Scallops, Pork Belly, Apple, Cider, and Juniper Demi was exceptional. We left feeling the standard had been set quite high for the restaurants we planned to try during the remainder of our trip. I would have liked more time in Portsmouth but was glad to have seen it at all.
US 1 took us up Maine’s craggy coastline to Camden where we met with friends and stayed several days at the truly wonderful Timbercliffe Cottage B & B. From there we were extremely fortunate to have our friends’ thorough knowledge of the area to do many things, such as shopping along Main Street in Rockland where I treated myself to a locally handmade canvas and leather tote for my camera from Archipelago – The Island Institute Store, a fabulous locals perspective tour through the back roads of coastal Maine, and an all day trip through Acadia National Park to enjoy the spectacular views from Cadillac Mountain.
We rarely eat three whole meals a day, if ever, but managed to do just that while we were in Maine starting each morning with a light, healthy breakfast at our B & B. We had lunch at the Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland (you have to try the Bennie Mac if you go — it’s ridiculously good!) on one day, and the next enjoyed lobster stew and popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant in the national park. Our evening meals were all excellent, and in one case, an interesting experience as well. Since we had reservations for Primo our second night in Maine, our friend said she wanted us to experience a bit of local color our first evening out. When you live in a large city like San Diego, it seems there aren’t many places where it gets truly dark at night, so driving along the peninsulas through the woods often at the water’s edge provided us with a real idea of just how dark the dark of night can be. When we pulled up to a small, unmarked building at a fork in the road, I wondered why we were stopping. Other than a porch light near the door and a few cars parked around it, the building seemed empty until the door opened and we stepped into the small, inviting atmosphere of a pub whose walls and ceiling were lined with colorful lobster floats. Burgers, sweet potato fries, a great bar, and lots of people around tables pushed together to accommodate the crowd and great conversation made this a memorable evening. Shepherd’s Pie in Rockland on our last evening in Maine hit the spot after our all day outing, but how can anyone be unhappy with a pork belly sandwich?
When I think of our time in Maine, I know it wouldn’t have been quite the same experience without the efforts of our friend Anne who knows everything there is to know about Maine, and truly needs to be in the travel business!
The road to Stowe, Vermont was a very, very long one, but absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen so many barns and churches with white steeples in my life. And although many of you who live in New England cautioned us that we’d be past peak in viewing the Fall leaves, we were lucky to see many along our way.
We stayed at the Green Mountain Inn on Main St. in Stowe and after checking in, walked to Mr. Pickwick’s Gastropub for dinner our first evening. We had the uncanny experience of finding our waiter had lived in our area of San Diego for several years so we enjoyed talking with him while we were there. The food and the interior of the pub had me thinking we were in England again, but the Beach Boys playing in the background was a bit strange if not funny — especially in Vermont.
The next morning, we rented bikes and enjoyed a long ride on the recreation path — more than a 10-mile round trip our bodies were sorely in need of. I think it was one of my favorite days on the trip.
An onion tart and a couple of pints at the inn’s Whip Bar and Grill for lunch hit the spot after our bike ride, but we probably shouldn’t have had anything. We had reservations at Michael’s on the Hill in Waterbury Center that evening and although the food was exceptional, we were completely stuffed and not able to eat it all. Again, we sampled choices from two of the chef’s tasting menus and shared our dishes so we could sample everything. My favorite was the Truffled Mushroom Tartine with Truffle Honey Gastrique, but it was all delicious. At one point, we gazed into each other’s eyes across the table and swore we’d never eat again, after having to ask our server to pack a bag for us. With the long drive ahead the next day, we decided snacking on the leftovers would come in handy on our way through upstate New York.
When I plan our epic road trips, I rely heavily on Google Maps for all kinds of reasons. I peg each of the places we want to stay, then plan our route from the pegs. To help us decide where to book a room and locate restaurants, I zoom into an area and then search for “lodging.” Red pegs appear for the sponsored locations, but there are many, many red dots that appear as well, and if you click on them, more information appears. It’s a great way to find some real gems, and once I have my list, I then use Trip Advisor to check out the reviews. Finally I use Google Maps street view and “drop the man,” or use the little yellow man to see where the hotel is and what the area looks like. Yes, I’m fairly particular about this, but it works every single time — meaning no disappointments.
On our way from Stowe to Cooperstown, it became very important in planning our route for a few reasons. First, hurricane Irene had caused significant damage in the southern regions of Vermont, and I wasn’t sure about heading down into the area, worried that roads had been washed out. Second — Lake Champlain needed to be crossed by ferry if we were going to cut straight into New York, and some of the ferry routes had already closed for the winter. Finally, with so much time spent in the car, it’s always a bonus to have something beautiful to look at. We aren’t able to stop much, so I take my shots from the car to help me remember what we passed along the way — and to keep me from nagging at the driver.
We did cross Lake Champlain at the Charlotte-Essex point, munching on left over Maplewood Smoked Pork Loin with Apple, Braised Greens & Cheddar Sausage Bread Pudding. Yes, it was fabulous — even cold. I haven’t tried it yet, but the recipe for the savory bread pudding can be found here along with many of Michael’s other recipes.
I had no idea New York was so stunningly beautiful! Lush, green hills, big old barns, the Adirondacks covered with fabulous Fall color, and tiny towns that, if you blinked, you’d miss them. We stayed in a lovely Bed & Breakfast, Halcyon Farm, just outside of Amsterdam. Why Amsterdam? Let’s call it a half way point between Cooperstown’s Baseball of Fame and Stockbridge, Massachusetts where the Norman Rockwell Museum is. Halcyon Farm was beautifully restored by its owners, John and June. We had the unique experience of being the only guests for the one night we stayed, so it allowed us to imagine what it would be like to live in a large, old house. John and Jean kept us company as we ate breakfast and told us about how they’d found the farm, restored the house, and barely missed the devastating flooding caused by Irene. Lovely people, and a lovely, quiet place to stay if you’re passing near Amsterdam, NY — the egg and cheese omelet served for breakfast alone is worth it.
We arrived in Stockbridge after spending the morning in Cooperstown saturating ourselves in all things baseball, and counting our blessings that it was a cold, rainy day because we almost had the museum to ourselves. A half a Cubano sandwich courtesy of Danny’s Main Street Market Deli in Cooperstown enjoyed in the car helped keep the drive interesting since we had to take the freeway to make up for lost time. A bit of slushy mix on the windshield also kept our attention considering the nature of our existence in sun-soaked San Diego. We love wet, cold weather. Driving in it, not so much. But we made it to Stockbridge with only one missed turnoff, and thank goodness for the GPS on the iPad which helped us find a different route. Too late to enjoy the Rockwell museum that afternoon, we strolled around the tiny town of Stockbridge and explored the old rambling Red Lion Inn where we stayed. Full from lunch, sanity finally took hold of us and we skipped a full dinner, opting instead to share soup and a salad and to spend the evening in the Lion’s Den, a pub beneath the hotel. A fire was lit in the fireplace, and music began at 8 pm. Wine, conversation, and scanning a magazine of real estate prices in the Berkshires filled the time nicely, and for only the second time on our trip, we were able to crawl into bed without feeling as if we were geese stuffed for Christmas dinner.
A cold, drizzly morning greeted us, so we bundled up and headed around the block for coffee and buns at a tiny cafe with a less than cheery barista before setting out for the Rockwell museum a short drive away. The museum was wonderful, of course. Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of life in America have fascinated me since I was quite young. When I was in high school, I wrote to him and he responded, which has always amazed me. If I actually had a bucket list, I’d say that visiting the iconic Main Street of Stockbridge he painted so long ago has always been something I’ve wanted to do. Check!
Back in the car by noonish, we headed for Mystic, Connecticut, our last stop. We’d nearly made a complete circle on our trip and after all calculations made, figured we’d gone about 1,000 miles. We stayed at the Steamboat Inn which sits right on the Mystic River near the very unusual bascule bridge. Mystic is a small town and very easy to walk around with a main street that has some nice little shops. We were lucky to have recommendations from the staff at our inn for dinner the two nights we’d be there, and it was Mystic’s very first Restaurant Week to boot. The Captain Daniel Packer Inne had definitely packed people in downstairs in the pub, so we opted for dinner upstairs instead — also crowded, but a table was available and two fires kept the room nice and toasty. The long stemmed stuffed artichokes to start were delicious, and again, we should have stopped there. Our dinner portions were large and we had to eat very slowly to make any attempt at finishing. Good food, good service, great atmosphere, big portions. Big.
We drove to Newport, RI the next morning to visit two of the Newport Mansions, The Marble House and Breakers, and do a bit of walking in the perfectly clear, blue skies forever, bright, sunny day. It was hard to believe that in less than 24 hours New England was going to get slammed with a huge snow storm, but by the evening, the sky had begun to take on a steely look, and it was pretty chilly outside. Dinner at Bravo, Bravo just across the river from our inn was very good. Thankfully the inn made reservations for us as the restaurant was quite full. We squeezed into the standing room only area near the bar to wait for our table, marveling over how many people were crowded into such a small space. Once seated after squeezing between tables, we decided to go with the half portion sampling menu being featured for Restaurant Week, sharing the dishes as we’d done at Michael’s on the Hill in Vermont. The Polenta Torte was fabulous and something I’ve promised myself to make at home, and the Champagne Risotto with Lobster and Asparagus also delicious. We finished our portions and were happy to feel satisfied with the great flavors, but not full.
Our flight was leaving from Providence, RI later the next day, so we braved the chilly, drizzly weather to visit the Mystic Seaport Museum in the morning for a couple of hours. Again, no one was there, so it was easy to go in and out of the exhibits and talk to the staff about whaling (gruesome), ship restoration (interesting), and forging (toasty warm) while wondering about the impending storm. We made it out of Providence just fine, and for the first time ever, watched the wings of our plane being sprayed with deicing solution before take off.
At some point in flight, an elderly woman was experiencing breathing problems, so the attendants asked for medical assistance from the passengers. The pilot announced we were taking a detour to allow the woman to get off the plane and we were met by paramedics when we made our unscheduled landing. The entire ordeal took only an hour and we were back in the air headed to Phoenix wondering whether we’d make our connection to San Diego. By the time we arrived we’d discovered that flights were being cancelled everywhere because of the storm we’d just missed, but we were able to get on a flight and get home not too much later than we’d originally planned — sans luggage — which was delivered the next day.
All in all, considering this was the first food lover’s road trip we’ve ever taken, we felt it went extremely well. Neither of us threw food at the other! As much as we enjoy our road trips — we’ve taken two through England and Wales — we think that settling into one place, or maybe two, and seeing more from there would allow us to do what a man we spoke with in England called vacationing instead of traveling. We didn’t know there was a difference, but we think we’d like to find out.
I’ll have some recipes coming in the next few days as I get back to work.
Thanks for reading!