We hit the road for the green pastures of Vermont, with stops in Waterbury, Burlington, Stowe, Bennington… and beyond!
by Mr. Wonka on May 11, 2006
Wookies have apparently been exploring the greater Burlington area lately. How can I tell? Well, judging by all the hair that covered our bathtub at South Burlington’s Econo-Lodge, you’d think that Chewbacca was the last one to use the shower.Things started off rather well at the Econo-Lodge, which boasts "New rates! New management! FREE high-speed Internet!" on its sign out front. Located on Shelburne Road, which is lined with all sorts of hotels with varying levels of outward cleanliness, the Econo-Lodge would be our chateau for the evening based solely on price and its relative closeness to downtown Burlington. At $40/night plus tax, how could you go wrong? Plus it’s just down the street from Chef Leu’s House, surely one of the Northeast’s greatest and most popular Chinese restaurants.We checked into our room, and after making sure a hotel slasher wasn’t hiding under the bed or in the closet, settled in for a break after a long day driving up from Brooklyn. The carpet was new, the bed was soft, and the furniture was actually pretty classy for a place like this. We were also surprised to find a fully-functional microwave and mini-fridge alongside a decently sized TV. All in all, despite the horrific paint-by-number prints on the walls and a slight stench of stale cigarette smoke, we were perfectly happy with the room.The other nice thing about the Econo-Lodge is that despite being sandwiched between busy Shelburne Road and a day spa, we opened the back door of the room and heard nothing but the soft cawing of birds. No traffic, no construction, nothing during the afternoon, evening, or following morning.Ah, the following morning, when my dear Trixie vowed to never stay here again. Long story short, I showered first, and after running the water for a bit realized that there was no avoiding it—the drain was more than clogged. It was absolutely plugged up with hair… hair that didn’t want to stay below the surface at that. I bit the bullet, quickly showered, and watched in horror as the water barely drained, leaving a paper, ergh, hair trail in its wake. One word: disgusting!The new owner is obviously trying to clean the place up, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. Free breakfast is served every morning in the lobby, and there’s even an outdoor pool open during the summer. But if he’s going to let wookies stay in his hotel, he should at least reserve a few "wookie-only rooms" because that was one truly revolting bathroom.
As soon as we pulled into the gravel driveway, we knew the charming little Austrian lodge named the Innsbruck Inn was exactly what we’d been looking for.Located at the foot of Mt. Mansfield on the outskirts of historic Stowe Village, the Innsbruck Inn bowled us over with its quaint Old World charm, a host of spot-on guest amenities, and the fact that since our visit was during the off season, we practically had the whole place to ourselves. That meant no battles for the Ping-Pong table, the ‘80s-style arcade games, the sauna, and best of all… we were the only ones using the outdoor whirlpool during the evening. Um, yeah—we didn’t want to leave the next morning.The resort has a very ‘70s feel to it—again, exactly what we were hoping for—and it’s clear that the family-owned and operated resort is lovingly cared for by its friendly staff. Our room was absolutely brilliant: CD player alarm clock, mini-fridge, stately furniture and Victorian décor, a little changing nook, clean bathrooms, and complimentary Innsbruck Inn robes for use during your stay. I’ll just admit it: I’m normally not a robe-kinda-guy—wearing one makes me feel like Tom Selleck at a sexy singles party—but these particular robes were just *hot*, and dried us off better than most towels. Each room has access to the outside grounds via a back door, which opens up into your own little patio with a small table and chairs. Note that if you’re a smoker, do it out here, as the resort is entirely nonsmoking, and you’ll be charged $150 if you do it indoors. Quit anyway! The grounds are just gorgeous, and include a large heated pool, full-size basketball court, kid’s playground, multiple hammocks, and of course the heavenly whirlpool. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the Inn’s proximity to just about everything the area has to offer. Directly behind the resort you’ll find the start of a recreation path that winds its way into the heart of Stowe (bike rentals are available at the Inn), as well as one of the last covered bridges in the area. Indoor tennis courts and horseback-riding stables are just down the street, cross-country skiers can slosh their way to the major trail heads, and fishermen won’t have to go far to find a secluded stream.We could have stayed here for a week, easily. The cute Skimeister Café in the basement is about as picturesque as you can imagine, with a little bar, Internet access, ski lodge décor, and fabulous snacks and beverages. Breakfast is included with the room—I devoured some perfect French toast. And during the off season, how much does all this extravagance cost? $79 a night! Oh, Innsbruck Inn, how I love thee.
Bennington, Vermont, was certainly one of the more… depressing towns we visited on our jaunt around the state, but hey hey, we actually had a good time during our stay. So I’ll give credit where credit is due—checking into the Best Western New Englander Motor Inn was the first pleasant surprise of our brief visit in this old town."Whether it’s for business or for play, the Best Western New Englander Motor Inn is the ideal place for your stay" boasts the hotel’s flip-card brochure. Now, I’m not sure our stay fell into either the "for business" or the "for play" categories—who goes to a Best Western in middle-of-nowhere Vermont for play anyway?—but we were grateful all the same for finding it. After picking up in Stowe that morning and driving south all day, we needed to find a place by 7pm to catch Game 1 of the Pistons/Bucks series. Since the nearly empty Hampton House down Historic Route 7A tried to rape us for $100/night, the Best Western and its $59 rate fit the bill perfectly. Plus there’s views of the Bennington Battle Monument from your room! Sweet.The room was perfectly fine: a small table and chairs, A/C, cable, microwave, newish bathroom, comfortable bed, big closet. We couldn’t decide which extra perk was best—a free copy of The Rutland Herald, or the half-eaten bowl of turkey stew in the mini-fridge.Believe it or not, the greater Bennington area yielded a wealth of surprises:- Bennington Bowl right across the street from the hotel (unfortunately, we didn’t have time to make it, but I did fill my 10th frame with four strikes back in Burlington.)- Hannaford Grocery, which offers about 20 different types of every single product. Huge!- Salvation Army and Goodwill were ripe for the picking. Amongst other things, I scored a campy vintage lamp, a few shirts, John Denver’s Muppet Christmas on vinyl, a few more records, and a large framed pirate ship print.- Dominos, because I’d already eaten like a Midwestern pig for the previous few days, so why not totally throw out my healthy diet and eat a large pizza?That about does it. The Best Western is a great place to crash for the night if for some reason you find yourself in Bennington, like we did. Oh, and I almost forgot—the hotel also has fax and copy machines... wow! Can you believe it?
Shalimar of India is a keen spot for tasty, spicy Indian food and a few bottles of $2.95 Magic Hat #9, the local’s brew of choice in Burlington. Located near a few college bars and just down the street from Pearl Market—which, according to our server at Sweetwaters, is the place "everyone on campus goes for beer"—this modest little joint was the perfect antidote to the pizza, pub grub, and Mexican food we’d been living on during our tour of Vermont.There’s nothing especially significant about the restaurant’s décor: bright yellow walls, red tablecloths, run-of-the-mill place mats, a few ceiling fans, and an odd chandelier that could have been had for $4 at a college-kid garage sale. Indian music pounds from a few strategically placed speakers, and an attentive old guy dressed in traditional Indian clothing goes from table to table with a jug of cold water to help his patrons deal with the spice attack.We were fortunate to grab the little two-top in the corner, near the front window, which afforded great views of the crunchy hippie college kids milling about outdoors. The cheese pakora cooked in chickpea batter ($2.95) would be our appetizer du jour for the evening, along with an order of naan bread stuffed with potatoes and spices ($2.50). Both were fantastic, especially when dipped in the complimentary mint, plum, and onion chutneys, though we were expecting the naan to be stuffed a little more than it was. Oh well, I suppose I should thank them for saving me 100 calories.The palak chole ($7.95), a creamy mixture of spinach and chick peas, struck my fancy for the main course, while Trixie went with some kind of beefy curry she said was amazing. Dinner was perfect, from the service on down to the cuisine. Afterwards it was on to Pearl Market to grab some microbrews… but honestly, we really went just to be seen at the campus hot spot.
Sweetwaters is what it is—an American-style bistro with mostly standard menu items, a solid selection of beers and wine, and a sprawling sports bar inside. In other words, we knew what to expect when we grabbed a table in their outdoors patio… but were pleasantly surprised by the service, the food, and the beers. Nothing spectacular, but as far as restaurants on Burlington’s popular pedestrian mall go, this place has to be one of the best bets.With the small trees lining Church Street all lit up as the sun went down, the scene was set for a relaxing dinner amidst a mix of tourists and "dreadies" milling about in the area. The restaurant was fairly busy for a Thursday night, but had died down considerably by the time 9pm rolled around. Our server was a smiling girl from the University of Vermont, who recommended the Blackberry Wheat at $4/pint. We happily obliged… a few times. You can probably guess what’s on the menu: steaks, seafood, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and your garden variety list of appetizers, which, if you’re in the mood for it, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We snacked on sweet potato fries with honey-mustard dipping sauce ($3.95) for an appetizer; they actually went rather well with the brews. For the main course, I was all about the Harvest Tortellini ($12.95), a big bowl of cheese-filled tortellini with toasted pine nuts, mushrooms, dried cranberries, sweet peppers, spinach, and a garlic-basil sauce. Listen, I ate every single little pine nut and cranberry in that bowl—it was that good. The tab was reasonable for two people, the service was great, and the atmosphere was comfortable. What else could you possibly need from a place like this? All in all, Sweetwaters beats the shit out of those Americana bistro chains popping up across the country.
Bet you didn’t know those cuddly, lovable old hippies Ben and Jerry sold out to a company by the name of Unilever a few years ago. That’s not to take anything away from the incredibly delicious, super-fattening, calorie-ridden ice cream these guys have churned out since the late ‘70s. No, I mention that somewhat surprising little nugget merely to demonstrate that tours of the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory yield more than just free samples.Perched on a beautiful stretch of rolling hills in Waterbury, VT, the “BJ factory” is undoubtedly the biggest draw in the area. Sure, the Grandview Winery is just down the road, but after partaking in perhaps the most pathetic tasting session ever to take place in the annals of wine-tasting history, my guess is that most people would rather lick the factory’s production floor than drink just one glass of Grandview’s turpentine.Tours of the factory are given daily every 20 minutes until 6 or 8pm, depending on the season, and cost $3 for adults, $2 for seniors (kids under 12 are free.) We waited in the kid-crazy gift and scoop shop for ours to begin; Trixie checked out the “Great Moments in Ice Cream History” collage, while I tried in vain to get Kenny Loggins going on the free jukebox. Our guide rang a big cow bell and gathered everyone around for his introduction, which ended with him saying, “First, we’ll head to the Moon Over the Cow Bell Theater for a short 7-minute moooooovie.” Dead silence. Nice try, but our group barely elicited a chuckle. Poor guy.The Unilever thing came out during the film (with a positive corporate spin of course), and from there it was on to the mezzanine level of the production floor. Two flavors were made that day: Peanut Butter Cup and Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. The factory runs 16 hours a day, and pumps out about 200,000 pints when everything is running smoothly. We spent about 15 minutes or so here, with the guide explaining each step of the ice-cream-making process.The tour ends with free samples, which is of course what everyone was waiting for. As you might guess, as soon as he gave the go-ahead to grab your sample, everyone tuned out the rest of what he had to say, and pretty much filed out to the scoop shop. I tried to thank our deflated-looking guide, but he was a lost cause. Think David Brent getting fired on the day of laughter.Don’t miss the Flavor Graveyard on your way out, where there’s semi-witty tombstones for fairly ill-sounding flavors no longer made.
We were on a mission to hit as many breweries and/or wineries as possible during our tour of the great state of Vermont. By all accounts we came up successful, with stops at Magic Hat, the Boyden Valley Winery, Grandview Winery (which was absolutely foul), and finally, the Vermont Pub & Brewery in downtown Burlington. I’ll be honest, we really didn’t spend too much time here, so I don’t have much to say about it beyond the draughts we sampled… but that’s what you’re coming here for anyway, right? So let’s go ahead and get down to business.First off, fantastic prices on the brews: $3.50 per pint, $1.75 for a half pint, 3-ounce samples for just $.75, and a tray of six samples (pictured below) for just $4.50. We’d already had a few at Sweetwaters before stopping by, so we just shared the six-sampler and each grabbed a half pint of the brewery’s favorite seasonal batch, the Maple Ale, which is made with 30 gallons of real Vermont Grade B dark amber syrup. As you might expect, this one had a strong taste of… you got it… maple. Delicious!Here’s the six draughts we opted for in the sampler… I just pulled the descriptions directly from the brewery’s beer listings.Forbidden Fruit: Light, refreshing, strong biere! 500 pounds of raspberries, sour mashed, and oak aged.Vermont Smoked Porter: Smoked with (the brewery’s) own malts over apple, maple, and hickory woodchips to recreate this 17th-century style robust ale.Bombay Grab I.P.A.: Hops, hops, and more hops! Over 30 pounds of Cascade hops = 75 IBU’s!!! (whatever that means)Billybuck Bock: A springtime right of passage. This is a malty lager with a pleasant Hallertauer hop flavor. Lagered for 12 weeks!The Wee Heavy: VPB’s famous 120 shilling, very strong Scotch ale.Dogbite Bitter: Big, chewy ESB with a fierce hop bite! British Fuggles and Goldings.Fantastic beer descriptions there, guys. From this list, our favorites were definitely the Forbidden Fruit, the IPA, and the Billybuck. Really, they were all good, though the Wee Heavy was by far our least favorite—reminded us too much of whiskey for some reason.There’s not much else to say… if you’re into microbreweries, and if you enjoy strong, hoppy beers, the Vermont Pub & Brewery will suit you just fine, cowboy.
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