Alice Eats: The Weekend
Sorry, there's no hot new restaurant so exclusive that it only serves on Saturday and Sunday. The past few days have simply been so food-filled, I thought it would be fun to share how one food writer's life goes when the living is easy and the produce is high.
My weekend started with an invitation to the latest in NECI's series of Slow Food benefit dinners. Executive Chef Tom Bivins thought it would be funny to see a meat-obsessed gal like me at the vegan dinner prepared by his students. It began with a "raw bar" featuring several samples of pickled perfection: garlic scapes, carrots and even finely sliced watermelon. And there was toast spread with herb pesto and topped with mint "caviar."
Five students were responsible for conceptualizing one course each. Highlights included a robustly spiced tomatillo soup with vegan sour cream, and a peach-and-raspberry melba on a tea cracker with almond-milk-based sweet tea ice cream.
The next day, I more than made up for my meat-free evening at the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue. My first stop was at I Que's booth, where John Delpha — chef at The Belted Cow Bistro — and his team were selling heavy paper containers of sweet, meaty ribs, plus cha siu pork over sesame-redolent fried rice. I Que's main competition for the honor of being the highest ranking barbecue team in the northeast is Massachusetts-based I Smell Smoke.
I can honestly say, without bias, that I did not. I had a bite of I Smell Smoke's pulled pork sandwich and threw it away: It was mushy, smoke-free and under seasoned. I was a fan of their 'Poon dog, however. The beer brat dipped in beer batter and fried had every bit of flavor the pork was lacking.
A Burlington-based team ran away with the New England Barbecue Society's prize for Rookie of the Year. Eric Gray of Sweet Breathe BBQ admits that he forgot the ingredients for his glaze, but still managed to place fourth overall in the chicken category. I didn't get to try his wings, but his tender ribs were brushed with a unique maple-and-ginger sauce. Overall, the BBQ fest was not what it's cracked up to be. In 95-degree heat, my head was pounding too much to put down all the pork I wanted to.
That evening, some friends and I stopped at Patchwork Farm in East Hardwick for a pizza party. Though the farm is not open to the public, the Emers family sells its creative loaves, bagels, bialys and foccacia all over the Northeast Kingdom. Baker Charlie Emers is considering opening a shop in downtown Hardwick, and I hope he does. The meal started with tart homemade lemonade and a farm-fresh salad, featuring some of the sweetest tomatoes I've ever tasted. Charlie then presented pie after pie from his wood-burning oven. My favorites were the tomato-basil, and one covered in zucchini and lots of fresh mozzarella. I brought home a luscious blue-cheese-and-walnut loaf for later.
The next day, after seeing South Pacific at the Hyde Park Opera House, I wandered across the street for high tea. That's right: On Thursday and Sunday afternoons, an inn called The Governor's House serves a delicious house blend of black tea with all the trimmings. Since I dropped in without notice, I missed the impressive line-up of tea cakes, but was still treated to an ample sampling of ladylike delights. There were delicious curried chicken and cucumber sandwiches, with crusts cut off, naturally. The proprietor also took time to make two different types of scones: a melt-in-the-mouth cranberry and chocolate version, and plain, buttery and flaky ones best blobbed with jam and clotted cream.
Yesterday, I hit my first Vermont Fresh Network dinner of the year at Ariel's in Brookfield. The hour-long drive was easily worth it. The meal began with a cube of pork belly sitting on a slice of pickled watermelon. A straight line of crackling was laid diagonally across the meat like a piece of modern architecture, and it all sat in a delicate pool of mint vinaigrette. Other courses included a deconstructed pork posole — which perfectly captured the flavors of the Mexican stew — and a crowd-pleasing chicken confit over grits and garlic jus. The crisp, salty skin would have been a worthy meal on its own. My weekend of gluttony ended with a trio of berry desserts: sweet sorbet with wild raspberries and blackberries, blackberry clafoutis and ideally balanced blueberry crisp.
Here's the best part of my foodie weekend: Except for the visit to Patchwork Farm, I didn't do anything you can't. There's still plenty of summer fun to be had. My advice is to try a Fresh Network dinner, hit a festival and dine with friends whenever you can!