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August 30, 2013

Grazing: New Eats in the Northeast Kingdom

Parker Pie Wings at Newport Airport

Earlier this summer, Megan James and I drove up to the Northeast Kingdom to report on Newport, a city that has long struggled economically but is currently experiencing something of a rennaissance as it waits for $600 million in development projects. As we wandered around town for 36 hours, we were impressed by much of what we ate, including a grilled cheese sandwich spiked with kimchi and charred lamb chops. Equally impressive was the locavore culture — a string of community gardens supplies some of the restaurants with fresh produce, and tomatoes and herbs were growing on the back patio of Lago Trattoria.

Two more places hadn't opened yet: An outpost of Glover's Parker Pie Co., called Parker Pie Wings, was waiting out some water issues inside a converted hangar at Newport's airport. Downtown, a former department store was in the midst of a dramatic facelift to become the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center. We comforted ourselves with creemees from the ice-cream window at the Pick & Shovel until we could return.

Which I did this week — both the pizzeria and tasting center are now open. In an effort to get a taste of the latest dimension of Newport's food scene, I jammed visits to both into a frenetic, 90-minute window.

From the outside, Parker Pie Wings looks somewhat austere. It's housed in a corrugated-steel former hangar. Yet inside, the place resembles a funky playground of beer, music and food. A rustic concrete bar is capped with an indoor shed. A player piano sits near an enormous raised stage. From a long counter, diners can keep an eye on the runways while sipping from an assortment of amazing beers, this week's from Lost Nation, Jack's Abby, Stillwater and elsewhere. The place smelled like smoke — in a good way — likely from their smoked bacon. It was all I could do not to order a Negroni made with local gin and settle into a banquette — but it was barely 2 p.m. Instead, I noshed on a garlicky Margherita pie while everyone in the place craned their heads to catch a private plane whiz by the windows.


Nek_aisleBack in town, I almost didn't recognize the finished tasting center. Rather than a barren white hall, it was now brimming with bottles of local spirits, a case full of local steak and chicken, a melange of maple products from Butternut Mountain Maple, and breads from Jocelyn & Cinta's Bakery, which occupies the back corner.

At the Tasting Bar — a cider, wine, beer, spirits and cheese shop — Eden Ice Cider founder Eleanor Leger was busy preparing plates that pair samples of her new sparkling cider and other local libations with bite-sized dishes from the new Brown Dog Bistro, across the aisle. I ducked into the bistro for a quick bite and was soon spooning peppery but somehow light-as-a-feather duck confit rillette and fig jam onto crostini, plotting how I could possibly, maybe, someday move to Newport. Until then, I'll just be making a few very long drives.


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