American Flatbread Waitsfield Hearth (Waitsfield, VT)

In the 13+ years we’ve lived in Northern New England, there have been quite a few changes to the food and drink world in the area. On the food front, Vermont has had a substantial improvement in the dining scene, with additions such as The Farm House (which was a McDonalds when we moved here), Worthy Burger, Kismet, and Tuckerbox being notable new additions over the last decade (and the first of these are also great examples of the substantial improvement in Vermont’s beer scene as well). And a few places that unfortunately are no longer with us, such as Five Spice Bistro in Burlington. But a recent trip through the Green Mountains led us to Waitsfield, where we happened across one of our old favorites that’s still with us, mostly unchanged, since one of our first visits to Vermont in 2001: American Flatbread Waitsfield Hearth.

American Flatbread is not a newcomer to Offbeat Eats: I reviewed one of their other locations, their Burlington Hearth, back in 2010. And while I like Burlington Hearth (and particularly, their Zero Gravity beer brewery operation), I always have found myself wanting to back and enjoy their flagship location in Waitsfield. Located at (and now the owners of) the Lareau Farm and Inn in Waitsfield, American Flatbread Waitsfield Hearth is quite the enjoyable locale. Located in a converted barn, the place is a rustic experience. When we started going there in 2001, 4-5 days a week the barn was the bakery for American Flatbread frozen pizzas. Then, on the weekends, they;d put away the assembly line, rolls out tables with red-checked tableclothes, and run a very informal restaurant and bar, usually with a substantial wait list for a table. You’d while away the time sitting outside around the fire pit, drinking beer, and smelling the rich smells of their wood-fired oven.

It is about as “Vermont” as things get around here. Well, in 2014 a few things have changed: they don’t make the frozen pizzas here anymore (having made a marketing agreement with another company to do so), they’ve extended their hours (they are open from Thursday through Sunday now), they’ve expanded the menu a bit, and the beer selection is a lot better. They are now open on Wednesday night as well, but not for pizza: instead, they offer up the facilities to Himitsu Sushi, the nomadic sushi chefs that travel around Vermont pop-up style. The lines are a bit shorter now as well, since they’ve got locations in Middlebury, Burlington, and Manhattan as well (and there are also locations of the semi-related Flatbread Company around the rest of New England, which offer a similar-but-not experience that started basically as a licensee.) In general, however, the experience is about the same, and the food quality as good as ever.

Once you’ve cleared the waiting list (and we got lucky this time, showing up with a party of five just as a table opened, so we had no wait), you walk into the main dining room of the bar, and it’s clear that this place is all about the hearth, since the wood-fired pizza hearth dominates the room, with pizzas and wood constantly being slid into and out of the oven. It’s really quite a show.

Menu-wise, the selection at American Flatbread can be summed up simply as “salads and pizza”. They’ve got basically one salad (their “Evolution Salad” with a rich bed of greens served up with a nice raspberry vinaigrette), and about eight or nine “flatbreads” (and improvement from the three different flatbreads they had in 2001): a selection of wood-fired flatbreads that nicely cover the pizza spectrum. We settled on two different pizzas for our dinner: their “New Vermont Sausage” and a “Sun Dried Tomato and Mushroom”, and waited as they made our pizzas while we dined on a large bowl of salad and drank our beer (a nice little fact to know here: American Flatbread is one of the few places you can get the fine beer of Lawson’s Finest on tap).

Being a very hot wood-fired oven, the hearth cooks up pizzas surprisingly fast, and we soon had both pizzas on our table. The Vermont New Sausage is a nice variant of a sausage pizza: tomato sauce, locally made fennel sausage, mushrooms, and caramelized onions. I’m always a sucker for a good sausage and mushroom pizza, and the pizza here delivers a winner: the sausage is particularly flavorful with a rich fennel flavor, the mushrooms nicely roasted, and the toppings all combining for a flavorful experience. But like any really good pizza (like, say, Pizzeria Bianco), the toppings are actually a sideshow: the centerpiece is the crust. And they’ve got a great crust going here: a firm, chewy texture, a very nice char on both the crust edge and the bottom of the pizza, and a rich wheat flavor. I would be perfectly happy with this crust as standalone bread.

The second pizza, with sundried tomato and mushroom, was ordered with goat cheese, primarily since one of our party has a dietary restriction on cows milk, and we were very happy with that pizza as well. The primary flavor here is sundried tomatos, with strong green onion and caramelized onion notes, but otherwise, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable pizza.

In the end, we were very pleased with our first return to American Flatbread. Their Lareau Farm location in Waitsfield was a reliable favorite of ours for years before we started primarily going to their satellite operations, and I’ll have to say, the Waitsfield flagship still remains an enjoyable experience. We’ll definitely be back.

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