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Carlita’s Cocina (South Royalton, VT)

Prior to the pandemic, one of my more regular spots to visit in Vermont was South Royalton. It has several great places we like, including First Branch Coffee/Upper Pass Beer and Worthy Burger, but between reduced operating hours and fewer social gatherings, we hadn’t made it over that was as often. Early in the pandemic, we had noted the opening of Carlita’s Cocina, a primarily Mexican-themed food truck, operating in the large parking lot opposite Vermont Law School. When I had to reschedule one of my periodic Red Cross blood donations to the Sharon Academy, that gave me a good excuse to go on a short hike up to Kent’s Ledge, and then meet up with my friends Rick and Sarah to finally try out Carlita’s.

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The Cluckin’ Cafe (Pittsford, VT)

During the pandemic, one of the things we started doing, due to spending a lot more time making dinner at home, was investing in a wine membership from one of our favorite Vermont wineries: Lincoln Peak. But they are located outside of Middlebury, and as the old New England saying goes “ya can’t get there from here,” at least not without a lot of driving down back roads. So even in the peak of pandemic shutdowns, we’d relatively frequently drive across mid-Vermont to pick up from their winery in New Haven, VT, which took us through several towns we don’t normally visit, like Rutland, Pittsford, and Brandon, VT. Throughout these drives, we’d often drive by a place that opened in 2020: The Cluckin’ Cafe in Pittsford, VT, and early this year, we were finally passing by when they were open, so we stopped and checked it out.

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The Fairlee Diner (Fairlee, VT)

(Closed) Every once in a while, I’ll revisit a favorite place around the Upper Valley and realize that I’ve never actually reviewed it here. Indeed, since moving to the Upper Valley in 2001, I think I’ve been to the Fairlee Diner at least two dozen times, and I was prepared to do one of my “health check” reviews where I check in on an old favorite that I’ve review before, only to find that I’ve not reviewed it (actually, looking at notes, that’s not completely true: I did review the Fairlee Diner for one of my Diner Day reviews for the long-defunct UVScene website… anyone remember that?). But it’s time to remedy that.

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Bent Hill (Braintree, VT)

One of the bigger pieces of news I had gotten on the local dining scene last summer was that Bent Hill Brewery was now serving food. I’ve always liked that brewery, and was actually a bit surprised by the announcement: the last time I had visited Bent Hill in person (in 2014), they had recently expanded to all of approximately 24′ square. Well, apparently they’ve kept expanding; I regularly encounter their beer all over Vermont, and now they’ve got not only a larger brewery, but a full tap room that this summer started serving food. All summer it was on our hit list, and finally, in early September, we were able to meet up with our friends Rick and Sarah for a nice dinner as we enjoyed the fall foliage.

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Bellomo’s Market (Rutland, VT)

Every once in a while I have various food cravings for regional specialties that are challenging to find in Northern New England. In this case, every once in a while I’m graving a good, mid-Atlantic style Italian sub sandwich (aka a “Hoagie”). They are a pretty rare bird around here (no, Subway does not count!). Yeah, a lot of places will make you a “sub sandwich”, but all too often the resulting sandwich, even if tasty, will lack some of the quintessential aspects of a good hoagie: a flavorful mix of ham, salami, and Capocollo, proper provolone cheese, and, very, very importantly, a good crusty Italian-style sub roll. But among my circle of friends there’s a New Jersey transplant, Joe, and he made a specific recommendation to me if passing through Rutland: Bellomo’s Market.

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Jones Donuts & Bakery (Rutland, VT)

Every year (at least the non-Pandemic ones), we attend (and help run) Ohana: The Luau at the Lake, an annual gathering of Tiki and cocktail enthusiasts at the Tiki Resort in Lake George, NY. Preparing for Ohana involves several driving trips to Lake George, and that route generally takes us right through downtown Rutland, VT as we cross that state. This has given us more than a few opportunities to explore some of Rutland’s offerings. In this case, we were craving donuts. I know, New England is the land of Dunkin’, but let’s be honest, you can always do better than Dunkin’ by finding a good, local donut shop. In this case, our route through town took us right by Jones Donuts.

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Carpenter & Main (Norwich, VT)

After our recent whirlwind trips to Michigan and Alaska, it was nice to be back at home in the Upper Valley for a bit. We used it as a good opportunity to meet up with friends and check out one of our local places we hadn’t visited in a while: Carpenter & Main, in downtown Norwich across from Dan and Whit’s.

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Foley Taco and Bean (Brandon, VT)

One of my more unusual destinations in late 2020 and early 2021 was Middlebury, VT, for both work reasons (a subcontractor runs a lab there), and recreation (in the Fall of 2020, we hiked the TAM: the Trail Around Middlebury). Our travels around there also lead us by a favorite winery (Lincoln Peak), and one of my favorite breweries, Foley Brothers in northern Brandon, VT, a nice little western VT town. On one swing through Brandon after visiting the brewery, we noticed that Foley had started up a new business, Foley Taco and Bean, located in downtown Brandon, VT, so we decided to stop in and try it.

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Oakes & Evelyn (Montpelier, VT)

The big thing that limited my restaurant reviews during the last year’s pandemic was the simple fact that I’ve had very, very little formal restaurant dining. Indeed, between March 2020 and May 2021, Carol and I had exactly one elaborate, sit-down dinner, and that was at one of our local favorites for fancy meals, Pine (for which you can read an older 2014 review), where we had a splendid anniversary dinner, seated at a socially-distanced table on their outdoor patio on a beautiful September evening. But then a big shift happened at Pine in January 2021: we got news that, while Pine wasn’t closing (indeed, reports from friends are that it is still doing well), the chef there, Justin Dain, was leaving, along with manager Emily Chism and Bar Manager James Ives (who has had stints working with several of the better bar programs in the area). They were moving to Montpelier, Vermont, to open up a new restaurant in a space on west State Street recently vacated by Kismet (another favorite of mine, recently downsizing to their original location over on Barre St). The new restaurant is named Oakes & Evelyn, named in honor of two of Chef Justin’s relatives.

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Fox and Harrow (Royalton, VT)

(Closed) It’s always a bit weird that when the various delays involved in writing up my restaurant reviews result in my having a review written for a place that, after my visit but before the review posts, ends up closing… With a usual delay of 2 months or so between a visit and a review, this isn’t the first time it has happened, indeed, you end up with these odd sorts of reviews that are like flies trapped in amber, referring to a place that my readers could never go. Indeed, in a bit of irony, my review of the previous restaurant to inhabit this space, the old Fox Stand Inn in North Royalton, fell to exactly this fate, closing two weeks after a rather pleasant dinner I had. My usual policy is to forego these reviews in favor of working on my backlog, but in this case, I thought I’d share the review in a bit of an ode to what pre-pandemic dining was, and what we hope it will soon be again.

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