Last weekend we went up to the very tip-top of Vermont, the beautiful and majestically named Northeast Kingdom. Why is it called that? I don’t know. I found it very silly when I first heard the term — probably uttered by my my mother and father in law, who used to live there — but I’ve now come to realize that the place is so spectacularly beautiful that the description is apt. Kingdom, indeed.
There were two reasons for making the trek north: to visit some family friends Dan hadn’t seen in nearly a decade (and whom I’d never even met), and to eat dinner at Claire’s, the locavore dining darling, in Hardwick.
Yes, we drove straight to Claire’s.
What I want to say about Claire’s has less to do with the food and more to do with the experience. (Though I will say that they offer up some of the best bread Dan and I have ever had in a restaurant — possibly some of the best bread we’ve ever had ever. They don’t make it in-house, but kudos to the buyer who nabbed the loaves that graced our table last Friday.) At the risk of sounding like a Birkenstock-wearing, deodorant-shunning hippie — or, better yet former Top Chef contestant Carla Hall — there’s really a lot of love put into the food there. It feels right when you’re eating there, and I don’t mean righteous, or self-congratulatory, or smug, or anything like that. Unlike a lot of places that have jumped into the rushing river of local-sustainable-farm-to-table-ism, at Claire’s you feel very much at home. Eating acorn squash from two miles down the road is completely normal, not some saintly act to be exulted with dressy letterpressed italics on a menu that reads more like the acknowledgments in the back of a book than an uncomplicated presentation of something soulful and nourishing.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the food is really good: well-prepared and warming, unpretentious, and deeply satisfying. Also, the night we were there, they had on the dessert menu a dish that featured maple flavored marshmallow fluff. Seriously, people.
And what trip to Vermont would be complete without several food-related pit stops? The trunk of our car was stockpiled with maple syrup, cheese, apples, and winter squash. We can’t wait to go back.