Are you spending some time skiing in Southern Vermont? Are you making your way up to the Green Mountains? Are you heading as far north as Burlington? Vermont’s food scene is quite unbelievable. It’s not something you should miss. People always find this unexpected since not many know about Vermont’s history. It’s French influences have left an indelible mark on it’s cuisine and it’s farm-to-table ingredients and generational recipes give it a European feel. I learned all about Vermont’s French influence when staying at a Vermont Farm Stay at Liberty Hill Inn in the Green Mountains. Having spent the last couple of years exploring Vermont, primarily from a skiing and winter sport perspective, I’ve listed a few of the best restaurants in Vermont according to Pat and I. The spots range from casual breakfast eateries to historic log cabins to high-end French restaurants. Are there places missing from my list worth exploring? Comment and list them below!
A Quick History Lesson
With Canada being so close to the US border, it’s natural that at some point in history 16 French-Acadian families settled in what is now part of Northern Maine after being driven from their homes by British soldiers. When Maine became a part of the US, a divide occurred. The push to Americanize Maine became strong, in fact so strong that there was a law put in place to expedite the eradication of any ties to French roots and culture. The No French law in 1919 banned the use of the French language in all but foreign classes. If schools didn’t enforce the law, the state would pull funding. Eventually the language dissipated and culture and heritage was stripped away from the people. When the Ku Klux Kan got involved, from fear that the number of French descendants could upset the political status if they revolted, people changed their last names to be more American to avoid any sort of confrontation whatsoever. By the time the No French law was removed in 1961, it was too late.
More people in the Northeast, including Vermont, have French roots than you may think and it’s reflected in the culture, food, and way of life. This French influence is what allows us to create a list of best restaurants in Vermont. Have you ever thought about how Vermont got it’s name? Similar to the Grand Tetons – named le grand tetons or big breasts in French because of the shape of the mountains – Vermont is a French toponym. Samuel de Champlain explored North America on behalf of French king Henry IV in the early 17th century – he also founded Quebec City. When he first set foot in the mountainous region, he named it Verd Mont, which in French literally translates to “Green Mountain.” Vermont originally belonged to New France, the colony stretching from Labrador to Louisiana and across the Rocky Mountains, and was eventually conceded to Great Britain who anglicized it to “Vermont.”
1. The Vermont Country Deli
Price: $7 sandwiches, $9 entrees
Specialty: Famous Mac ‘n’ Cheese – this is more of a deli grab-n-go feel
It’s literally the first stop when you crossover into Vermont State from Massachusetts. Vermont Country Deli is not necessarily a best restaurant in Vermont, but definitely a top place to eat in Vermont when it comes to delis and country stores. That’s why it’s always bottlenecked with cars trying to find a parking spot. I can assure you, it’s not only the location that makes it an iconic spot. The food here is out of this world. It’s so good, people buy it on their way out of Vermont state so they can eat it when at home. Their famous signature dish is the baked cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s so coveted, they even have a sign inside that says how many pounds they sold the year prior…In 2022, they sold 56,000 pounds of mac ‘n’ cheese! That’s the equivalent of 6 full grown elephants. I ordered from the “Road Food,” it’s list of signature sandwiches named after roadways. Pat ordered the maple-barbecue pulled pork sandwich. Everything is affordable and the size is enough to feed two!
2. Johnny Seesaw’s
Price: $26 – $45 entrees
Specialty: The ambiance, firepit, and history
Head for the chills 🏔️—📍Bromley Mountain, Peru VT. This restaurant tries to stick to it’s original 1924 roadhouse feel. Russian Kyrill Sessof and VT native and bootlegger Vinnie purchased the property. After being laid off by his lumber company, Sessof bought this piece of land in Peru, VT. They thought it wise to capitalize on the Prohibition, so constructed a dance hall and speakeasy that sold homemade wine and bootlegged liquor. It was originally constructed by hand with no power tools and modeled after an old Russian wood structure called Izba. The spirits were sold in “to-go” maple syrup cans colored in burnt sugar. When they eventually left it was purchased and turned into a lodge to capitalize on the up-and-coming skiing industry.
To me, what makes Johnny Seesaw’s a best restaurant in Vermont however, is the decor. Today, in the restaurant, the log beams in the ceiling are from the original structure. The mural or “Seducerie” that makes you feel like you are still skiing in the mountains was originally painted in WWII!! It was painted as a means to escape what was happening during that era. Tack on a legendary circular fire pit with original black hood and copper cutouts…you’ll never want to leave🔥.
3. Mistral’s at Toll Gate
Price: $35 – $48 entrees
Specialty: This is the spot for a romantic dinner. Order the duck from Crescent Farm
In French, Mistral means a strong wind that blows only in Southern France. The concept of mistral is that we all stop, slow down, and enjoy the little moments of beauty in life. That’s what Mistral’s at Toll Gate would like us to do. Stop at the last tollgate standing in Vermont that connected the mountains and Manchester and take in the beauty and enjoy life’s moment – a fine French meal. With a view of Bromley Brook flowing below you, it’s a romantic date spot. The duck is a can’t miss and the wine list is extensive. The service is intimate, quiet, and impeccable. Feels like a dinner from a bygone era. Everything is of course made from scratch using local ingredients.
If you’re looking for a romantic and a bit more expensive place, Mistral’s at Toll Gate is the best restaurant in Vermont for that. Pat and I ordered the roasted duck – as always. It’ either that or the lamb! Mistral’s ducks come from Crescent Duck Farm on Long Island. Golden, crusty skin, tender meat and mixed with blueberries for a touch of sweetness – spectaculaire.
4. Moguls Sports Pub
Price: $14 for sandwich
Specialty: Sports pub full of fun and games. Come for the brick oven pizza, beef stew and BBQ, but also all the entertainment
In1979, Robert Salmieri, a weekender ski bum found paradise in Killington. He made his way through life with the goal of opening his own sports pub and eventually did – Moguls Sports Pub. He started with brick oven pizzas, brick oven burger and beef stews. After a few trips down to Nashville and Memphis he came back with a fine appreciation for BBQ. Just look outside. He’ll be BBQing whether it’s 70F or -20F out by the smoker. He started mingling with BBQ, so much so that his food has won over 6+ awards and Jack Daniels competitions. He is the reigning Jack Daniels drink recipe contest champion.
Ok, but aside from the food, which I can attest is actually quite amazing. The ambiance also makes it one of the best place to eat in Vermont. Mogul’s Sports Pub, yes, has plenty of TVs for sports viewing. But it also physically gets people involved in sports. You have a mini golf course outside, a ping pong and a bocce court. Inside you’ll find video games and pool tables. There’s even a whole area dedicated to kids downstairs full with skee-ball and other games to win tickets for prizes.
And then there’s the ceiling. The first thing that hits you when you walk in that is unmissable. Look at the ceiling carefully…it’s a New England Patriots football field – that’s my team fellas. But not just that. There is a tradition or competition of writing something on a dollar bill, throwing the dollar bill on the ceiling, and getting it to stick with a quarter and a tack. When it becomes overrun, Sal takes town some money and donates it to the Animal Rescue League.
Events are held at Mogul’s Sports Pub all the time. Whether it’s the pumpkin bowling contest for Halloween, Jack Daniels Winter Olympics, the Turkey Bowl the night before Thanksgiving or hosting various music acts. The place is plain old FUN, socialization, good food, and good people. It’s a can’t miss in terms of best restaurants in Vermont.
5. The Rochester Cafe & Country Store
Price: $5 – $14
Specialty: Sit at the old soda fountain and indulge in some of their famous Blueberry Pancakes
Simple, affordable, classic, historic. Those are the words that make Rochester Café one of the best places to eat in Vermont. Rochester Café has been around since 1985, that’s almost 40 years. But the building itself has been around since the mid-1800s. It was used for a variety of businesses including a drug store, granary, ice cream parlor, dentist office, bank, library, beauty parlor, pool room, video shop, barber shop, funeral parlor – and finally now a café and country store. The center piece of the café has to be the soda fountain that’s been carried over from busines to business. The wooden booths add to it’s charm as well. Rochester Café is a local hangout. After the Great Depression, it became the local gather place for Rochester residents and visitors. You can’t go wrong with any food here, but the breakfast food is especially top notch. Whether you want pancakes, oatmeal or a slice of their famous pie. And when you’re done eating, visit the adjoining Country Store with plenty of local items to choose from as memorabilia. Don’t miss it – it’s a mood!
6. Liberty Hill Farm & Inn
Price: $ -, It’s a Farm Inn Stay!
Specialty: The 2-hour long, communal dinners around a large table with other guests
This isn’t a restaurant, but it’s a farm stay. Yet it has to make the list. Food is what brings community to the table. There is no greater way to nourish the body and the soul than through the communal and universal act of eating and sharing a meal with others. That’s what the Vermont Farm Bed & Breakfast Liberty Hill Farm & Inn, owned by Beth and Bob Kennett, brings to people. It endeavors to nurture relationships among people from different walks of life who are looking to further educate themselves on the farming industry. This is not a hotel–it’s a farm. Beth and Bob are just letting guests visit their lives for a little while. These farm stays offer home cooked meals, community and real farm life experiences. My takeaway from this trip is that farming can teach you a lot about gratitude. Gratitude is essential for living a life that is experienced as a good life. People who are grateful are happier, healthier, more energetic, more productive, more helpful, less anxious, less depressed and more resilient. All of this can be evidenced by Beth and her family. Gratitude connects you to something larger than yourself, whether that’s people, nature, and/or a higher power.
Continue reading my full article on my experience at Liberty Hill Farm & Inn >>
7. Chez Henri
Price: $24 for entree
Specialty: I always go for the duck or lamb
The last restaurant to make it on my list of best restaurants in Vermont is Chez Henri. Notice the continuous French influence and trend here! It’s a Parisian Bistro in Sugarbush Village. Step inside and you feel like you’re in the French Alps. It gives me nostalgia. I always go here when I’m in the mood for European vibes. It’s been around since 1964, that’s almost 60 years. It has a romantic fireplace with luxurious arm chairs draped in fur and blankets. The fireplace is used to warm the bread or fondue. The speakeasy booths at the entrance give it an intimate feel and the service is impeccable. If it’s good enough for Olympians Stein Eriksen or Yoko Ono, than it’s good enough for us.
Starting the restaurant was no easy feat. In the ’60s getting any sort of ingredients to Vermont was a disaster. There was no food around, especially for someone who cooked at the caliber of Henri. Very particular foods and ingredients are required. He would get mussels from Boston, pastries from a friend on Montreal, smoke salmon from Norway, he would have unsalted butter made especially for him by a dairy farmer in Barre, bread from NYC or LA etc. Even alcohol was difficult to sell back in the day. Today, there is so much more food, everything is easier.
Henri’s claim to fame was the wild parties and nightlife experience he used to throw during the early days of disco. There is a room called “The Back Room” adjacent to Chez Henri where these wild outings used to occur. Today, it’s only opened back up for the occasional birthday party of Ski Club Ten celebration — too bad! But you can still experience his French soul and ski enthusiasm at Chez Henri – a can’t miss.
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