Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Claire's Restaurant - One Delicious Reason to Stop in Hardwick, VT

I was enamored with Claire's Restaurant before I even set foot in the dining room. And it didn't have anything to do with salivating over an on-line menu, as one might expect. In fact, there is no on-line menu because Claire's menu changes with the seasons, which brings me to my first reason for aforementioned infatuation: the menu is seasonal because it's based on what is available from the farms and producers in the area during any particular season. Approximately 80% of the food prepared by Claire's comes from the very local area. Now, in a place like California, sourcing the vast majority of food for a restaurant locally throughout the year might be a challenge, but certainly one that could be overcome with a bit of tenacity. But Vermont?!? It snows there for several months a year..that's why it's known as a skiing destination, as opposed to a gastro-destination! The growing season is short, and crops limited by the geography and climate. To truly appreciate the brilliance of Chef Steven, I reckon one should hit up the restaurant mid-February and marvel at what he's pulled from the root cellar and sourced from local meat producers, bakers, and cheesemakers to create an enticing meal.

In addition to the restaurant's dedication to buying locally, Claire's also has an impressive on-line presence, with a well-designed website, a fantastic blog that's updated regularly, AND they tweet regularly (@clairesvt)! In addition to highlighting in-season foods that are featured on their menu (e.g. fiddleheads which are in season right now), the blog provides links to its suppliers, and information about entertainment and events happening at the restaurant and around town. Tweets include updates regarding drink specials and menu items of the day, as well as interesting food and agriculture related news items, etc. Savvy marketing paired with education and community events - love it!

Finally, my admiration for this restaurant was cemented after reading several news articles that explained how Claire's restaurant had come to be a reality. The restaurant truly was a community supported effort, with members of the small town of Hardwick taking a leap of faith and purchasing $1,000 coupons (redeemable once monthly for $25 of food over Claire's first 4 years of business) in advance of the restaurant's opening to provide operating capital. A community supported restaurant, what a fantastic concept!

So, of course, my first meal in Hardwick had to be at Claire's. I went with Kate, who is one of the collective that run Buffalo Mountain Co-op grocery store, just two doors down on Main Street. The interior of Claire's is inviting and warm, spacious and cozy at the same time. We took a window seat and were greeted by a friendly server who Kate evidently knew quite well. It didn't take me long to figure out that in a town this small, everybody knew everybody. The menu was tantalizing - it was the first part of October, and the bountiful harvest showed through on the tempting selection of appetizers, mains and desserts available that evening. I ended up choosing an acorn squash stuffed with tofu, grains (including groats), and topped with delicious cheese. Luckily I chose to forgo the appetizer (truth be told I had my sights set on a dessert), because the main dish was an extremely generous portion of deliciousness. I somehow made my way through it, and despite feeling very satiated, I believe Kate and I agreed to share a dessert. I cannot recall what it was, but I am certain it was delicious.

During my first couple of weeks living in Hardwick, I fought the urge to return to Claire's. I could only handle so much indulgence and feared I might become addicted to the menu if I went back regularly. I did, however, elect to attend a fundraising event that was being hosted by one of Claire's servers on a Wednesday evening, when the restaurant itself was closed. The server was raising money to fund her trip to Africa, where she would be teaching local people sustainable agricultural practices. Her weapon of choice for fundraising: a dessert buffet. How brilliant!! Who could resist the combination of 'doing good' and indulging one's sweet tooth at the same time? It was sooooooo yummy!

Finally, after about three weeks I broke down and went to Claire's for a second dinner, this time I had the brisket. It was fantastic and, again, an extremely generous serving. At some point I decided that I should check out the bar area of Claire's. Thankfully they served a number of local beers, so I was able to enjoy alcohol while sticking to my locav-or-ganic pledge. After a couple of hours at the bar, chatting with Elena, a wonderful and inspiring woman I'd met my first week in Hardwick, I realised that I'd been missing out dearly by denying myself visits to Claire's. The bar was, after all, THE place to say hello to neighbours and make new friends. It also provided excellent live entertainment every Thursday evening and great drink specials on Sunday and Monday nights. I tried to make up for missed opportunities by going to the bar more frequently than I probably should have, but am quite sure I never made up completely for missed bar fly nights!

I never did get to try Claire's 'Blunch', a twist on the traditional brunch that is served only on Sundays. But I'm heading back to Prince Edward Island soon and have a feeling I may be stopping over in Hardwick for a weekend. If so, I'm pretty sure you'll find me at Claire's on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon!

Below is the brisket I had on my second visit to Claire's.


Anonymous said...


I don't think I need more than one reason to stop in Hardwick!!


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