There are a few essential ingredients to a great meal in my book: exceptional food with a nod to what is in season in Vermont and outstanding customer service. You can certainly have one without the other but when I experience the combination of fine dining and attentive, respectful and genuine service, the restaurant usually moves up my list of top favorites. The Wednesday following Valentine’s Day found me weaving my way up Route 15 from Essex to Jericho with the final destination of Caroline’s Fine Dining adjacent to the Village Cup. The building housing both the coffee shop and the restaurant dates back to 1835. The interior of Caroline’s exudes warmth and elegance with the windows and walls beautifully decorated. Paintings by Vermont artist Robert Aiken can be seen in each of the three seating areas.
Chef Joseph Ianelli and owner Stephen Burke (eldest son of Caroline Burke for whom the restaurant is named) aspire to create an eclectic selection of seasonal entrees from Roasted Baby Beet Salad ($9) to Fragrant Orange and Delicately Spiced Misty Knoll Chicken Ruby ($24). The Misty Knoll chicken is accompanied by fresh cranberries, herb mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables. I was also pleasantly surprised to find an enticing selection of vegetarian fare on the menu. And I’m not talking about just tossing some tofu with some veggies but rather home-made seitan in a dish called Provencal Seitan Casserole ($22). I was also intrigued by the deliberate effort by Chef Ianelli to create hearty but healthy dishes that utilize whole wheat, wheat barley and even toasted squash seeds.
I choose to start my meal with the Maple Brulee Local “Fair Haven” Pork Belly ($11). The sizable portion of pork arrived atop of a black bean and Cabot cheddar polenta cake drizzled with a maple cream sauce. The pork which practically melted in my mouth was combined with an incredible sweetness of the maple cream and crunch of the polenta cake crust. It was so decadent that it could serve double duty as a dessert item. Pork belly for dessert? I imagine that might be a hard sell so it’s worth trying as a start the meal.
My server, Anna Jordan, did a wonderful job keeping tabs on me as well educating me about the nearly two dozen local vendors that supply much of the food on the menu. Many are names that most of us would recognize such as the Vermont Soy Company, Maple Leaf Farm, LaPlatte River Beef, Paul Mazza, Shadow Cross Farm, Cabot Creamery, and a variety of local wineries and breweries. For my main entrée I went for the Whole Wheat Basil Gnocchi and Fresh Maine Lobster ($26). I thought the entrée appeared a little pricey but by after seeing the generous portion of pasta, vegetables and an impressive display of meat from the lobster’s claw, the cost seemed justified. In addition to the gnocchi and lobster, fava beans, sun-dried tomatoes and porcini mushrooms were all tossed with a mushroom cream sauce and fried sage. It was the type of dish that you feel good about eating because you are combining high quality grains like whole wheat with a crustacean jammed packed with protein.
The dessert menu also features a seasonal spin with Pumpkin Cheesecake ($7) and a Citrus Tartlet ($7). Caroline’s also offers a small selection of Vermont ice wines and can put the barista in the Village Cup to work creating delicious and rich coffee drinks. The Chef even on the dessert menu provides choice to consumers that may have food allergies. They highlight several desserts that are gluten-free and offer a dairy free option that includes biscotti and a selection of sorbet.
Caroline’s Fining Dining is the perfect stop on the way home from a day skiing or snowshoeing at Smuggler’s Notch. It’s conveniently located and the staff will make you feel as though you have just pulled up a seat at Caroline’s table and joined the family.
Originally published on the Flavor Communications blog.