ADDISON COUNTY — Dining al fresco has always been a highlight of summer in Vermont. But it took on new importance when the pandemic struck and made many folks wary of spending unmasked time indoors.
Even as vaccinated people return to dining indoors at restaurants, some would still prefer to stay outdoors, especially if they’re dining with unvaccinated children.
So, here are some options — new and old — for enjoying a meal outside in Addison County.
PIZZA BY THE POND
The pandemic shifted Blueberry Hill Innkeeper Shari Brown’s focus from tending to guests visiting from afar to drawing the local community up to Goshen for events. This past winter she made the Outdoor Center lodge rentable to the public, and folks enjoyed the trails and warmed up around a fire pit. Now, Brown’s summer vision is simple, and something she’s dreamed about for a while: an outdoor pizza oven.
But she needed money to pay for it.
Brown applied for the first round of Table 21 grants (which funded struggling Addison County restaurants), and was denied. “But I just kept pushing along,” she said. She ordered the pizza oven anyway. “I knew I’d figure it out.”
There was a second round of Table 21 grants, and this time she scored one. All $10,000 went toward her summer vision: the pizza oven, supplies and a whole new patio.
On Thursday and Friday evenings through September, Blueberry Hill Inn is hosting Pizza by the Pond from 5-8 p.m. Guests preorder online in advance: $20 per person ($12 for kids ages 5-10) gets you all the wood-fired pizza you can eat. And some nights there’s live music, too; check the inn’s website for dates and ordering instructions.
“We’re not just selling pizza and music,” said Brown. “It’s the atmosphere.”
The pandemic has had an outsize effect on Blueberry Hill Inn and the wider hospitality industry, many of whom are struggling to find employees. “We are totally and completely understaffed,” Brown acknowledged. “It’s a scramble.”
But she said she’s excited about the pizza nights, and the chance to gather with her community. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to do something a little different.”
BACK BEHIND AMERICAN FLATBREAD
American Flatbread has been doing takeout exclusively since early in the pandemic. But by the end of June, according to owner Danielle Boyce, the doors will open to the public once again.
In addition to an updated bar area — featuring a gorgeous new campfire-themed mural by Middlebury artist Matt Heywood — there will be a brand new, twice-as-big outdoor seating area out back.
Boyce had known they needed a new outdoor seating area even before the pandemic. The area was all gravel, with a small wooden structure over some tables, and the much-loved fire pit.
“In 2006 when I was hired as a manager, they were renovating the space for the first time,” Boyce recalled. “All of a sudden I found myself in the woods cutting down saplings, stripping the bark off and building these wigwams over picnic tables.”
After the pandemic struck, and socializing became an exclusively outdoor affair, she knew the restaurant needed a bigger seating area. “Watching our colleagues, like Holmes (Jacob at Two Brothers Tavern), who doesn’t have a lot of space to work with, I didn’t want to squander what we had,” Boyce said. “We made the decision to take out the fire pit, which was the most emotional part of it.”
Avery Smith led the excavation project, digging down through the gravel to make a sturdy base for new cedar decking. Will Gusakov constructed a timber-frame structure — twice as big as the old structure — under which the tables will sit. Lou Nop made portable metal fire circles.
“It’s just so cool how enthusiastic people are to be building part of American Flatbread,” Boyce said.
Of course, she couldn’t have done it without grants, including one from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund. “I’m humbled by the amount of grants we received,” she said. “It’s the only reason we were able to stay open. And it’s the only reason that we can do any of this work.” Boyce said the project cost well over $100,000.
Like most restaurants, Flatbread is understaffed at the moment. And to make matters more complicated, most of the staff they have has only done takeout service. They will need to adjust when in-person dining returns.
Still, Boyce is excited and hopeful about this next chapter. “I know a lot of people looked at us (before the pandemic) as a meeting place, a gathering place,” she said. “When I start engaging with people again,” like she did recently at a private retirement party she hosted at Flatbread, “it gets emotional.”
Rosie’s Restaurant in Middlebury and The Hired Hand in Vergennes both expanded their outdoor seating this summer. Rosie’s now has a lower deck; The Hired Hand has tables along the sidewalk, protected from traffic by a barrier. Otter Creek Bakery in Middlebury built a lovely new deck last summer. And downtown Middlebury’s Two Brothers Tavern has reopened its side patio and also uses Otter Creek Bakery’s sidewalk seating area on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Otter Creek Brewing’s patio and lawn area off Exchange Street in Middlebury was closed to the public last summer, but it will reopen as summer gets under way, with a “soft opening” planned for June 24. “While we have been heads down producing beer, we have also begun working on the grounds and exterior spaces to help welcome guests back to the pub early this summer,” wrote the brewery’s Dan Fulham in an email. “There will be some changes to how we roll out in-person dining, but we are looking forward to welcoming guests and visitors back.”
Catch Bobcat Café’s food truck from 5-8 p.m. every Friday in June and July on the Bristol Town Green.
Red Clover Ale Co. hosts beer gardens with food trucks on Center Street in Brandon on some Saturdays through the summer; check their Facebook page for dates.
Tourterelle, which closed last summer after a devastating fire, rebuilt over the last year and reopened its historic restaurant off Route 7 in New Haven in early June; outdoor dining is offered in an open-air barn.
The Mad Taco in the Stone Mill in Middlebury has opened its deck, which was closed all last summer.
Also in Middlebury, there’s The Arcadian and Mr. Ups, with their riverside decks, and The Waybury Inn with its expansive patio area off Route 125 in East Middlebury. In Vergennes The Black Sheep Bistro has a charming sidewalk patio on Main Street, and Starry Night Café has a patio in Ferrisburgh. In Bristol, Cubbers Restaurant has several tables on the sidewalk. In Brandon, Café Provence has a very large, covered deck and Foley’s Taco and Bean has plenty of seating out front.