In Vermont, farm to plate is a hot dining concept. The Farm to Plate Network, established via legislation in 2009, is an all-encompassing statewide food system collaboration to improve the farm and food economy and double access to local food by 2020. It is the first of its kind in New England and the most comprehensive in the country. With statewide support and unity of purpose, food system entities from food producers (farms) to restaurants (plates) all take ownership and pride in the farm to plate movement.
Whether you call it farm to plate, field to fork, farm to table or field to plate, in a Vermont restaurant, it typically means the owners and chefs have direct purchasing relationships with local farmers, prepare menus based on what is seasonally fresh in Vermont, create shorter menus with a higher concentration of locally pasture-raised meat and use local produce first, followed by regional. Highly esteemed farm to plate restaurants, most of which are chef-owned, commonly identify the sources of local ingredients on their menus and Web sites.
Where do Vermonters go when they want to savor the best meals prepared with the freshest Vermont ingredients? As you roam the Green Mountain state, seek out one — or all — of these 12 local favorites that are devoted to farm to plate cuisine.
Hen of the Wood
Reservations are a must for chef-owner Eric Warnstedt's wooded dining cellar in a vintage 1835 grist mill, located just minutes off I-89 at exit 10 in Waterbury. Devoted to "serving seasonal American food celebrating the farms of Vermont and the Northeast," Hen of the Wood sets the standard in farm to table restaurants. Warnstedt has been named a James Beard Awards finalist for Best Chef in the Northeast repeatedly. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday. A second Hen of the Wood debuted at the end of 2013 in the recently opened Hotel Vermont in Burlington. Dinner is served here nightly.
Roots the Restaurant
Rutland is fast becoming a local food mecca, with one of the state's leading farm and food networks connecting local businesses and social programs to quite possibly the most diverse collection of food producers in Vermont. Roots, a friendly downtown eatery, serves traditional specials packed with these diverse local ingredients. Lunch and dinner are available Tuesday through Sunday.
In Vermont's northernmost town center on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, Newport has experienced a culinary renaissance sparked by the Fresh By Nature campaign, which has transformed traditional town restaurants into dining venues focused on food system sustainability. Lago Trattoria is a fine example of this trend, serving traditional Italian fare from "field to fork." Open for dinner Monday through Saturday.
Juniper's at the Wildflower Inn
On the outskirts of the bustling village of Lyndonville, deep in the crevices of Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom, the Wildflower Inn beckons to diners with its on-site restaurant: Juniper's. Here, local meat (including some of the inn's own pasture-raised beef) is featured extensively on the menu, along with produce and specialty products from a solid assortment of nearby farms. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday, both for inn guests and the public.
The Downtown Grocery
In Ludlow, the closest village to Okemo Mountain Resort, the hottest spot for dinner isn't a grocery store, as the name implies, but a restaurant with blackboard menus chef-owner Rogan Lechthaler prepares using farm ingredients in innovative sauces and local meats cured in the cellar. Open nightly for dinner except for Tuesday and Wednesday and also for brunch on Sunday.
Starry Night Café
Chef Josh Krechel grew up in New Jersey but embraced local farm ingredients when he moved to Vermont in 1998 and spent his first four years cooking at Shelburne Farms. Seasonal, small menus were the staple from the beginning in 2000 when David Hugo opened this dimly lit and rather remote café on a lonely stretch of Route 7. The dining rooms are open Wednesday through Sunday: Always call ahead, as they often close for private events.
Michael's on the Hill
Perched on the perfect knoll peering over Route 100 between Waterbury and Stowe, Michael's on the Hill served "locally driven" fare before farm to plate was the catchphrase. Swiss chef-owner Michael Kloeti artistically presents European-style cuisine, partnering with local food mainstays like Cold Hollow Cider Mill to create core-inspired seasonal dishes on the “Hill” in Waterbury Center, Michael's is open nightly except Tuesday.
Farmhouse Tap & Grill
Burlington, the Queen City of Bohemian trendsetting and most populous Vermont locale, delivered a Big Mac of a smack to corporate food industry America when it pushed out the city's only McDonald's in 2007. In its place, a Vermont farm burger joint opened. Farmhouse Tap & Grill, one block off the Church Street Marketplace, serves bulging, juicy beef, pork, and turkey burgers: The meat is all grass-fed and locally raised. Veggie and black bean burgers are on the menu, too. The beer selection is astonishing, and while the line to get in may make you grimace (reservations are taken for lunch but only for large parties at dinner), the wait is worth it. Lunch and dinner daily.
Kitchen Table Bistro
Inside a two-floor vintage brick farmhouse that once belonged to Vermont's first governor, diners are in for a culinary experience that surpasses farm to plate. You might call it forest to platter! Foraged delicacies edge creatively into entrees, and the impressive array of food sources listed on Kitchen Table Bistro's Web site may boggle you. Located at the junction of Routes 2 and 17 in Richmond, it's a stone's throw from one of many farm partners: Conant's Sweet Corn. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
SoLo Farm & Table
A Vermont gal moved to New York City, and while waitressing, she met a Spanish chef with oodles of accolades. Lucky for Vermonters, she brought him home, and together they have forged ahead in the farm to table movement: That trend is even in their restaurant's name. High-class, East Village culinary prowess positions the Genovarts' SoLo as a powerhouse on the local gastro scene with a wine menu to complement. Open for dinner Thursday through Monday.
Opened in the fall of 2012, the Gleanery puts yet another spin on farm-to-plate—know your farmers and your artisans. From the food to the dishware to the actual table showcasing the culinary creations, the local effort behind each is of equal importance. This café, dining room and gallery are open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner and communing, plus Wednesday through Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.
NECI on Main
The golden dome of the statehouse shimmers above Vermont's delightful capital city, home to the progressive decisions made by a collaborative government and the distinguished New England Culinary Institute (NECI). With an emphasis on farm to plate cooking skills, NECI turns out promising culinary innovators and stewards of the land. Many remain in Vermont; others venture into less sustainable-minded regions of the country, creatively inching seasonal, local, humanely raised foods into growing pockets of America. Experience their culinary education first-hand at NECI on Main, the college's signature eatery in downtown Montpelier, serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday (dinner only in the summer).
The farm to plate trend is hot at some of the best restaurants in Vermont, but it's not as much about a bandwagon as it is about chefs realizing their desire to cook what's fresh, local and seasonal. In Vermont, the groundwork is being laid for the local food industry to grow into a sustainable economic force, and, with a wide range of restaurants embracing the farm to plate philosophy, doubling local food intake by 2020 is shaping up to be an attainable and inspirational goal.