If it was a house, we'd buy it. If it was an inn, we'd
stay an extra night. If it was office space, we'd work overtime.
Perhaps that last sentiment is a stretch, but the Vanilla Bean Cafe is one of those places you simply don't want to leave. With crowds galore often waiting to be seated,Vanilla Bean management staff probably wouldn't want you to take up permanent residence, but they do allow you to sample the great comfort food in a leisurely fashion.
No one is rushing you to eat your food and get out. Rather, the staff is as laid back as the surrounding northeastern Connecticut "Quiet Corner" countryside and the clientele embraces the atmosphere as sort of an indoor village green -- a place to meet and talk about hometown life.
Interestingly enough, the Vanilla Bean Cafe is adjacent to an extraordinarily pretty village green in the great New England town of Pomfret, CT. Pomfret, Woodstock and other stunningly beautiful nearby rural communities make Route 169 one of the most scenic byways in the six-state region. Rolling hills, wide expanses of green grass and grand farms, big wide-open skies with more stars out at night than Hollywood, and interesting antique shops (particularly on Route 44 in nearby Putnam), country stores and elegant inns create a great day trip or extended vacation. Either way, the Vanilla Bean Cafe should be on your "must-do" New England travel list. It has the best food we've sampled, to date, in Connecticut.
That night, a few squirrels convened at the Pomfret village green, while a full house graced the Vanilla Bean Cafe. In there were families, college-professor-types, high school kids on dates, married women meeting for a girl's night out, urban professionals out for some detoxifying fresh country air and toxifying microbrews, and some guy who looked like Danny Bonaduce's grandfather (his long pants didn't make it to his socks). They all seemed to enjoy the cozy, restored 1800s farmhouse atmosphere with post-and-beam design, a couch and coffee table area (taken out when locally and nationally-accomplished folk, blues and country musicians play on the weekends; fok cult figure Geoff Muldaur and the hugely-talented Lori McKenna have played here) and a fish tank with plenty of interesting fish. Outside is a patio area, perfect for dining in the spring, summer and fall. In the back of the building behind the parking lot are a few picnic benches -- nicely secluded for reading the newspaper while drinking some tasty coffee or herbal tea.
The overall feel of the Vanilla Bean Cafe is friendly, casual. charmingly dated, quaint, and family-oriented. You feel like it's a trip back in time-- somewhere between Thomas Jefferson and Ozzie Nelson.
The "order-at-the counter," format was a daunting assignment. We saw so many delectable sandwich, soup and breakfast selections (most under $10.00) on the main above-the-counter menu board and dinner specials (in the mid to high-teen range) on the side blackboard that when it was time to order, we stuttered worse than Porky Pig. The tempting dessert display right in front of us did not help our decision-making woes, either.
The pleasant waiter at the counter had more patience than Ghandi, and smiled politely until we completed reading the menu board in Tolstoy or Milton time. In the background, we could see the open kitchen with each employee doing his or her job with precision, punctuality and professionalism. There were no fast food weenies working here, just committed people with big smiles interested in pleasing the customer. The waiter gave us a huge playing card that the waitstaff used to identify where to serve the food.
We received a three of clubs, but the food was more like an ace of spades. What we sampled was a duck soup more tasty than the best duck dinners, a fresh salad with lively mixed greens, an "I want more" delectable pork dish with flavorful wild rice, savory beans and all the right spices, hot dogs that bested county fair and ballpark versions, and a fresh turkey sandwich that rendered competitors' offerings "fowl." The bowl of chili was about the best we have tasted anywhere -- full bodied, flavorful, complemented by additive chips, and, ultimately, the height of a warming comfort food. For dessert, we experienced wonderfully moist carrot cake and a rich chocolate cake, using the highest quality chocolate. The chocolate chip cookie relegated Peggy Lawton's version to hockey puck-tasting status.
Chili from the Vanilla Bean Cafe
We felt so much at home that we could have fallen asleep
right in the dining chairs. Avoiding this Homer Simpson tendency, we
headed back home looking in the read view mirror at the Vanilla Bean
Cafe for as long as we could. It was a soothing sight in the dark
country night, leaving us to think, "When can we get back here?"
The answer was "Soon, very soon." Tomorrow would be optimal!
The Vanilla Bean Cafe, Corner of Routes 44, 169, and 197, Pomfret, CT., Tel. (860-928-1562)
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