The Vanilla Bean Cafe, Pomfret, Conn: Cozy, Quaint, Delicious and
Anything But Vanilla
by Eric Hurwitz. Article updated on 11/01/16
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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
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,
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 --
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
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!
Bean Cafe, Corner of Routes 44, 169, and 197, Pomfret, CT.,
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