While it’s true that there are countless tracts of virgin land in the western United States, some of the most remote parts of the country are also found in New England.
Popular local backlands include the northeastern kingdom of Vermont, the northern woods of Maine, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire. You might not think southern New England would have such remote places, but it does, and one of them, the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, is just over a Greater Boston Area Time.
This beautiful part of the state, which borders Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is one of the few areas between Boston and Virginia that has an almost total lack of development, and it is simply huge, with almost half a million acres of endless forest and farmland. Scattered around the Quiet Corner are a handful of peaceful communities, including hilltop towns that wouldn’t be out of place in Vermont.
One of them is Pomfret, a town of less than 5,000 people known in part for the Vanilla Bean Cafe, a popular eatery for locals, bikers and those who enjoy a good mystery ride.
Part of the fun of Vanilla Bean Cafe is just getting there. The restaurant is along Route 169, which is so beautiful it has been designated a National Scenic Byway. The stretch from Woodstock to Pomfret is particularly nice, and approaching Pomfret from Woodstock is a pleasant way to arrive from the Boston area. Drivers can take Route 16 from the Boston Metro to Webster, where Route 197 continues, crossing the Connecticut border to Route 169 in North Woodstock. (If you’re in a hurry, you can also take the Mass. Pike to Interstate 395 to Route 44.)
Woodstock and Pomfret have a lot to offer for these small towns, so if you’re in no rush to get to Vanilla Bean, there are breweries, wineries, antique shops, country stores and hiking trails in and around the region. (Antique enthusiasts will definitely want to visit Putnam, an old mill town just east of Pomfret whose historic downtown is home to the extensive antique market.)
When you first park in the Vanilla Bean Cafe parking lot, chances are you’ll see a number of motorbikes, as the restaurant is in an area full of good roads to ride – they’re winding, breathtaking in many places and mostly empty. The restaurant is also a local hangout, where you’ll likely see students from nearby prep schools. Of course, those who love road trips often dine here too, especially when the weather is nice.
The space is deceptively large, with a cozy patio out front where diners can soak up the sun and breathe in the clean, often fresh air. (Much of the Quiet Corner is at an elevated elevation.) Inside, the command area resembles a barn while most interior seating is in a dining area to the right – it includes a the back, which adds to the country atmosphere. The back area is also set up for live music, where you can listen to everything from folk to jazz to blues and more.
Photos: The ultimate road trip restaurant in a surprising part of New England
Many restaurants that have the word “coffee” in their name tend to focus on lighter fare, but the Vanilla Bean Cafe has a fairly extensive menu, including plates big enough for those hungry. Some of the favorites here include breakfast dishes, like omelettes, egg sandwiches, French toast, and pancakes; a rich-tasting beef chili with lots of cheese and a moderate amount of heat (a vegetarian version is also available); a rotating list of freshly made soups such as clam chowder and Florentine tomato; an old-fashioned Lorraine quiche with lots of smoked bacon; a very filling bean burrito that might keep you from trying one of their wonderful desserts (more on that in a bit); a roast beef and cheddar sandwich enhanced with horseradish sour cream; a variety of quesadillas including one with chicken and bacon; a messy but delicious pastrami ruben on rye bread; Nathan’s always tasty hot dogs; and all kinds of great burgers, including a classic cheeseburger, extra lean buffalo burger, turkey burger, and black bean burger.
Saving room for dessert is a must, as the vanilla bean is known for its sweet treats – among them cheesecake, brownies, Boston cream pie, rainbow cake, cookies, almond “joyeux” and carrot cake. The Vanilla Bean also serves beer and wine (including options from these local breweries and wineries) and, as you’d expect from a cafe, plenty of coffee and tea options.
The Vanilla Bean Cafe has been around for many years, becoming something of an institution for its perfect combination of great food, service and ambiance in a quaint setting. And because it really isn’t that far from Greater Boston, there’s plenty of time to explore this surprisingly unspoilt area of New England that’s all too often overlooked, despite being so much closer than some of the other parts. in the region who feel very far from the beaten track.
Vanilla Bean Cafe, 450 Deerfield Road, Pomfret Center, CT, 06259. thevanillabeancafe.com.