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Saturday, December 29, 2007

DORSET INN-SINCE 1796

There’s a mystical relationship between New England and the holiday season—snow blanketing the region and smoke curling from chimneys. One pictures the Little Women’s March family in Massachusetts or Barbara Stanwyck in the movie Christmas in Connecticut. In Vermont we drive through the little towns where the houses are surrounded in snow, the lamp posts are wrapped in lighted garland, and the architecture is reminiscent of the 18th century.

In Dorset, Vermont, the place to be is the Dorset Inn, established in 1796 and the oldest continuously operating inn in the state. Dinner at the Dorset Inn is a special treat. The Inn’s owner and chef, Sissy Hicks, has been there for 23 years. Comfort food is the Inn’s trademark—but gloriously, imaginatively, wholesomely and deliciously prepared.

Her own cookbook, Flavors from the Heart and Jane and Michael Stern’s Comfort Food from the Dorset Inn (in which we searched at the Northshire Bookstore for our delightful dishes) certainly make tantalizing reading.

Before I even get to the menu, picture this: Snow covered lawns in the town of Dorset Vermont, a place of white New England colonials, many salt boxed, on quiet, winding streets. The corner lamp post is wrapped in garland, the sign hanging from it announcing the Dorset Inn established in 1796.

Enter the Inn’s welcoming atmosphere. Holiday decorations abound, and each room exudes welcoming, fire-warmed comforts. At the time of our visit there are photographic displays in the different rooms as well as pottery by a local craftsman.

Dine in one of the several dining rooms. We are four. Rob begins with a Squash and Apple Soup that is out of this world. Robyn tries the Turkey Chili, Neal opts for Herb-crusted Fried Calamari with Mediterranean Salsa, and I choose P.E.I. Mussels in a White Wine Garlic and Leek Broth served with Rupert Rising Garlic Toast. If silence at a table means the guests are enjoying their meal, you could have heard a pin drop at ours.

Would our entrees measure up? Absolutely. I choose Misty Knoll Turkey Croquettes served with mashed potatoes, gravy, peas and cranberry sauce. Wonderful. Robyn chooses Baked Eggplant “Crepes” stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese baked in tomato-basil sauce and fresh mozzarella. She first has to adjust her thinking to accept that these “crepes” aren’t really crepes, but then she settles down to the satisfying goodness of her dish. Rob selects sautéed calves liver served with mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and vegetables. Our waitress asks how he would like it—suggests medium—and Rob claims he has never had liver so tender or good. Neal’s choice is the grilled swordfish served with artichoke and red onion. Everything is delicious.

Unfortunately we have no room for the tantalizing desserts, but when we settle our check, our waitress brings us a small Dorset Inn bag containing four scones—to sweeten our breakfast, she says. And they do. Tasty and wonderful.
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