A meal between friends

As the sun retires early over the wintry horizon, weary skiers and snowboarders limp off the Jay Peak slopes, taking pleasure in the exhaustion of a long day’s riding. While the resort itself offers its own après-ski options, locals and Jay Peak regulars know where best to satiate their post-piste grumblings. Half way down the hill to Montgomery you will spot The Belfry’s namesake bell tower perched above a stout wooden chalet, windows aglow from the merriment teeming within.

Orleans and Franklin counties, in the northern reaches of Vermont, epitomise the quaint beauty for which the state is known. Storybook rolling hills, blanketed with rows of corn, catch the lengthy shadows of evening light. Silos and barns stand in silent pairs, dotted across the landscape. Every passing vehicle – usually a Ford truck – passes with a friendly wave. And in the winter, the everstrong flow of glacial creeks wind through the building snow base as the sun peers through ghostly whisps of cloud.

The Belfry, like many small town establishments, is the area’s beating heart, a nourishing centre to which locals gather to share their day’s events over a cold one. On many an afternoon after one of Jay’s classic powder days, we have been welcomed in by the owner’s daughter, Journey, and shared the bar with farmers, lumberjacks and sugarers, all linked by the commonality of a special, shared place, its stories told in walls adorned with nostalgic mementos. Each weekend night, you will find the tables packed as hungry guests mingle over a spiked cider or local brew at the bar, waiting to share not only in the fabled atmosphere but also in the restaurant’s famed fare. For the Belfry’s cuisine is unlike most in the region.

Look beyond the à la carte menu of pasta and burgers (all tasty, I’m sure), stick to the specials board and you will come out a happy customer. To begin with? Perhaps the smoked trout bruschetta – cool tomato freshness plays off the distinct smokiness of fish. Or the escargot, rich and garlicky. Pert steamed mussels are accompanied with a subtle creamy broth, which can be mopped up with their piping hot, Cabot-buttered bread.

Dining high in the Green Mountains, you might think to steer clear of the seafood options, but fight those urges, for they are certainly the restaurant’s strong suite. Salmon, trout almondine or their baked scallops, crowned with a garlicky crumb, are all perfectly cooked and wholeheartedly satisfying. Those seeking more traditional pub far can also grab a steak or pork chop. If at all possible, save room for their warm brownie sundae, adorned with creams.

It’s rare to find an establishment like The Belfry that goes beyond simple eatery to a place where memories are made and shared over a warm meal. I often catch myself smiling when I’m there, at a family photo of an employee on the wall, in learning how to sugar from local sugarer Marty, whose maple syrup is for sale at the restaurant or when I read another quirky message on the specials board. It is a place that epitomises the Vermont affability and certainly, as the sign over the door says, one where you will enter as strangers and leave as friends.

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