Pomfret’s Vanilla Bean Cafe satisfies everyone
Vanilla Bean Cafe
450 Deerfield Road, Pomfret
(860) 928-1562, www.thevanillabeancafe.com
Cuisine: Casual fare covering the basics with creative twists
Atmosphere: So mellow that everyone wants to be there
Service: Adept, quick and friendly even at peak times
Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Tue., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: Step up to get inside and a bit of a tight fit near ordering area; otherwise it’s easily negotiated, with plenty of outdoor space, as well.
Who knew bikers eat cinnamon rolls?
After a few Sunday visits to the Vanilla Bean in Pomfret, I do.
Apparently, dozens of motorcyclists enjoy gathering each Sunday at this quaint, rustic spot where, otherwise, a patron might expect live folk music, a poetry reading or perhaps a classical music soloist. Which indeed happens because the Vanilla Bean is a neo-hippie, mellow restaurant where one might expect a regular clientele of local folks, faculty members from nearby Pomfret Academy or tourists enjoying the winding roads of rural Connecticut.
The bikers at first provide a bit of a disconcerting visual, unmistakable as they are in their leather, do rags, Harley Davidson logo wear and those sleeveless vests sporting “colors” – the affixed letters on back identifying the club or gang to which they pledge allegiance.
But they come in peace! They flock to the patio space, sharing it congenially with other guests, though the bikers tend to spill out onto a lawn with picnic tables positioned under large trees, within sight of the dozens of motorcycles parked around the property.
And when they’ve finished eating, they roar off in a fashion to suggest that, as in other lands where burping after a meal is a sign of appreciation, the volume with which they exit is in direct proportion to how much they enjoyed their cinnamon rolls and Bud Light.
One memorable Sunday, my wife Eileen observed several costumed actors, on break from rehearsals for the upcoming King Richard’s Faire taking place down the road in Woodstock, spill out of a van to procure victuals for the realm. We casually enjoyed our meals, speculating on how fun it would be if the knights and wizards of King Richard fell into a “Braveheart”-style rumble with the bikers.
But such a thing would never happen at the Vanilla Bean, where the pleasant vibes lull customers of all types; indeed, the variety of the clientele pays tribute to the food and experience at the restaurant.
You order inside at the counter. Behind is the kitchen in full, frenzied glory. This front room, all blond wood with a towering ceiling and a bisecting support beam – atop of which sits, yes, a motorcycle – also has a few dining tables. The main room for inside eating is to the right, a long, narrow construct with plenty of sunlight. Knickknacks abound.
The menu has both weekend and weekday breakfasts with an emphasis on egg dishes and some intriguing specials that include Fishcake Benedict, Bangers & Mash and seasonal pancakes. We haven’t gotten up early enough to try breakfast yet, but plan to at some point.
The lunch fare explores sandwiches and wraps, salads/salad plates, quesadillas and plenty of burgers. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are plentiful. Each day promises at least three homemade soups – and their meat and veggie chilis are always available. There’s a Kids’ Menu that covers the usual faves.
Over a few recent lunch visits, here are highlights:
Chili ($6.50 cup, $8 bowl) – These folks make a truly fine chili. There’s a distinctive tang to their recipe – part ripe tomato and what I think are diced jalapenos, along with an almost citrusy spice I can’t identify. There’s also plenty of ground beef and perfectly chewy beans, and it’s a thick, rich serving topped with chopped onions, fat strings of melted cheddar and huge triangles of tortilla chips ringing the bowl.
Cuban Sandwich ($15) – This was off the specials board, and the VB folks tweaked the formula by including Applewood smoked ham rather than the plain variety. That touch worked interestingly in an early-fall capacity with the requisite ingredients of roasted pork loin, chopped dill pickles, Swiss cheese and yellow mustard. Another tweak? This wasn’t the pressed, panini style sandwich but served instead on a bulky roll. Tasty, filling and served with kettle chips and a pickle.
VBC (Vanilla Bean Café) Burger ($15) -- Highly recommended. A thick patty, with a hot, pinkish interior and grill-mark crustage on the exterior. Slices of crispy, Applewood smoked bacon, a spicy ketchup and smoked cheddar augment the beef. The bun can get a bit overwhelmed by all the goodness, but that’s part of the fun.
Spinach and Caramelized Onion Quesadilla $12 -- This quesadilla is not an afterthought that somebody slapped together. The smoky onions, the bitter-y fresh spinach and the lovely char on the tortillas provide a foundation of richness and depth for which the tangy homemade salsa provides a zingy counterpoint. A dollop of sour cream cools it all off.
The Bean's Bean Burrito $14 -- Though it was listed on the blackboard under burgers, the is a full-on burrito, stuffed with black beans and rice, along with veggies like corn, broccoli, carrots, and red and green pepper. The tortilla had been crisped to a nice chew, and again, the salsa provided a bright counterpoint. I wish they'd bottle the salsa: fresh tomatoes and red onions and pickled jalapenos--simple but really good.
We also luxuriated with a dessert called the Chocolate Lover ($8.50 for a huge slice). Rich, fudgey, moist. Eileen: “ That was really (expletive) good!”
Oh! And those cinnamon rolls (whoops; missed the price). Taking a cue from our two-wheelin’ friends, we ordered two of the breakfast treats to go and, indeed, they’re more than satisfying: Certainly sweet, with a fine goo of the titular melted spice, sugar and butter, and with a vanilla-like glaze.
We look forward to hopping on our newly-purchased Harley-Davidson Fat Bob hogs and heading back up to the Vanilla Bean for more experiences. Breakfast. Dinner. Weekend live entertainment. As the leaves start to turn, a cruise in that direction is a perfect idea.