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A Gourmet Tour of Ludlow

Okemo Valley’s creative chefs serve up locally inspired delights

By Jen Rose Smith

The locally focused menus, creative pairings and heartwarming comfort foods of Okemo Valley’s innovative restaurants are making Ludlow a year-round foodie destination. I ate my way through a week of memorable meals, and found flavors that will keep me coming back. Here’s a sampling of what I savored that will surely entice your taste buds.

The Chophouse: the prime choice

With its warm, red walls dressed with specials boards and tree branches, The Chop House has a laid-back vibe with a dash of downtown sophistication that’s as good for date nights as it is for family dinners.

My medium-rare filet mignon tasted like pure, old school luxury—topped with shredded crab, a rich hollandaise sauce and spears of crisp, slender asparagus. When I followed it up with a maple old fashioned, I felt like Don Draper in hiking boots. The other highlight? A silky smooth tuna carpaccio topped with tomato jam—an herbal, full-flavored umami bomb.

Tip: The huge salad bar is loaded with tasty vegetables and all the fixings, but don’t fill up, as you’ll want to save room for the richness ahead.

Coleman Brook Tavern: farm-to-slope side

This Okemo dining room looks straight out at the mountain, so it’s no wonder hikers, bikers and wintertime skiers go straight from the trails to the tavern’s comfy, wing-backed chairs and couches. While the atmosphere is casual, the kitchen is serious about locally sourced, carefully crafted food.

Chef Emerson buys Wagyu beef cattle from a nearby farm, and his kitchen uses the whole animal in a menu focused on Vermont’s distinctive, seasonal flavors. The super-fresh beef was the star of Emerson’s elegant carpaccio, which was topped with greens and sauced with locally produced honey vinegar. Emerson stays true to the restaurant’s “tavern” roots with hearty burgers and pub fare suited to Okemo’s family-friendly atmosphere and hungry hikers, but transcends the genre with an award-winning wine list and an inviting, foodie-focused menu.

Tip: Get to know the dish’s backstory. As Emerson told me, “I love stories—all my favorite dishes are about stories and relationships. That’s what good food is.”

Harry’s Café: local tradition

Husband-and-wife duo Trip and Debbie Pearce have been an Okemo touchstone since 1989, with Trip in the kitchen whipping up globally inspired specialties, and Debbie mixing cocktails behind the bar.

I went straight for the green curried mussels, which were in a rich broth of coconut milk, aromatic with fresh basil and spice. “People get addicted to them,” said my neighbor at the bar, and it was easy to see why—especially when I soaked up the curry with chunks of freshly baked cornbread that was lemony-bright and light as a feather. Equally addictive was the café’s Shrimp in Crisp Skins, a garlic-marinated shrimp fried in a golden-brown wonton wrapper.

Tip: Debbie is famous for her WhistlePig Rye Bada Bing Manhattan, which amps up the traditional cocktail with locally aged rye and a brandied Bing cherry.

The Killarney: Emerald Isle meets Green Mountains

With walls decked in Irish tartans, vintage Guinness posters and maps of the old country, The Killarney does Irish bar in classic style, but with some serious Vermont chops. Every remaining surface is covered in patches from local firefighters, police and military, and Okemo’s rookie ski patrollers make a yearly pilgrimage to autograph the orange sled hanging from the ceiling.

With a food-friendly Irish whiskey in hand, I tried a swirl of broiler-crisped potatoes from the top of a rich, meaty shepherd’s pie, then dug into a light, flaky pile of crisp-fried fish with a side of malt vinegar. Don’t miss the chicken wings—local chefs go toque-to-toque in a dead-serious annual wing competition, and The Killarney has brought home top honors for three years running.

Tip: Settle in, as their unofficial motto is “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met yet.”

Mr. Darcy’s Bar & Grill: handcrafted comfort

The laid-back bar has a mile-long list of beers, wines and cocktails, but the Stoli Doli caught my eye—fresh pineapple macerated in a vat of Stolichnaya vodka, served on the rocks. It’s the perfect aperitif for Mr. Darcy’s menu of rich, full-flavored pub food, from a hefty burger with truffle-scented fries, to a plate of fried pickles that were crisp, tender and delicious. With the same owner and a kindred spirit, Mr. Darcy’s is The Chophouse’s casual, country cousin—the kind of place I crave after a day of Green Mountain hiking.

Tip: Don’t miss the chef’s braised short ribs; meltingly tender and perfectly seasoned, these showstoppers come on a fluffy cloud of mashed potatoes.

Stemwinder: perfect pairings

When in doubt, I always eat at the bar, and at Stemwinder, I had the ideal perch to watch round after round of perfectly composed small plates emerge from the restaurant’s postage stamp-sized kitchen. Every time they set down a dish, the diners leaned over the table and let out a collective sigh.

Stemwinder is a collaboration between two longtime, food- and wine-loving friends. Chef Wendy Neal’s small plates are made to highlight the wine list designed by co-owner Leslie Stuart, whose neighboring Wine and Cheese Depot has become a pilgrimage for Southern Vermont wine lovers.

I understood the blissful sighs as I sampled Chef Wendy’s menu of the day, from a seed-crusted bite of seared tuna to an itsy-bitsy taco filled with confit chicken. The flavors were well balanced, creative and light-hearted. The tuna was sitting on a puree of vanilla-infused rutabaga that recalled a fine dining take on marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes.

Tip: Save some room for dessert! Chef Wendy makes her own freshly churned ice cream that’s the perfect conclusion to a night at Stemwinder.

Begin your epicurean exploration of Okemo Valley.