Cooking With Chefs at the Inn On Park Street, Brandon, Vermont

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CHECKING IN
BOUNTEOUS BREAKFASTS AND SWEET INDULGENCES
By Joe Yonan, Globe Staff | October 23, 2005

BRANDON, Vt. -- Blame the rain, the traffic, and MapQuest. I arrived so late at The Inn on Park Street that innkeeper Judy Bunde -- and everyone else in the place -- had already gone to bed.

That was fine by me. The front door was unlocked. But that still left one not-so-small question: Which room was mine? The door to the large downstairs guest room was wide-open, the nightstand lights were on, and little cookies and water awaited on a table inside. This had to be the one. I popped one of the chocolate macaroons in my mouth, sighed with pleasure, and then scarfed down the other one, followed closely by two little ganache-filled tartlets. If this is what it's like to stay in an inn run by a former pastry chef, I thought, I'm in for a delectable weekend.

A gracious one, too, because Bunde knows more than mere baking.

Take that late arrival, for instance. As it turns out, I had walked right past a large note that Bunde had tacked to the front door of the inn, welcoming me and making sure I found the right room. If she couldn't be there to greet me, she would leave the next best thing.

Such details can turn an ordinary bed-and-breakfast into a home away from home, at least for a few days. It was too rainy for hiking, biking, or much else that would require a trip outside, and the foliage was missing those fiery reds this year, but the pitter-patter of drops on the windowsill made for top-notch sleeping and decent reading. Worse things can happen than a do-nothing weekend.

Bunde helped me salvage other activities, with dinner at the top of the list. Before I had even arrived, she offered in an e-mail exchange to make a reservation at Cafe Provence, the town's delightful -- and very busy -- French restaurant. When I asked her by phone to help me find a massage therapist for my sore neck, she immediately went to work.

Hospitality seems to come naturally to Bunde, who took over the inn about a year ago after her wholesale pastry business, Sweet Endings, burned down in Watertown, and she moved to Brandon. In this six-room Queen Anne Victorian inn, Bunde whips up such bountiful morning meals that it could just as easily be called a bed-and-brunch. Indulge in everything she offers at the breakfast table, and your stomach won't growl again until dinnertime.

On Saturday morning, I chatted with a young couple and wondered aloud why the table was set when we already had plates and a seemingly full breakfast buffet awaiting us in the parlor. Then Bunde came in and explained the drill. We could graze off the buffet, which included granola with yogurt, fruit, plus homemade banana bread and bran muffins, then she would cook to order our choice of pecan-maple waffles or squash-and-tomato omelets. With sausage, of course. In other words, two breakfasts in one.

If, like me, you need a jolt of caffeine before facing your fellow travelers over the breakfast table, Bunde offers what she calls ''dressing coffee," a tray with a Thermos of java, cup, creamer, and sugar waiting outside your door first thing in the morning. Now that's service.

Bunde's other claim to fame is her 9 p.m. dessert buffet. I had missed it on Friday, which no doubt is why she left me the macaroons and tartlets. I wasn't about to let that happen again. So on Saturday, after a stroll around downtown, poking into the Warren Kimble gallery and store, and a trip to a spa at nearby Killington for a massage, I hightailed it back to Cafe Provence and skipped dessert.

When I walked back into the inn, the fire was crackling in the green-and-yellow parlor, and Bunde was holding forth on the pros and cons of innkeeping for two guests intrigued by the lifestyle. She had set out four kinds of cookies, each better than the last; my favorite was the perfectly buttery shortbread studded with pistachios and dried cranberries -- but the maple-walnut cookies were a close second. She ran to the kitchen to slip a dish of apple crisp under the broiler, and returned with a generous helping, topped with a scoop of ice cream.

It may not sound that way, but there is more to the inn than the food. My room, the only one of the six that is outfitted with cable TV, was also stocked with videos, from ''The Sound of Music" and ''Singin' in the Rain" to ''The English Patient" and ''Wag the Dog." It also has a Jacuzzi-style tub big enough for two or even three, although when I tried it out the hot water didn't last long enough to fill the thing, leaving the bath lukewarm before I even got in.

No matter. It was bedtime anyway, and I needed to get my strength back for tackling the next day's challenge -- no, not the drive home -- breakfast. Bunde had promised, among other things, scones. Something was telling me hers would be close to perfect.

Contact Joe Yonan at yonan@globe.com.

The Inn on Park Street , 69 Park Street, Brandon, Vt.
Call 800-394-7239 or visit www.cookingwithchefs.com


View other recent press: "Want to fork over the dough?" - Boston Globe, October 31, 2004