It was a perfect day for a drive: a clear blue sky with the occasional puffy white cloud and, most remarkably, traffic moving at the speed limit. Litchfield for lunch was our destination. Along the way we planned to stop at the famous White Flower Farm garden nursery. We also hoped to encounter some local foods, picturesque farms, scenic roads, and bucolic countryside.
In my mind, Litchfield is the quintessential historic Connecticut town. Anchoring the Connecticut’s northwest corner, it has a venerable colonial era town green surrounded by churches and historic homes, a few blocks of eclectic but appealing commercial architecture, and some imposing public buildings. In addition to long-time local residents, the area is a weekend home for New Yorkers, a sanctuary for the occasional celebrity, and fertile ground for a new crop of farmers, wine makers, and artisan food producers catering to the increasing demand for high-quality, interesting, hand-made, local food and drink
We parked along the shady green next to the war memorial with its iconic cannon, obelisk, and plaques honoring Litchfield’s war dead. Opposite the memorial was the town’s information booth – tourism is important to the local economy. The booth, packed with brochures, maps and guides, was staffed by a charming white-haired attendant who made helpful suggestions based on our interests and pointed out some personal favorites, too. She had just been on a fun and successful visit to the White Memorial Conservation Center with her 3-year-old great-granddaughter – hardy stock in those Litchfield hills.
There are lots of dining options in Litchfield, both along the green and outside of town. Not knowing what the weekday crowds would be, we had reserved ahead at The Village (village-litchfield.com), a local landmark. Good thing we did, as every seat was taken. The charming dining room rode the line between old fashioned and country chic for a comfortable but not outdated appearance.
The very up-to-date and extensive menu was full of intriguing choices made with local supplies. I opted for The Bantam, a roasted turkey sandwich with apple, caramelized-onion mayo, and Arethusa Camembert and Bantam Bread from just down the road. The thick-sliced perfectly-cooked turkey was a worthy (but slightly messy, as a good sandwich is) match with the cheese and apple on the crusty seeded bread. Marsha opted for the Soup and Half Sandwich – flavorful clam chowder with half a salami, turkey, Swiss, lettuce and tomato on whole wheat. We couldn’t pass up sharing the home-made strawberry-rhubarb pie à la mode made with fruit from March Farm in Bethlehem. You should have seen the scramble for the last bite!
Strolling along the short commercial center, we found some more restaurants open for lunch: @ The Corner with an eclectic pub menu featuring local ingredients and a good selection of craft beer; the West Street Grill, source of “some of the area’s finest cooking” according to Patricia Brooks of the New York Times; and Ollie’s Pizza at the end of the block with a large outdoor dining patio.
After lunch we drove a few minutes south of town to White Flower Farm in Morris (whiteflowerfarm.com). It’s likely that you’ve received their plant catalog in the mail (Spring & Fall), filled with glossy pictures of stunning flowering plants and vivid descriptions of how they’ll enhance your garden. The display gardens more than live up to the promise of the catalog. Garden after manicured garden is filled with striking flowers and colorful plants. Shade or sun, low or high, perennial or annual, they’re all there in technicolor glory.
Grandiose garden plans grew in our minds as we walked along the display beds, “We could do that. Look at this color. I can see this by the driveway. Wouldn’t that look great along the fence?” The White Flower Farm gardens have that effect. Never mind the deep shade that dominates our yard, the dense web of tree roots, and my lack of color sense. This place instills the need to plant flowers!
On the way to White Flower, we passed the large and well kept Arethusa Farm, makers of the lunch sandwich camembert. The staff at WFF encouraged us to visit the farm store in Bantam, just a few miles west of Litchfield. We drove back to town, took another loop around the green, and headed west on Rt 202.
The Arethusa store, in an historic brick building, with a knot of people in front, came up on the right. Ice cream was the draw as families and couples gathered out front with a cone or a cup. Full of pie, we could only admire the ice cream but were captivated by the large wheels of aged cheese: Blue, Bella Bantam, Camembert, Crybaby, Europa, Rotondo and Mt. Tom along with a clutch of fresh-flavored farmer’s cheeses. We sampled the Swiss style, Cry Baby, and picked up a wedge of that along with some Gruyère-style Mt. Tom. The dairy operations (they produce milk and yogurt, too) all happen behind a glass window in the back of the store (just like Stew’s) in a gleaming array of stainless steel equipment. (arethusafarm.com)
There was lots more we wanted to see, but it was time to head home. We’ll have to plan another trip to Litchfield to take in the wineries (Haight-Brown Vineyards is just outside of town), visit the historical society, tramp the White Memorial Conservation Center (maybe with our granddaughter), explore some back roads, and try more restaurants. We’ll be sure to save room for ice cream and bring a cooler to take home our culinary finds.