If you’re traveling in Vermont this summer, stop at one of the state’s many general stores (also known as country stores), and you might find fresh baked muffins for your morning coffee, made-to-order sandwiches for lunch, scoops of Vermont-made ice cream for an afternoon snack, or take-out dinners such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, along with a slice of pie.
General stores have long been valued for their role in the community as hubs of activity, where news is shared and packages delivered, where the basic necessities of daily living can be procured. Historically they were shops that sold dry goods and groceries — not meals.
These days, from doughnuts fried in lard to seaweed salad, the homemade fare at Vermont country stores is a big draw. “Having prepared foods is a way to stay competitive,” says Chuck Gundersen, owner of Teago General Store in South Pomfret, Vt. “Back in the early days of general stores, you had a captive audience because getting to the next town was a half-day’s journey.” Now, says the proprietor, “You learn the things that people want and try to have them.”
Today you can get three square and delicious meals at most general stores, and have fun and meet great people along the way.
D & K’s Jamaica
Owner Karen Ameden and husband, Dale (hence D and K), sold their store in 1990 and missed it almost immediately. “We realized later,” Karen says, “that all we needed was a week’s vacation.” In 2008 the Amedens purchased the store back, gave it a fresh coat of white paint and cheerful red trim, and renamed it. Karen sees having homemade, prepared foods as central to their success: “A lot of people don’t have time to cook, or are single, or don’t want to cook,” she says.
Help yourself to a free bag of popcorn while you decide what to order, peruse housewares, clothing, hardware, toiletries, and sundries. Whatever else you find, get a soft serve ice cream, often called “creemees” in Vermont. (The Amedens’ is 10 percent milk-fat soft serve, while most are 5 percent). And don’t forget to drop your card, or name and phone number, in the bowl on the counter to win a free pie in a weekly drawing.
Highlights: Breakfast sandwiches (ask for homemade sausage); meatball sub; a variety of stromboli; chicken-cranberry salad. Sweets: raspberry-chocolate oat bar; snickerdoodles, ginger crinkle cookies; fresh fruit pies; maple pecan or maple walnut pies; apple maple cheddar pies; homemade jams, jellies, pickles, and relishes. 3816
Vermont Route 30, Jamaica, Vt., 802-874-4151.
Teago General Store
In this South Pomfret store, notice the wall of postal boxes and the postmaster behind a counter. You’re in a general store that doubles as the P.O. (once common, this is one of the few left). As soon as you see the prominently displayed 30-pound wheel of Vermont cheddar cheese, a classic Vermont general store emblem, you know you’re in the right place. A taut wire attached to the lid leads up to and across the ceiling to an old horseshoe. When the lid is lifted, the horseshoe serves as a counterweight, keeping the lid aloft while a slice of cheese is cut.
Owner Chuck Gundersen is a notary and justice of the peace, so you can get married here, if the urge strikes. You can also get a free drink if you answer the trivia question of the day correctly.
Highlights: Take-and-bake 16-inch pizzas on Fridays (order by 5:30 p.m.); “Better Yet,” a thick slice of homemade grilled meatloaf; chicken salad; black bean and corn salad; peanut pasta ginger salad; hermits. 2035 Pomfret Road, South
Pomfret, Vt., 802-457-1626, www.teagostore.com
Jane Hastings Larrabee and husband Gary live on site at the Hastings Store in West Danville, just as Jane’s great-grandparents did when they purchased it in 1913. Gary is postmaster of the West Danville Post Office, also located here. The store is known for its moist blueberry crumb cake; cupcakes, including vanilla with maple butter cream frosting); and prized doughnuts, usually plain but sometimes flavored with zucchini, pumpkin, or cider. They’re fried in lard.
Gary is the cook and baker and has been making his grandmother’s hand-cut doughnuts for 40 years, rising at 3 a.m. to have them ready by the time the store opens. Each one looks a bit different. Once Jane took over the task and used Crisco. “That didn’t last long,” she says. “The texture wasn’t right.” If you fall in love with them, Hastings will ship them to you. Or buy a bag and when you get home, warm them in a 250-degree oven to re-crisp them. 2748 Route 2 West, West Danville, 802-684-3398, www.hastings-store.com
Just up the road from Hastings Store is Willey’s in Greensboro, a huge rambling place with impressive groceries, local produce and meats, dairy products from yogurt to ice cream, housewares, garden supplies, clothing, toys, and a vast hardware department. Rob W. Hurst, the fifth-generation family member to own the store, explains that Willey’s is a True Value Hardware store — possibly the quirkiest one in the nation. Part of the store spans a creek to connect it to an adjacent building. In-store food prep is limited to sandwiches, salads, soups, and hot dogs.
Hurst would like to expand, but says, “Willey’s is in a very old structure, built long before modern day building codes existed. That makes it cost-prohibitive or impractical to retrofit kitchens and plumbing for commercial food preparation.”
Highlights: There are plenty of locally prepared items, artisan cheeses and breads, Per’s smoked fish or fish spread, chili, beer from nearby Hill Farmstead Brewery, and other enticing fixings for a picnic at nearby Caspian Lake. Buy a soda in a glass bottle and pop off the cap with the old-fashioned cap remover mounted to the right of the screen door. The pssshhh-pop-clink as the cap falls into the metal bin below will bring back memories or create new ones. Willey’s Store, 7 Breezy Ave., Greensboro, Vt., 802-533-2621
Originally a stage coach inn, the two-story general store in Warren is painted white with handsome black trim. Wooden floorboards have become worn with time. Upstairs in the “More” store, browse the clothing, gifts, and toys.
Warren sandwiches come on its own bakery’s bread with homemade spreads. “Our sandwiches are very popular,” says Jack Garvin, manager for 32 years and a fixture here. “On a busy holiday weekend, the line can go out the front door.” The bakery, located out back, makes something for every taste, from red velvet whoopie pies to fruit galettes.
This store is less “general” than others, though it carries the basics. Visit on a nice day so that you can sit on the wraparound front porch or deck that overlooks scenic “Kids Brook” (the town’s bylaws permit only children age 12 and under to fish).
Highlights: Homemade yogurt and granola; the popular “Number Six” sandwich with roast turkey and a homemade cranberry mayonnaise; “Godzilla,” with roast beef and horseradish-wasabi mayonnaise; tortellini salad; gazpacho; and “Jack Snax,” Garvin’s party mix recipe. The Long Trail mix has cranberries, walnuts, and white chocolate (if you’re hiking the trail, you’ll get a free cookie). Vermont-made Kingdom Creamery ice cream is here, by the scoop (try maple). On weekends, look for maple-pecan blondie parfait, made with bacon brittle. For beer aficionados, Lawson’s Finest, is brewed right here in Warren. 284 Main St., Warren, Vt., 802-496-3864, www.warrenstore.comHolly Jennings can be reached at email@example.com