Taking In The CROP

16 Aug

The gleaming copper glimpsed through the glass of a two-story atrium is the first thing that catches the eye.  Located on the Mountain Road in Stowe, this property was once known as The Shed Restaurant, the place where après ski was conceived, and long a favorite of mine for Sunday brunch.  One of Vermont’s original brewpubs, it was forced to close it’s doors in October 2011 when its lease expired.  This would be a tough act to follow.

CROP facade_2282-72     CROP_ Stowe-72

Stowe is the self-proclaimed “Ski Capital of the East” and boasts more award-winning restaurants than any place found between Boston and Montreal.  This foodie paradise, positioned in a narrow valley between the Worchester and Presidential Ranges of the Green Mountains, begins in the village of Waterbury, home to both Vermont Coffee Roasters—the largest fair-trade coffee company in the world—and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.  Acclaimed restaurants such as Hen of the Wood and Micheal’s on the Hill mix with the award-winning IPA of the Alchemist Brewery, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Cabot Creamery’s primary retail outlet to begin a portion of Route 100 that has been dubbed “The Golden Highway.”

The three-way stop sign marks the center of Stowe village, ten miles from Waterbury and halfway to the northern end of the valley in the up-and-coming town of Morrisville.  It also marks the eastern end of Route 108, called the Mountain Road, which snakes through the spectacular Smugglers Notch between the two highest peaks in the Green Mountains.

Winter brings skiers from around the world, while luxurious homes and resorts provide summer retreats.  From the refuge of the Green Mountain Inn (est. 1838) in the village to the aerie of Cliff House on the summit of Mount Mansfield, the Mountain Road offers a plethora of exceptional food, wine, and craft beers.

CROP_beer sampler-72

Chefs, brew masters, and restaurateurs in Vermont are creating business fusions almost as quickly as they develop new menus and dining concepts.  There are exceptions, like Antonio and Giancarlo De Vito who have been creating amazing meals at their Trattoria La Festa for over 25 years, but generally the best talent moves from venture to venture—along with their loyal followings.  The Crop Bistro & Brewery exemplifies this.

When the Shed closed their doors, Steve Schimoler purchased the property and began renovating. His Vermont connection began in 1990 when he became VP of product development for Cabot Creamery and in 1999 he restored an old mill to create the famous Mist Grill (now Hen in the Wood). This culinary innovator moved to Cleveland in 2005 and opened a test kitchen—Customized Restaurant Operations Platform or CROP—that has become one of the premier restaurants in the city.  For the CROP venture in Stowe he partnered with Tom Bivins, former chef for the Inn At Shelburne Farms (the Vanderbuilt-Webb estate), chef at the Pritcher Inn in Warren when they won their Relais et Chateau designation, and former executive chef at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier.  They called in Will Gilson, formerly at the Alchemist and Moat Mt. Smokehouse & Brewing co. in North Conway, NH, Snake River Brewing in Jackson Hole, and Squatters Brewpub in Salt Lake City.  Tim Baur—the owner of a trendy bar and tapas restaurant called the Falcon House in Delray Beach , FL—became the general manager.  Just to wrap things up they ordered a $500,000 state-of-the-art brewing system from Caspary, a Bavarian company, and built an atrium around it.

CROP pub_2286-72

Like cream, talent rises to the top.  Never mind that the Trapp Family Brewery is just up the road or that the Alchemist can’t produce enough to fill weekly demand.  Forget—for now—that Rock Art and Lost Nation Brewing are only 10 miles away in Morrisville.  CROP has been producing their beers in 8.5-barrel batches since the beginning of 2013 and has already developed a following.  Will’s Oatmeal Milk Stout is one of the smoothest I’ve ever drunk and his bock-style Extrapolator leaves a gentle, but crisp back bite that cleanses the palate.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tang of the Bavarian-style Heffeweizen, but think it’s best consumed on hot summer days rather than being paired with food—this is just my opinion.

CROP_daily brews-72     CROP brew kettles_2295-72

Chef Tom Bivins is keeping things simple.  No fancy white linens or menu items most of us can’t pronounce, just excellent food that keeps the regular customers coming back for more.  I sampled the Cheddar Larger Soup ($7); beer-battered fried pickles ($6); a hand-rolled German-style pretzel with brown ale mustard for dipping ($5); and a trio of handmade tacos with duck confit, pulled pork, and grilled chicken ($10).  Oh, there’s much more, including great sandwiches from a classic Reuben ($11) to Carolina MOP Chicken ($12), a CROP Burger ($13) or Vermont Rarebit ($15), and salads, but I can only eat so much at one sitting.

Part of the Vermont Fresh Network, CROP is dedicated to sourcing from local farmers and food producers.  This goes so far as to include their signature cocktails.  Take 1.5 oz of Green Mountain Organic Lemon Vodka (Stowe), .5 oz Eden Ice Cider (Eden), .5 oz Caledonia Spirits Elderberry Cordial (Hardwick), 1 oz of lemon juice (sorry, not local), and 3 drops of lavender bitters and you have a CROP Cosmo.

CROP_main dining room-72

The large outdoor patio is out back where the bicycle path winds along the river and is ideal for bicyclists, motorcyclists, and those who prefer sitting in the dappled shade of trees.  The original Shed pub has been sensibly retained, and the bright, main dining room with its cathedral ceiling is separated from the bistro bar by a glass partition.  There are other more intimate areas and the large stone double fireplace creates another atmospheric setting that will be as popular during the colder months.

Mine has been a positive experience and I will return.

http://www.cropvt.com  (802) 253-4765  1859 Mountain Road, Stowe, VT  05672

For more about Stowe and CROP Bistro, go to Taste Trekkers, episode 61 (10/18/2013) with host Seth Ressler interviewing me:  http://tunein.com/topic/?TopicId=53882266


CROP map


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