words // David Scherr
photography // Ben Sarle
The town of Bristol sits in a scenic fold where Champlain Valley farmland bumps into the lower hills of the Green Mountains. The Inn at Baldwin Creek, home of Mary’s Restaurant, is just north of town, and lies nestled against a hillside. While admiring the mountains and fields of Addison County a driver might easily cruise right by the inn. Don’t: you would miss a must-see destination and some of the tastiest food in the region.
Tucked in a secluded glade, the Inn at Baldwin Creek occupies a classic New-England-style house with a renovated barn for larger events. Wooden lampposts guide the way for cars entering the grounds. Behind the inn are greenhouses and a chicken coop, providing produce for Mary’s Restaurant as locally-sourced as food can get.
Chef Doug Mack and Linda Harmon run the restaurant and inn, and the restaurant is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It is a warm, homey, welcoming place, spread across four rooms. An entryway combines with a stylishly designed bar area. That space leads to two dining rooms as well as a third dining area appointed with rustic, wood-paneled walls and a wooden ceiling.
The food makes any journey to Mary’s Restaurant worthwhile. The pre-meal bread lets visitors know right away they are in the hands of culinary masters. Baked in-house, with Vermont-made flour from King Arthur Flour and Gleason Grains, you won’t be able to resist eating every last slice. If you try, the butter compote that comes with the bread will overpower your resolve with a perfectly flavorful mix of herbs.
Start your meal with cocktails created by imaginative mixologist Martha Mack. Ms. Mack infuses liquors in-house. This year, in celebration of the 30th anniversary, Ms. Mack has dreamed up cocktails named for famous movies that came out during the last three decades. The “Dark Knight,” for example, combines maple and orange flavors. Though many maple-flavored drinks suffer from their sweetness, the Dark Knight is a well-balanced cocktail that highlights a pleasant maple taste without being overwhelmed by it.
For those looking for an off-menu secret, try the Cucumber Gimlet: a perfect blend of lime and cucumber flavors, the acidity of the lime playing off the cucumber nicely.
The endlessly helpful waitstaff, full of recommendations and expert knowledge, can guide you through a satisfying meal. Mary’s Restaurant is rightfully famous for its rich and satisfying Cream of Garlic Soup: the appetizer is practically obligatory and never leaves the menu. But don’t stop there; other appetizers like the Secret Life of Beets deserve accolades for showing off the incredible flavor of local produce. I have tasted few better arguments for locally-grown, and Chef Mack cleverly highlights the flavors with a few garnishes while letting the succulent vegetables mostly speak for themselves.
An inviting variety of entrees will make diners waver over their choice, but they’ll be fine whichever one they decide on. The perfectly cooked salmon—flaky, soft, and juicy, with a rich flavor—is creatively topped with a layer of cooked potato. The lamb is complemented by a subtle and delicious barbeque sauce along with minted mango salsa, and comes with corn-quinoa cakes that awakened me to possibilities for quinoa that I had never imagined.
If any visitors can possibly eat more, some of the deserts come with incredible Lu Lu artisan ice cream: imaginative flavors and rich concoctions, dreamed up by sisters Martha and Laura Mack. (Mary’s Restaurant is something of a family affair). Also sold in its own ice cream shop, Lu Lu is worthy of a sampling—and much more.
With incredibly friendly service, a beautiful location, and truly remarkable food, Mary’s Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek deserves the attention of visitors and Vermonters everywhere.