This July, Tasting Table celebrates the great state of American food and drink.
After six months of winter, a true harbinger of Vermont summer is the profusion of snack bars flinging open their shutters to offer hungry motorists respite from the lonesome highway. With a groaning board of often made-to-order eats that run the gamut from fried clams and pickle chips to Michigan-style hot dogs (a steamed frankfurter topped with tomatoey meat sauce) and, if you venture close enough to the Canadian border, poutine, these roadside marvels offer far more than simple concessions.
Though there are exceptions, most snack bars adhere to some unifying principles: They're highly seasonal, open from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day, self-serve and booze free. Symbolically, snack bars are to drive-ins what Creemees are to soft-serve: Vermont's unique take on what is an otherwise fairly quotidian bit of culinary Americana, imbued with an aura of throwback charm. Many of the most beloved snack bars came about in the fifties and sixties during the drive-in boom, but even those that opened later harken back to a time before fast and frozen food became the order of the day.
If you find yourself peckish driving through the Green Mountain State this summer, check out one of these gems:
Outside of Cajun's Snack Bar | Photo: Courtesy of Cajun's Snack Bar
Cajun's Snack Bar
On a lonely stretch of road in the remote reaches of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, Cajun's bright yellow sign is like an oasis in a desert of dairy and wind farms. As the name implies, there's a vaguely Cajun-themed motif embedded in the uncharacteristically expansive menu, which includes fried alligator and crawfish alongside more standard fare like house-ground burgers, clam rolls, poutine and the state's inimitable frozen dessert, Creemees. Nearly everything is made from scratch, and if the weekend crowds who travel from all across the state are any indication, Cajun's is a veritable destination dining.
White Cottage Snack Bar
In operation since 1957, White Cottage is a physical manifestation of a bygone era, like a drive-in straight out of Leave It to Beaver. To keep up with the discerning clienetele—this is, after all, a town full of second homes, not to mention a Rockefeller mansion—owner John Hurley goes out of his way to source quality ingredients for his elevated road food. It shows in one of the spot's most popular items, the fried clam platter, which spotlights bivalves delivered fresh daily from Massachusetts.
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Maynard's Snack Bar
Wilma and Jerry Maynard have been behind the counter at their eponymous snack bar since they opened in 1977, defying the term fast food with every made-to-order, hand-cut basket of french fries and perfectly cooked cheeseburger. Many of the stand's ingredients come straight from the Maynard's farm directly across the road. A multigenerational crowd of locals convene at picnic tables underneath the cottonwoods to enjoy all the classics. You can also purchase farm-fresh eggs and hay mulch at the stand if you so choose.
From the outside, the Whippi Dip has all the trappings of a gloriously retro burger shack. And sure, it's that. But it's also the site of some of the best BBQ in the state of Vermont, owing to owners Crystal Johnson and Mark Fifield's passion for pristinely sourced local meat, hand-built smokers and homemade sauces and rubs (the pair compete nationally on a BBQ team). In addition to perfectly executed basics, the Whippi Dip offers more rarefied eats, from the fiddlehead ferns that appear in occasional salad specials to the hand-made rhubarb and lemon curd that serve as sundae topping options.
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