I haven’t talked too much about the Mad River, my favorite river in the world, which meanders through this valley in an amazing array of twist and corkscrews that give it its name. Everyone around here swims in the water which is clear and at the moment (well, OK, always) very cold. There are many different spots to take a dip, and all of them have beaches strewn with rocks. Every year we make a family collection of rocks to bring back to Delaware. They go in various places: into bowls around the house, onto our desks, out in the garden, in the children’s sand table. They are constant and tactile reminders of the beneficence of this beautiful place and to touch them makes me always feel peaceful.
I’m not the only person who feels this way about the rocks around here. George Schenk, the founder of American Flatbread has used Vermont fieldstone and clay from a brook to build his wood-fired ovens. They look like massive beehives and they produce delicious pizza that is light, crisp, and vaguely smoky, topped with ingredients like Vermont-made chevre and local onions that are roasted in maple syrup.
This is a restaurant that actually has a “philosophy” page on its website and George writes dedications each week that are included on the menu. According to the website, the number one goal of the company is “to produce good flavorful, nutritious food that gives both joy and health. To share this food with our community and the world to the degree of our comfort.”
This goal was definitely met tonight at American Flatbread’s Community Cafeteria, which is held weekly at the Lareau Farm, now an inn and the site of American Flatbread’s headquarters (there are also restaurants in Middlebury and Burlington in and Ashburn, Virginia). This Thursday-night event is clearly the local place for families. When we arrived and made our way past the barn and inn over to the pavilion by the river, there was a long line of adults waiting patiently to load up plates with salad, roasted corn, watermelon, and of course the pizza. It was chaotic but friendly. All of the water pitchers were empty and you could only get butter and salt and pepper from large communal containers in the middle of the buffet (I didn’t realize this fact until we sat down and so had to elbow my way back into the crowd, corn in hand). But somehow everyone got their pizza, very hot, from the oven that sat under a banner reading “Food is Fundamental.”
And really the evening was not the domain of the grownups anyway, as they were easily outnumbered by children two to one. Children in Crocs of all hues, or sparkly slippers, or bare feet. Children who danced, raced, tumbled, played soccer, roasted marshmallows, and made prayer flags, which they then clipped to a string where they danced in the breeze. Some of the bolder ones stood on the high bank of the river looking down into its swirling water or ran across the unmowed meadow that lay behind the lawn, impervious to scratchy grass or ticks. In one corner, a woman sat quietly playing folk music on the guitar and talking to any child who came to watch her, including Little Chick, who peeped at her and was rewarded with an opportunity to touch the strings of her guitar. It was a cool and golden evening, with delicious shadows and a hint of fall.
I remembered later this evening that American Flatbread has also built ovens at local elementary schools so that the children can learn about how making their own food (with local ingredients, some of them grown in the schoolyard garden) and eat what is prepared. Although I’m happy that I get to travel here and experience this place, it makes me wonder why we can’t have one of these restaurants in every community.