Written by Anita
November 5, 2017
Nothing says fall more than a leisurely weekend in Vermont. After a quick direct flight (DCA-BTV), we found ourselves marveling at red wooden barns glinting in the sun, cows grazing peacefully on lush hillsides, and trees sporting foliage in warm, vibrant hues. Our destination?: The Essex, dubbed Vermont’s culinary resort and spa. Newly renovated this year, the stunning 18-acre resort sits nestled between the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. It offers a range of services and activities, including a full-service spa, tours, fishing, weekly bonfires, an 18-hole golf course, biking, tennis, and cooking classes.
We checked in with the hospitable staff (true to its culinary focus, the front desk doubles as a pastry counter) and then went up to our spacious suite in the Inn, complete with gas fireplace, living area, mini Igloo fridge, flat panel HD TV, in-room Keurig coffeemaker, cooking-themed touches, and free Wi-Fi. After relaxing a bit, we headed down to Junction, the resort’s award-winning seasonal restaurant. Despite its casual atmosphere and slightly kitchy décor (the ceiling is covered with quirky place settings), the restaurant delivers world-class farm-to-table cuisine.
We began our dinner with a gift from the chef: ruby red tuna tartare, bathed in the runny yolk of a poached quail egg and perched on a crispy parmesan cracker. For our appetizers, we chose decadently roasted beef marrow slathered with a herbaceous gremolata and accompanied by a sweet onion marmalade, and braised pork belly with fresh apple butter topped with spiced nuts. Entrees included thick hearty lamb chops with braised red cabbage layered between roasted cauliflower florets and sauced with a rich rosemary demi-glace, and a round of butternut squash risotto, draped with earthy wild mushrooms and drizzled with crème fraiche. The meal’s perfect ending? A warm gingerbread mini bundt cake pudding with crème anglaise, cranberry compote, and bits of candied lemon. The evening’s glow persisted as we cuddled around the resort’s outdoor bonfire.
The next day offered a whirlwind of activities. We started with an obligatory tour of the nearby Ben & Jerry’s factory, culminating in a tasting of Milk & Cookies ice cream and a cruise through the flavor graveyard. An afternoon stroll through Waterfront Park along the Burlington Bay helped us to work off our indulgence! We also walked through the University of Vermont campus, the fifth oldest university in New England and the first to admit women and African-Americans to Phi Beta Kappa. We ended our day at the Essex Resort’s luxurious spa, basking in the warmth of the sauna, steam room, and large outdoor hot tub and cooling off in the spa’s 25-yard indoor pool. A deep tissue massage and snooze in the spa’s cozy lounge provided a relaxing end to a busy day.
Our final morning began with an intimate cooking class at the resort’s Cook Academy. Formerly the home of the New England Culinary Institute, the expansive property offers several classrooms for hands-on learning. Our Sunday brunch class started with refreshments: freshly squeezed mimosas and puffy popovers with creamy Vermont maple butter. We then got to work! We started by making the dough for what would ultimately be a flaky tart of caramelized onion, bacon, and Vermont Cheddar cheese. We also whisked up a rosemary crème brulee French toast and a delicious crab cake eggs Benedict. Our chef instructor, Lisa Ruoff, was patient and informative, giving us tips and showing us tricks along the way. We diced onions, cracked eggs (the proper way!), crumbled bacon, formed and sautéed crab patties, rolled dough, and poached eggs. At the end of the roughly two-hour class, we sat down to enjoy the many fruits of our labor!
Want to get a taste of the Essex for yourself? Groupon currently has a winter special—a nightly rate of $105 for a king room, plus a $25 spa credit. So there’s never been a better time to try all that the Essex Resort & Spa has to offer!
Want to see more? Here are links to more of our photos!: Essex Resort & Spa, Essex Resort & Spa's Junction Restaurant, Essex Resort & Spa's Cook Academy, Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour