Brandon, a small Vermont town and tight-knit artistic community, is located between Rutland and Middlebury at the base of the Green Mountains and has a population that hovers around 4,000 people. The town is a quintessential Vermont village with many brick facades lining Center Street, a Greek-revival town hall and the Neshobe River running through its center. Brandon is one of our favorite places to spend a leisurely afternoon, whether to peruse the antique shop, window shop downtown or grab a bite to eat.
Visiting Brandon Vermont
Brandon offers a few inns, shops (a kitchen store, home store, art gallery, women’s clothing store, florist, barber and hardware store) and casual restaurants, but the town has become the food destination that it is because of Café Provence, a French bistro-style cafe that has been a staple in Brandon since 2004. Since then, Chef and owner Robert Barral has been continually expanding eateries in Brandon, from Gourmet Provence—a fantastic bakery and wine and cheese shop (and home to the best sticky bun you’ll ever try, promise)—and the Center Street Bar—a pub and watering hole—located just downstairs from Café Provence. Through food, Chef Robert has transformed a drive-through town into one worth a visit and a stay.
Chef Robert’s Cooking Classes at Café Provence
Chef Robert, whose original passion was teaching culinary arts as the executive chef for the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, Vermont, also offers cooking classes every week in Café Provence’s “culinary theatre”, located next to the Center Street pub. For $50 a class, you can learn the art of making a three-course French meal. Each Vermont cooking class has a different menu, and Chef Robert demonstrates his classic techniques, givings attendees the skills to replicate his Parisian dishes at home. From a cooking class menu of a Lobster-Saffron Seafood Crêpe, Lamb Shank Cassoulet and Lavender Creme Brulee to Goat Cheese Roulade, Seafood Paella and Beef Bourguignon, Café Provence’s cooking classes would make a perfect date night or gift to the foodie in your life.
Dining at Café Provence: Brunch, Lunch and Dinner
The interior of Café Provence is inviting, yet casual, with wooden tables and chairs, and walls painted in Café Provence’s signature green and yellow colors. An open kitchen allows you to watch as your food is prepared, and a dessert case tempts you with sweet offerings from the moment you step through the door. A small bar with four stools allows you to get an even closer look at Chef Robert’s food preparation and techniques. Café Provence draws a diverse clientele, from older couples to families with kids and women out for a girls’ night, likely due to the consistently good food, extensive menu selections (with ample gluten-free and vegetarian dishes) and fair prices.
We’ve dined at Café Provence for many years now for casual lunches and special occasions alike. The dinner menu boasts many French favorites from a Charcuterie Platter ($14) to Moules Marinières ($10) to Escargot Provençale ($10) for appetizers and main entrees including a Seafood Stew ($25) with saffron risotto, Chicken Niçoise ($22) over angel hair pasta, Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($18) with a sage brown butter sauce, a Duck Duo ($26) with pomegranate molasses and Braised Lamb in Puff Pastry ($25) with a minted demi glace. The menu also includes Hearth Oven Pizzas for those looking for a more casual meal in Brandon, from Portobello Pizza ($13) with mozzarella and fontina cheeses or Sour Cream, Red Onion, Back and Wilted Spinach Pizza ($13) if you are in the mood for a unique flavor combination.
New Year’s Eve Lunch at Café Provence
For the past two years, Randy and I have found ourselves at Café Provence for lunch on New Year’s Eve, a new holiday tradition for us. The lunch menu, like the dinner menu, has something for everyone from lunch entrée salads like Salad Niçoise ($13) to the Signature Grilled Turkey BLT ($9) and Otter Creek Beer Battered Fish Chips ($10). On our recent visit, Randy opted for the Grilled Veggie Wrap with Apple and Blue Ledge Farm Chèvre ($10), complete with baby spinach, caramelized onions and squash puree. Although the squash puree had a bit too much of a pumpkin pie taste for me, he loved it and said the goat cheese balanced out the vegetables nicely. The crispy fries and fresh local greens were a nice addition as well, making for a substantial lunch.
I had a side Mesclun Salad ($4) with gorgonzola vinaigrette and the Housemade Ricotta Cavetelli with Truffled Beurre Blanc ($11), finished with sautéed shallots, Asiago cheese, spinach and garlic. Although a definite end-of-2014 splurge, the Cavatelli were tender and flavorful; they also had the option of being topped with grilled chicken, scallops or shrimp Provençal for a heftier meal. For lunch, the vegetarian option was plenty satisfying.
Although we almost never eat dessert for lunch, we do at Café Provence where we always share the Chef’s Dessert Tasting ($8), a pairing of a warm chocolate cake, maple crème brûlée, a mini cheesecake and vanilla ice cream in a candied shell (although it would be better with homemade ice cream but Ben & Jerry’s with certainly do!). For around $45 with tip and gratuity, it was a proper send off to a year of good food and drink in Vermont. We’ll certainly be back in 2015 for even more delicious discoveries at Café Provence and its sister properties in Brandon.
Travel Like a Local’s Tips for Visiting Café Provence in Brandon:
- If you can’t find street parking in Brandon, there are ample spots behind the restaurant, accessed through a small alley right before the Center Street Bar when driving north on Route 7.
- Café Provence offers a variety of specials throughout the week. Take advantage of them! On Sundays, children under 10 eat for fee with the purchase of an adult meal. On Tuesdays, enjoy half price bottles of wine. And on Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can enjoy early-bird specials (from 4pm-6pm) for $13.95, which includes soup or salad with either Fish & Chips, Chicken Nicoise, Steak Frites, Cavatelli or Pizza.
- Looking for a Vermonty birthday, wedding or anniversary gift? Café Provence’s cooking classes are only $50 per person and are held Monday afternoons. There are many delicious classes to choose from on their events calendar.
- If you live in the Waterbury-Stowe area, you’re in luck! In 2014, Chef Robert opened up Café Provence on Blush Hill at the Best Western in town. Open six days a week, the second Café Provence menu offers much of the same as the location in Brandon, with more small bites (croquettes and Buffalo wings) and a Burger & Brew night on Wednesdays and Prime Rib on Thursdays.
- Getting married in Vermont or in Brandon? Café Provence makes beautiful wedding cakes. They have a wide variety to choose from and if you can have an idea for a special cake, they’ll make it. The Pumpkin Spice Cake with maple buttercream sounds delicious for a fall Vermont wedding and the Lemon Gateau with lemon curd and lemon buttercream would be light and flavorful for a late-summer wedding.
- Café Provence also has a private dining room downstairs, next to the Center Street bar, that would be the perfect space for a bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, luncheon, baby shower, etc. The possibilites for this space are endless, and Café Provence’s catering would certainly make it a delicious and memorable affair.
- If you’re staying in the Brandon area, don’t miss Gourmet Provence, home to some of the best croissants, breakfast sandwiches and sticky buns around. Center Street Bar is also a great spot for an after-dinner drink among locals.
11 Center Street, Brandon, Vermont
Winter Hours: Tuesday – Saturday
Lunch: 11:30am – 2pm
Bistro: 2pm – 4:30pm
Dinner: 5pm – 9pm
Brunch: 9am – 3pm
Dinner: 5pm – 9pm