In our house, the first week in June meant end-of-school madness. By the weekend, the "what's for dinner" grind had me worn down. So our visit to Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero came at a perfect time.
"We're going to dinner on an island!" I announced to Leo and Mila, 7 and 5, respectively. They cheered. "Do we have to take a ferry?" they asked. "Will there be pirates?" I explained how the Sandbar Causeway would transport us across Lake Champlain — and that we probably wouldn't encounter any pirates.
Initially Blue Paddle's upscale cuisine had me leery about bringing my kids. But I was reassured by their recent Seven Daysies nomination for Best Family Restaurant Outside Chittenden County. And also that their Facebook page is filled with pictures of young patrons. Over the phone, chef and co-owner Phoebe Bright explained, "We're not deterring of kids at all." But they don't exactly cater to them.
To increase our chances of success, we planned to arrive right when they opened their doors at 5. The drive from our house in Burlington was beautiful and felt much shorter than the 25 minutes it took to get there. Passing through the Sandbar Wildlife Management Area, we saw osprey on nesting stands and a great blue heron in the cattails.
When we pulled in, people were mingling on the porch of the restaurant, a white-clapboard colonial with a bright blue awning and wooden canoe out front. It wasn't open yet, so we filled the time by exploring the backyard that abuts an endless field. There were rockers and a swing to lounge on and a funky bird sculpture made from welded kitchen utensils.
I was hoping to sit on the back deck but, without a reservation, we took what we could get — up a central staircase to a table in what was once a bedroom. Its "closet" is now a diorama complete with painted-lake background and an upright canoe nestled in fake grass.
The camp theme was ubiquitous — from the wooden canoe above the cozy bar to the driftwood moose head hanging above us as we ate — and added whimsy that seemed to welcome kids to the table. It also affected my taste buds: We decided on the P.E.I. mussels ($16) to start. Dave taught the kids to use emptied shells as tongs to extract the tender meat. Leo loved them; Mila not so much, though she chomped bread drenched in the savory broth.
There's no kids menu, so we made it work by splitting a LaPlatte River burger between them ($15). We also spooned a bowl of Phoebe's Black Bean soup ($7) into mugs to share. Our server was more than happy to provide extra plates and was all smiles when Mila spilled ketchup on the floor.
I ordered the lobster sauté with prosciutto ($30), which came on a tangle of fettuccine. The delicate meat was fresh and the sauce clear and bright. Dave chose the filet mignon with mashed potatoes ($30) and was not disappointed. Both were pricier entrées we'd usually save for a quiet date night, but we embraced the opportunity to enjoy them with children in tow.
As our meal wound down, the kiddos began to unravel, making me very aware of the couple that had just sat down at a nearby two-top. We turned down dessert at the restaurant in favor of Seb's, a South Hero scoop shop with picnic tables and a climbing tree.
On our way home, we passed people fishing, boating and paddle boarding in the lake as the sun moved toward the water. I was still thinking about the great flavors at Blue Paddle. And while they don't have crayons or cups with lids, the dining experience fills a niche: fine food in an atmosphere that's inviting to everyone — kids included.
East Montpelier, VT
For ages 4-11 Learning, exploring, building, and discovering our connection to nature through crafts, gardening, forest play, and animal care, each three-week session focuses on a theme: June 20 - July 8: Little Bear Theater Arts and Puppetry Camp July 18 - August 5: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: Nature’s…(more)