August is prime time for picnicking. For a more sophisticated version of the summertime activity, there's Picnic Social, a new kid-friendly restaurant located in the Field Guide Hotel. My family checked out the stylish spot in late June.
The hotel and restaurant occupy the former Ye Olde England Inne. When that property fell into foreclosure in 2014, Massachusetts-based Lark Hotels scooped it up and transformed it into a boutique hotel with a modern ski-lodge feel. (Think faux sheepskin rugs, chunky-knit ottomans, topographical-map wallpaper and metal animal heads.)
That design aesthetic overflows into Picnic Social, which offers indoor and outdoor seating. Inside you'll find exposed wood beams, heather-grey couches and a gas stove that gives off a cozy, après-ski vibe.
Since it was a warm summer evening when we visited, we dined outside on a bright orange picnic table under a covered picnic pavilion, similar to the kind you'd find in a state park. Paper menus, mason-jar glasses and board games conveyed casual dining. At first glance, so did the pared-down menu: burgers and sandwiches with baked beans, creamed corn and pasta salad sides — cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and chicken tenders for the kids.
But closer examination proved this wasn't pedestrian picnic fare. The adult grilled cheese came with spiced seasonal jam, the pasta salad had English peas and cilantro, and kids' entrées were accompanied by smashed fingerling potatoes. Fancier items like smoked-trout toast and a cheese plate also graced the menu.
My husband, Jeff, and I started with the large burrata salad ($15), delivered on a rectangular metal tray, which added to the picnicky feel. The lightly dressed baby lettuce was tossed with tomatoes, quick-pickled apricots, croutons and edible flowers. Hunks of burrata, a cream-filled mozzarella, provided a rich counterpoint. We also shared the tiny, sweet roasted carrots ($6), which were beautifully presented with their tops intact. Sriracha, lime and peanuts gave them an Asian flare.
For his main dish, Jeff chose a light bite, the heirloom tomato toast ($8) with avocado, basil, cucumber and lemon aioli. I went with the crispy chicken sandwich ($9), topped with spicy slaw and pickles. The breading on the chicken was smooth and shiny, like on fish and chips, while the meat inside was surprisingly juicy. Chef Justin Perdue told me he brines the chicken in advance, dips it in a special batter, then double fries the meat.
Mira's chicken tenders ($7) were coated in the same magic batter. Theo scarfed down his kids' cheeseburger ($7). His side of fingerlings were soft inside with crispy skin — a far better use of potatoes than French fries, if you ask me.
For dessert, we each chose ice-cream sandwiches ($6), made up of homemade ice cream between two shortbread cookies. They were tasty but almost too dense and rich; two people could easily split one. Perdue said he was still perfecting them and was also planning to add deconstructed s'mores to the menu.
As we ate, Jeff and I talked about how Picnic Social would be the perfect place to stop after a bike ride on the Stowe Recreation Path or a summer hike. Truthfully, their fried chicken was reason enough for me to return any time of year.
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