Since I moved back from Seattle I’ve been more deeply exploring my native New England. One town that has incurred many repeat visits is delightful Brattleboro, Vermont. It’s in the southeast corner of the state touching New Hampshire (just a short walk across the Connecticut River away) and has everything I’m looking for in a town: breweries (3), bookstores (5), the greatest grocery store of all time, great restaurants, hiking, a river and mountains, and plenty of Vermont charm. I think everyone should visit Brattleboro and so does Will, so we elaborated on all the reasons you should visit (in case you’re not already convinced).
At last check, Brattleboro has five bookstores (though only four of them are downtown). We’ve been to Everyone’s Books, Mystery on Main Street, Basket’s Books, and Brattleboro Books. Everyone’s Books is a new bookstore with a large variety. Their focus is on social justice and the environment, but there are large fiction, history, cooking, etc. sections to please everyone. Mystery on Main Street focuses on the genre you would guess and is also new books. I rarely read mysteries so I can’t be the authority on their selection, but admire their specialty as they seem do it well. Basket’s Books is all used paperbacks. They seem to specialize in books with the most faded covers. The selection may not be new, but the books are really cheap and if you’re looking for something specific, this may be the place to find it. The owners are super nice and helpful, so ask. Brattleboro Books is my favorite. It’s the kind of used store that you just want to lose yourself in, and then come round with 10 lbs of books in your arms. There is a good mix of older and contemporary books and large sections (lots of cookbooks!). For the true bibliophile, Brattleboro also has an annual literary festival in October. -VB
Brattleboro Food Co-Op
This is the best grocery store I have ever been to. I can say this with some authority, because I love grocery stores, and often stop in them when I visit new places regardless of my grocery needs. Getting the basics out of the way: it is large, clean, has friendly staff, lots of specialty sections (cheese! beer! wine! coffee! deli! cafe!), a nice patio, and cooking classes. The real kicker, is the absolutely massive bulk section.
A small diversion on why bulk foods are the greatest: they are cheaper, and don’t come with packaging (part of why they are cheaper), and you can buy however much you want. Grocery stores can buy huge portions of goods that people don’t normally have access to (some people do buy them from coops, which really is the cheapest option, but then you have to commit to the quantity and storage). Then once they have that 50 lb bag of flour or pasta, they can sell you a portion of that for a small markup, which is low because it is a commodity good and all they did was put it in a bin with a scoop. Then you can bring your own containers (which you should, because less packaging and a $.05 discount per container) and buy exactly what you need. Only need ½ a cup of nuts for a specific recipe, and likely won’t use them again for months? Well then only buy that ½ a cup, and when that next nut need comes around many moons later, buy some fresh new nuts. Never had that kind of grain or bean before? Well just try a little bit to see if you like it. Or need a ton of something? Buy it for a likely cheaper unit weight.
So anyways, the bulk section. This bulk has the most variety I have ever seen. Spices, coffee, grains, beans, flour, baking needs, liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, tofu, soap and shampoo, kombucha. Way more items than I can name, so you can drool over the full list here. They do have bags and plastic containers you can use if you don’t bring your own, but they charge for the containers, and you get a small discount if you bring your own. It is best to weigh them all beforehand and mark the tare weight on the container (which you can do because you have a scale, right?), and black out the barcode on any containers you might be reusing from other products (tape or a permanent market work well). -VB
Grafton Village Cheese
This spot is a little outside the town center, but still worth a visit. I don’t think much needs to be said besides great cheese, lots of other Vermont food, and ALL the samples. -VB
This is on the east bank of the river so technically this is in New Hampshire. It takes about an hour to get to the top and the ascent itself isn’t that interesting, but the view from the top is spectacular. You can see the whole town laid out before you, the beginning of the Pioneer Valley, and the southern Green Mountains. -WF
Picture a dive bar that brews its own beer. They have 20 or so varieties on tap at any time. The IPAs are not very good and the beer is pushing warm, but the atmosphere is……..unique (so you should probably still try it). Technically, they have food, but the only cooking apparatus we could spot was a microwave so its probably best to skip this part. -WF
Where can you sit on a rooftop deck with its own bar overlooking the Connecticut River and listen to live music while drinking delicious beers brewed on site? Here, here is where you can do that. The food is better than you would expect, and definitely get something that comes with fries. The beers they brew are pretty good, and they always have a bunch of great stuff on tap from other breweries. -WF+VB
Hermit Thrush Brewery
Brand new brewery specializing in Belgian and sour beers. I’ll readily admit that sours are not my thing, but the Sour IPA is delicious. The tap room is a nice place to try some samples (no full pours), lots of wood and exposed brick. It’s in the first floor of an old warehouse downtown so it has some historic authenticity that you can’t fake. -WF (For other non-Vermonters like myself, the hermit thrush is the Vermont state bird. -VB)
Brattleboro is a small town with old buildings full of charming shops and restaurants, on a river, surrounded by the greenest Vermont and New Hampshire mountains. General cuteness level: 9 (out of 10). -VB
Good little local coffee roaster. You can pick up a bag of beans at the co-op or any other grocery store in town. The coffee shop on main street also has a selection of beans that you can bag yourself. The baked goods are pretty tasty and you can get cappuccinos in a mug (sign of a decent coffee shop). I’m not sure the barista’s totally know what they’re doing, but they coffee is good enough that it doesn’t really matter. Mocha Joe’s has a neat vibe, located in a basement with two rooms, one for ordering and a sitting area that has a rotating art installation. If you want to get a feel for Brattleboro and can only stop at one place, Mocha Joe’s will do nicely. -WF
Putney Food Co-Op Sandwich
Best. Club sandwich. Ever. Seriously, there’s no gimmick to this thing. It’s just turkey, bacon, cheese (maybe?), lettuce, tomato, and mayo. I know it sounds boring, but the ingredients are of such quality and the sandwich of such a size that the combination is simply staggering. It’s not actually in Brattleboro, but its a short hop up 91 to Putney (5ish miles) or you can take Route 5 (more scenic). -WF
VT Country Deli
For a not quite as good, but actually in Brattleboro sandwich experience, you should hit up the Vermont Country Deli. This place is BUSY. I wouldn’t come here expecting to get in and out in 5 minutes, but the service isn’t slow. There are a ton of prepared options besides sandwiches and a nice selection of local products. The sandwiches are huge. Perfect for refueling after a hike. -WF
Pizza, BBQ, and cocktails. I’ll admit to having some skepticism about this place when I discovered it. That’s a lot of things for a small restaurant in a small town to take on and do well. Upon arriving, we discovered they also have a nice craft beer list, nachos, and Cuban sandwiches. After eating a solid pizza, there was sadly no room to try the BBQ or cocktails. They also have chalk diagrams on all the walls which I guess is Hazel’s chosen quirk. Hazel is a good place for a quiet, affordable meal that will have something to please anyone. -WF
Outdoor gear, local crafts and art, Vermont things, music, clothing. My disposable income goes to restaurants, beer, and books so I haven’t ventured far into the rest of the shop scene, but it is certainly there if you’re looking for some hand-thrown pottery or a tank top with cats and lasers. -VB