There’s nothing quite like going home for the holidays. For me and all the other transcendentalists, that means hopping on a flight to the North East. Good ole colonial New England! Often, New England is thought of as a summer time destination for outdoorsy folk seeking a beach getaway or a canoe. But if you're a swamp yankee like me, you’re all too familiar with the short lived summers that are abruptly followed by the endless damp freeze that is the other 8 months of the year. There is rain, snow, more rain, slush, mud, and ice. It’s like a winter wonderland that is constantly melting at an unbearably slow rate. Home sweet home.
Most notable in winter are all the “closed for the season” signs that splinter and chip at my heart every time I want some chowder in February. But even in the darkest months, there are little gems beaconing warm refuge from the bitter cold. One of which is Phil’s Diner on Main St. If you happen to stumble into Phil’s before 8 AM, the early bird special is yours (2 eggs, home fries and toast) for only $2.75! Beat that Jack in the Box.
Another treasure that comes to mind is Calvitto’s Pizza and Bakery. Calvitto’s has been serving a local staple in these parts for almost 30 years, and they’re about as South County as it gets. While they make beautiful pastries and calzones, Calvitto’s pièce de résistance is their unique pizza strip. The freshly baked dough is slathered with homemade red sauce and served at room temperature. At first glance, the strip is bizarre, almost unfinished, but the taste is refreshingly simple. I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t fall in love with these garlicy magic carpets after a single first bite.
While cruising around and devouring my sauce bread, I embrace the ghost town my home becomes during these months when the roads are salty and the grass is frozen. I repeatedly get lost in my old stomping grounds like a stoned teenager until I find myself pulling into Sweet Cakes. Sweet Cakes Bakery is an adorable little coffee/sandwich shop located in the heart of Peace Dale. They have baked goods like cupcakes and cookies, and what’s this? Are those what I think they are?Empanadas?! And what’s even more enthralling is that they have a chicken pot pie filing! It’s 2 degree outside and I just found a Latin pastry filled with British chicken gravy, in my little town, who would’ve thunk? I claim to know this place like the back of my hand, but I know nothing Jon snow.
All warm and toasty on the inside, I finally make my way back home. I need to get some good rest tonight, my grandparents will arrive early in the morning to retrieve me. We’re heading North.
I wake to see my grandparents have already arrived and are eager for the journey to begin. After quickly packing up the car in whatever meticulous madness my Pa arranges, we’re off, but not before a bagel and a coffee from Bagelz. “Jesus Christ, what’s taking so long? They making the bagels from scratch?” “Why yes Pa, they are.”
Since the days when my cheeks were freckled and innocent, my family and I have made the six hour trek North to Warren, Vermont, where my grandparents keep a humble second home on Sugarbush Mountain. Although much of this landscape has changed over the years, the drive remains everlasting and beautiful. It’s worth mentioning that I have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery during the thirteen plus stops we make so my Pa can take a piss and get more coffee that will make him have to piss again. No journey to Vermont would be complete without our usual pit stop at the New Hampshire state liquor store, so we can grab a burger and stock up on enough tax free booze for a sailing trip across the Atlantic. Only three hours to go.
Slowly, the vast New Hampshire freeways shift into quaint Vermont backroads, accented with frozen babbling brooks and antique buildings buried in the snow. I see signs for Mad River Glen, Waitsfield, Moretown, and the glorious Sugarbush.
After the long drive, no one is in the mood to cook anything other than a dry martini. We order some pizza from a Pizza Soul, a tiny mountainside bungalow with a stickered front door, a pizza oven, and a single Pizza baker in between. The thin blackened crust and baseball sized pepperoni pieces make me feel right at home. By my 7th slice I can’t help but harp on the fact that even this hillbilly pie trumps anything that I can find out West. It's just so good. I drift in and out of a food coma until the thoughts of tomorrow’s groomed slopes ease me into a cozy slumber.
Boom. Just like that, it’s 8 am and there isn’t a sound in the condo other than my grandmother slurping her coffee at the kitchen table. The first chair opens at 9, so I have just enough time to get my shit together and run over to Paradise Deli for an egg sandwich and a newspaper. I’ve been coming to the Paradise for what feels like my entire life. I leave and travel and change, but no matter how long I’m gone, someone will always be behind this counter cooking hot food for the locals. The little bell rings as I swing open the door and I stomp the snow off my boots. “One sausage, egg, and cheese with everything please,” I request, of course that already is everything, I just like saying “wth everything” when I order sandwiches I guess. After collecting my goods, I head to the slopes.
Strapped up and riding up the chairlift, my tinfoil insulated sandwich is steaming in my breast pocket. I’m back in one of my happy spaces, and although these days often fly by too fast, I try and soak in the glory of the moment. It’s been a while since I’ve carved up the north face, but it doesn’t take long to familiarize myself with the crunchy morning powder. After a couple hours of freezing my tits off, I’m ready for a beer and some lunch. Mutha Stuffers is the ski-bumb's sandwich shop that’s located in Sugarbush Village, right by Pizza Soul. They're a classic east coast deli, no frills, just cold cuts and condiments. You can order any of Mutha Stuffer's signature sandwiches "hero" style for $16, and it's a 2 foot long beast. It’s been a long weekend of eating, so I think I’m just going to stick with the 12 inch half sandwich.
After my second sandwich of the day, I head back up to the summit for a few more runs. The crystal snow and the vast purple sky could not have a been better backdrop for a single day of skiing after a 5 year hiatus. Tonight is New Year’s Eve, and there will be a parade at the base of the mountain with a ceremony and fireworks. It’s great to be back up here with my family and celebrating the holiday. Friends are popping bottles in New York City or sucking face in San Francisco, but I’m happy to be here. It’s important to do these trips in while we all still can. Who knows how many many more opportunities I'll have to cram my girlfriend, parents, grandparents and two siblings all into a two room condo? Happy New Year!
We wake up early the next morning, tidy up and start to journey South in what feels like only hours after we’ve arrived. We continue to catch up for a few hours before I'm dropped off at Logan airport. I have a date with 2018 back in San Francisco, and I'm ready to kick it’s ass! What another lovely Christmas in New England.
Mom's Christmas Cookies
Early Bird Special $2.75 at Phil's
Pizza Strip $1 at Calvitto's Pizza & Bakery
Chicken Pot Pie Empanada $3 at Sweet Cakes
Pumpernickel w Lox Spread $2.50 at Bagelz
Coffee $2 at Bagelz
Cheeseburger $6.50 at The Common Man Roadside
Classic P-Soul 12" $10 at Pizza Soul
Sausage, Egg, & Cheese $3.95 at Paradise Deli
The Guido $9 at Mutha Stuffers