Towns don't get much more Vermont-y than Fairfield, tucked in the state's northwest corner a few miles from St. Albans. The village is dotted with dairy farms, corn and hay fields, and maple groves. It's also the site of Chester Alan Arthur's historic home. Don't remember Arthur? He was the more talkative of Vermont's two U.S. presidents. Fairfield's sole eatery —Chester's Bakery — bears his name.
Famous for their homemade pies, doughnuts and large loaves of bread, the ladies at Chester's also dish up simple and inexpensive American fare such as turkey divan and "Poor Man's Pie" — described to the uninitiated as "like shepherd's pie except there's tomato sauce in with the meat and green beans instead of corn." Each hearty meal comes with a warm, yeasty-smelling homemade roll and a small cup of tangy slaw.
Visitors can count on hefty portions and homemade soups — a beef and vegetable version teems with hamburg bits and veggie chunks — but they shouldn't count on meat-free options. On one weekend day, the 12 daily specials have carnivore written all over them. Actually, they're hand-lettered on a whiteboard. Asked if she's willing to make an off-menu grilled cheese with Vermont cheddar, owner Rose Longe reasons, "Well, it's a Saturday, so I guess we can do that."
Good thing, too. When the sandwich arrives, on thick homemade slices, it is the epitome of a grilled cheese: The sweet wheat bread is toasted golden, the melted cheddar layered on thick.
Chester's clientele mostly consists of local families and overall-wearing farmers — one older gentleman in the corner sports rubber boots adorned with white-tailed-deer graphics. Chittenden County types stand out. Listen carefully while you eat, and you'll glean lots of insider tips about local agriculture, such as the price of milk and whether the sap is flowing.
But in the end, it's all about the dough. Expect to leave with a bag of goodies: The cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, carrot cake and not-too-sweet maple-glazed cinnamon rolls are hard to resist.
Once a year, in October, Chester's throws a birthday party for its namesake — with cake, of course.