No matter how dedicated they may be to local farming or a livable wage, most restaurants are profit-driven ventures. But at downtown Rutland's Back Home Again Café, food is a religion —Â literally. The group that runs the café is part of an international Christian sect known as the Twelve Tribes Communities. Its bearded men and make-up-free women look a bit like Amish hippies as they submit to perpetual kitchen duty for Christ.
Customers may not pick up on the fundamentalist vibe inside the rustic eatery, which looks just like Muddy Waters. The same hands that built Back Home Again also crafted the Burlington coffee shop. The back of one particularly striking bench is crafted from a twisted, polished log. A stone fireplace anchors the room, where potted plants abound.
The wraps, sandwiches, soups and salads that make up the bulk of the menu are as simple and tasteful as the decor. A cup of creamy tomato bisque brims with chunks of tomato and celery, and comes with a slice of fresh bread. The grilled haddock sandwich appears on a heavily seeded sesame roll with creamy homemade tartar sauce, lettuce and tomato.
"Vegetarian" and "gluten-free" aren't just buzzwords here; the meat-free dishes are as flavorful as the meaty ones. Take the "Prince" wrap, with its surprisingly savory marinated tofu paired with sunflower sprouts, toasted nuts, crisp vegetables and creamy tahini dressing.
An unusual assortment of chilled drinks includes a hibiscus cooler and two kinds of fruity maté — a South American herb that can be brewed like tea. In fact, Rutland's only maté bar occupies a separate room at the back of the restaurant. Back Home Again gets it from Brazil, where another Twelve Tribes community cultivates the stuff. Staffers brew it up hot in traditional hollowed gourds, creating a tisane that's said to have healthful properties. They also pour coffee, tea, smoothies and natural sodas in flavors such as raspberry ginger and Clementine.
Want gospel with that? With a little encouragement, the folks at Back Home Again are happy to talk about their faith. The menu reads: "We serve the fruit of the spirit — why not ask?"