When it comes to weddings, restaurants are the new banquet halls
There’s no denying it: Ours is a foodie culture. In the time of James Beard, “gourmet” was a dirty word, but now it’s a common lifestyle. We live in a world where office workers become food celebrities by blogging about their baking.
With all the time we spend in restaurants, is it any surprise we want to commit our lives to our partners there, too? For many, banquet halls with prescribed chicken-or-fish options don’t cut it anymore, and the vogue for smaller weddings means cavernous spaces may not be necessary, either. Many restaurants can host a crowd. (7 Nights lists quite a few with large side rooms to accommodate a wedding party — try using keywords like “banquet” when searching.)
Tying the knot at a favorite dinner spot can be even cheaper than throwing the fête at home, when one adds up the savings on the caterer and odds and ends such as rented tables, linens and cutlery. And choosing a venue where everything is already in place, from chef to coat check, eliminates hours of planning time.
In Vermont, the restaurant-wedding trend spans every type of eatery, from the highest-end contemporary American to pubs. We spoke to three couples about their special days and the food they shared at their favorite haunts.
Bruce Hatrak and Andy Berisford, The Kitchen Table Bistro, Richmond
When Bruce Hatrak and Andy Berisford had their commitment ceremony in 1985, the eats were less than gourmet. “It was like college cocktail-party food — the 1985 version,” says Hatrak with a laugh. At the time, he was a third-year law student and Berisford was a college senior. Berisford even baked their own cake, a Williamsburg Orange Cake from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which he calls “my first real cookbook of my very own.”
Fast forward nearly 25 years. Hatrak, now 52 and a lawyer, and Berisford, a 47-year-old psychologist, already had a civil union. But to celebrate marriage equality, they were at long last legally wed on September 5, 2009, in front of their 12 closest friends.
Gourmets par excellence, who are just as comfortable biking to Gus’ Red Hots in Plattsburgh for red hots as they are dining at Joël Robuchon in Paris, Hatrak and Berisford couldn’t settle for just any nuptial feast. So they had theirs at one of Vermont’s finest restaurants. “We’re older and wiser now, and we have the money,” says Hatrak.
Though the pair dines regularly at local restaurants, including Solstice, Hen of the Wood and Trattoria Delia, they ultimately decided on The Kitchen Table Bistro because of its small, private side room and their longtime friendship with chef-owners Steve and Lara Atkins. It was also convenient to the couple’s home in Williston, where the pagan-spiritual ceremony took place.
Guests included Mara and Spencer Welton of Half Pint Farm at Burlington’s Intervale. When the party arrived, the Weltons’ tomatoes were the first thing served. But this was no event-specific menu: Hatrak says the group ordered straight from the regular one and made no special requests beyond “If you have oysters, we would like some.”
“Everybody was sharing,” says Berisford. “People were ordering that Fancy Mac and Cheese.” Guests also enjoyed Misty Knoll Chicken Liver Pâté with cornichons, pickled onions and whole-grain mustard; and seared scallops.
Although he had a redo of the Williamsburg Orange Cake and champagne waiting at home, Berisford couldn’t help but dig into his favorite dessert prepared by Lara Atkins — the Open-Faced Chocolate-Coffee Sundae with Candied Almonds.
The Atkinses and manager Neal Johnston presented Hatrak and Berisford with a wedding gift: the shirts the staff wore when they cooked at that summer’s ultra-chi-chi Outstanding in the Field event at Half Pint Farm, which the couple attended. Hatrak says, “Almost all of our presents were food related.” He goes on to mention a Zojirushi bread machine, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and Williams-Sonoma’s All-Clad Ultimate Chicken Roaster.
This year, the pair plans to host a larger event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their commitment. Who knows what delicious delights are in store?
Peter and Josee White, The Belted Cow Bistro, Essex
When Josee White, nee Larocque, director of global logistics for Burton Snowboards, married Peter White, she had few of the stresses of the average bride.
Now a salesman for beverage distributor g.housen, White was once a successful Boston restaurateur. The job “afforded me the opportunity to attend hundreds of weddings at which I was not a guest,” he says. With that experience under his belt, White was happy to take the reins of his December 20, 2009, wedding. “I left it to the experts,” says Josee. “It ended up being the best gift to our families and to me, since I did not have to do any of the planning.”
The other “expert” was another former Boston restaurateur, this one still plying the trade in Vermont: John Delpha, chef-owner of The Belted Cow Bistro. Delpha and White became acquainted when they worked at Taste of the Nation benefits for hunger charity Share Our Strength.
Though White says he’s “a huge fan of John’s food,” it was the furniture at The Belted Cow that sealed the deal. The central, 14-foot communal table made from the floorboards of an 18th-century Fairfax farmhouse kitchen was a perfect fit for the 19 guests. Because of the wedding’s small size, choosing to hold the event at a restaurant was a no-brainer, says White. In his view, “At a restaurant, decorum, passion for food and quality of beverage service far surpass any banquet hall or caterer, outside of five star.”
When it came to menu planning, White says, “John and I sat down and hammered it out in seven minutes. I’ve eaten enough of his food that he can describe it to me and I can imagine how it tastes.” Several of the greatest hits from The Belted Cow’s menu made appearances. (They were also on the table when Delpha married co-owner Caitlin Bilodeau at the restaurant last year.)
When the day came, the couple stood with their family and friends on the steps of Hinesburg Town Hall and said their vows under a dusting of snow. Then the whole group headed to Essex, where plates of Delpha’s addictive Grilled Flatbread with Duck Confit, Vermont Swiss and Blue Cheeses and Black Figs were passed around, with some duck-free pieces to please vegetarians.
Delpha’s signature prosciutto-wrapped Pete’s Greens salad started the sit-down portion of the meal. Next came family-style platters of Hawaiian tuna poke, clams casino and Delpha’s award-winning pork ribs. The ensuing pasta course was followed by graham-cracker-crusted cod. As White puts it, the less-cultivated eaters also had the option of a “great meat-and-potato bail out” — Double-Cut Roasted Ribeye with Horseradish Cream and Wild Mushroom Bordelaise, with steakhouse-worthy sides of roasted fingerling potatoes, creamed spinach and broccoli.
The sixth course was chocolate chip cookies with wedding cake, another nod to tradition. What wasn’t traditional? The couple insisted on spending part of the December evening outside at the restaurant. Though White protests the temperature was fairly mild, he adds, “We’re winter kids. We had some white stuff blowing around.”
In retrospect, White says the dinner was perfect for him and his guests. “We had some sophisticated, world-traveled palates and very pedestrian eaters, and it catered well to both.”
Josee agrees: “It was an unforgettable food and wine experience.”
K.J. and Sandra Martin, Spanked Puppy Pub, Colchester
Most folks, like Berisford and Hatrak and the Whites, say their “I do”s elsewhere before heading out to eat. Not so K.J. Martin and his wife, Sandra, née Sanville.
A bartender at Spanked Puppy since 1999, Martin wanted to bring his personal life to work. A Colchester justice of the peace came right to the pub to bind the duo in matrimony.
Martin describes Spanked Puppy as having a true family atmosphere that keeps employees and customers coming back year after year. “Our most junior employee has been here 10 years,” he says. “It’s a good place to work, a good place to go, and fun and friendly.”
According to Martin, the food’s not bad, either. In a dining room that seats only 40, more than 200 brunches of prime rib and eggs or seafood omellettes are served each Sunday. All this made Martin’s workplace seem like the perfect venue for the wedding.
Like the other couples profiled here, the Martins chose to forgo a banquet hall, given the smaller size of their party. “For the both of us, it was our second time around,” says Martin. “We did the all-out thing the first time and decided to keep it small.”
His crowd of 80 filled the Puppy’s canopied deck that day in May 2001. Attendees gathered around the small pond behind the restaurant and even amused themselves playing horseshoes while they waited for dinner.
Though Martin says he is a fan of the regular menu at his restaurant, he and Sandra wanted something a little more out of the ordinary to follow their vows. Spanked Puppy owner Michelle Simms enlisted her brother, Rick LeBlanc of Rick’s Catering in Essex Junction. He often cooks for events, from birthdays to funerals, at the restaurant. He roasted a whole pig for the assembled guests, with apple, sweet-and-sour and barbecue sauces. Martin fondly remembers sides of baked beans and potato salad.
The cake came courtesy of Simms from her other business, the Quality Bake Shop, also in Essex Junction. Claussen’s Florist & Greenhouse even got in on the act, gifting the Martins with fresh blooms to go all around the deck.
The hitching went off without a, well, hitch, and has since inspired numerous copycats. Martin says other weddings and renewals of vows at Spanked Puppy have even included a luau — complete with pig roast. Other couples have drawn on the regular menu’s selection of American favorites. “It’s very good food,” says Martin. “In a beautiful setting you just wouldn’t expect.”