By Katherine Quimby Johnson • Photos by Louis Polish
On a Saturday morning, after an unusually hectic week, my husband suggests, “Let’s go to 158 Main for breakfast.”
Without a pause for thought, I say, “Sure.” As much as I love to linger in my robe and slippers over a cup of coffee, breakfast at 158 Main in Jeffersonville is always a treat.
After the first sip of organic half-caf, I open the breakfast menu and am faced with the single challenge of the morning: making a choice from its six pages. (The menus for lunch and dinner are equally long and diverse.)
When she’s with us, my college-age daughter finds it’s an easy decision; her longtime favorite is a fluffy biscuit lapped with a creamy, spicy sausage gravy. If I’m going to be raking leaves or hiking to catch a view of spectacular foliage, I’ll order something hearty, maybe one of the five variations on eggs Benedict (which one depends on what veggies are in season). If my waistband is tight, I consider the homemade granola with fresh fruit. But, the apple and walnut and the blueberry pancakes are always tempting….Often my husband and I solve our individual dilemmas by ordering different plates and sharing. Whatever we order, it will have been made in house.
We prefer traditional New England breakfasts, the menu offers something for everyone, including omelets and breakfast sandwiches. Those who like to spice up their mornings need look no further than the breakfast burrito of peppers, onions, tomatoes, black beans, scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese, with salsa and home fries, inspired by chef Jack Foley’s years in South Florida.
The mix of the traditional and contemporary food is one reason 158 Main has become a local institution, popular with locals and visitors alike.
Recently, when I mentioned eating there to a friend from another part of the state, his face lit up with the memory of the meals he enjoyed there—in the fall of 2004. It doesn’t hurt that the location, a century-old storefront, has been part of the local food scene since the 1950s, when Alden Bryan, founder of the neighboring Bryan Memorial Gallery and combination tennis pro, artist and entrepreneur, transformed what had been a hardware store into a bakery.
The sign above the door, “Home of Windridge Farms Bread,” remains as a souvenir of those days, as does the original Middleby-Marshall oven, which is responsible for the beautifully browned loaves that scent the air. “It’s part of the building,” said Foley of the oven, adding that although bread wasn’t part of his focus when the restaurant first opened in January 2004. “When we started baking breads I found out the public loves it and I love it.” These are loaves our grandmothers—and in my case, mother—baked in family kitchens across New England. Firm, but light in texture, they are perfect for breakfast toast or for sandwiches. Those of us who love homemade bread but can’t seem to find time to bake our own are in luck—we can have our bread and eat it too by buying a loaf of that day’s baking to take home.
The loaves of white, rye, maple wheat, honey oat, multigrain and cinnamon raisin, play key roles in the menu at every meal. At breakfast the cinnamon-raisin stars in a recipe that’s a holdover from the Windridge days, Grilled Maple Bread, drenched with maple syrup. At lunch and dinner the bread supports amply filled sandwiches and the cheese on the French onion soup, as well as providing the croutons that top salads. “We utilize every piece of bread. We use it for crumbs and bread puddings,” said Foley, adding that any stray leftovers go to feed a local pig.
The bread is far from the only thing that keeps diners coming back. Foley has hit a winning combination with his menu, updating the offerings every few months, while consistently striking the right balance between continuity and change, tradition and innovation. The chef’s varied culinary background—he worked as a line cook in a casino kitchen in Nevada and on one of Burt Wolf’s cooking shows, before relocating to South Florida, where he worked with both James Beard–winner Mark Militello and Ron Morrison—mean that the offerings are as likely to include the flavors of Creole, Cajun and Indonesian cuisines, as they are such standards as the ever-popular hot turkey sandwich and fish and chips flavored with Rock Art beer, brewed in Morrisville.
The menu’s combination of the traditional and the new have brought it a loyal local following in a community that is itself a mix of families who have been here for generations, long-time transplants and new arrivals. (Because I grew up 60 miles almost due east, I fall into the middle category.) Depending on when you stop in, your neighbors on one side might be the Cambridge Town Clerk enjoying breakfast with a friend (Jeffersonville is an incorporated village in the town of Cambridge), businessmen working over lunch or a family feting a child’s achievement. On the other side, you might find art aficionados relaxing between visits to one of the village’s three galleries, or vacationers enjoying a meal out during their stay at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. One thing is for sure, everyone will be enjoying their meal—once they’ve met that first challenge of making a choice.
158 Main Restaurant & Bakery
158 Main Street
Jeffersonville VT 05464
Katherine Quimby Johnson is a freelance writer, editor and author who considers herself fortunate to live in Cambridge, just a few minutes drive from 158 Main.