Foodies of NE Fall 2012 : Page 68

68 Foodies of New England

Farm To Table

Written By David G. Kmetz • Photography By Scott Erb and Donna Dufault

Golden Lamb Buttery

Set amid the rolling fields of rural Northeast Connecticut, and graced with a seemingly endless web of flowing stone walls, the Golden Lamb Buttery is a vintage gem, well polished after almost 50 years of continual gracious hospitality. Established as a place to get a light simple lunch next to the woolen mill and shop that crafted custom suits for their customers, the sophisticated team of Virginia "Jimmie" and Bob Booth expanded the venue over time. It has become one of the premiere country dining experiences of Central New England.

A little history - the Booth family came into ownership of the 1,000 acre spread around 1940, naming it Hillandale Farms. Robert Booth's great grandfather, William Booth, founded the Salvation Army in 1865. Robert's father Henry was a textile magnate. Virginia Wagoner was an engineering and fine arts student at Syracuse University. After a stint as an engineer at Pratt & Whitney during WW2, she became a bridal consultant at a Hartford, CT firm in 1945. Through her collaborations with various top designers and textile manufacturers in New York City, Jimmie encountered Henry Booth of Hillandale Weavers, who made frequent trips to the city for business and Henry introduced son Robert to Virginia Wagoner. They clicked. Jimmie and Robert married in 1956 and Bob took over the farm and textile operations in 1960.

Since customers usually traveled far to Brooklyn and eateries were many miles away, Mrs. Booth began offering lunches for them starting in 1963. She harnessed the barn across the road from the mill and decorated it with drawings, textile examples, and an increasingly eclectic range of decorative arts and objects. The meals were simple but very fresh and healthy, using ingredients from their farm and other local meat and produce. Patrons tended to take their time and relax, exploring the barn, views, and grounds. This basic formula laid the groundwork for what was - and is - the Golden Lamb Buttery experience.

By the early 1970s, as the custom tailoring business began to wind down, the Booths expanded their service and started offering dinner. Now they were firing on all cylinders and their fame spread throughout the Northeast. For the next 45 years, Jimmie and Bob were consummate hosts - always welcoming, stylish, and sophisticated, but with a country nonchalance that put everyone at ease. . . and the meals were superb.

Having had the good fortune of attending several dinners at the Golden Lamb, this writer can describe the delightfully entertaining experience firsthand. Dress code is jacket and tie for the men, women are on their own, but typically follow suit with more formal garb, dresses and good shoes being popular. After your cocktail is delivered, one can wander around the massive barn and back deck and take in all the memorabilia gracing the walls and hand-hewn posts. Strangers greet one another and a convivial atmosphere ensues. Weather permitting, the hay wagon pulls up to the barn door and guests are encouraged to hop on and enjoy a ride around the grounds, while serenaded by a musician with a guitar. . . usually Susan Lamb, whose name no doubt helped during the job interview, but can more than hold her own with musical talent and deep resources of songs at her fingertips. Singalongs are common, perhaps fueled by the cocktails.

Back in the barn, guests are ushered right through the small kitchen into three dining areas - all rustic and very comfortable. Long-time patrons have their favorite spots, but really, there are no bad tables. Dinner is a single seating at 7PM Friday and Saturday and the menu is seasonal, though several entrees are cast in stone and will likely remain so for decades to come.

Warm and cold soups are offered first, most recently Country Cottage, (a cream soup with cauliflower, celery, onions and leeks), Vegetable Peasant (with parmesan spinach tortellini), Chilled Pear Pineapple and Chilled Borscht. Entrees start with a succulent Roast Duckling, almost falling off the bone, which is one of the mainstays mentioned above, as well as Chateaubriand with Bearnaise sauce, pan roasted Salmon and Rack of Lamb. Entrees are served with family style vegetables which may include creamed spinach, orange glazed carrots with roasted fennel, chilled peas with sorrel pesto, artichokes au gratin and braised spring leeks.

Handcrafted desserts offer several options such as Lemon Blueberry Cake, Coconut Custard, Bread Pudding and Chocolate Roll, though there are often other seasonal offerings available in high summer, strawberry rhubarb and for fall Maple with Walnut Praline. Dinner is $75 per person, not including tax, drinks, and gratuity. But the views are both priceless and free and no one leaves hungry.

In 2008, the senior Booth team decided to hand the reins to their grand-daughter Katie Bogert, who has been working at the Golden Lamb Buttery since she was 13. She knew the ropes and it was a sound choice, as five years later, they are going strong and showing no sign of flagging in any aspect of the operation. She manages a seasonal crew of 25, mostly part time wait staff, plus several full-time chefs. The modest gardens of 40 years ago have "grown" exponentially and they can offer a much broader selection of their own produce for the restaurant. They also support local food artisans; their organic old world poultry comes from GourMavian Farms in nearby Bolton and they now offer full vegetarian and gluten free dinner options. One new offering in keeping with the times is a small plates menu, available Friday and Saturday before 6 and after 8 PM. Marinated olives, a mini-cheese plate, duck liver mousse truffles, roasted baby beets, and pork rillettes are among the 14 scrumptious selections.

Having an idyllic country setting lends itself to celebrations, and the Golden Lamb Buttery IS a full-service facility. They host about 20 weddings a year along with a larger number of baby showers, anniversaries and general parties, plus several charity events, including wine tastings. Ms. Bogert, who has a degree in business administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, claims that she doesn't intend to keep cooking and managing the operation into her 80s as her grandparents did, but that she will be here for the foreseeable future. Katie says, "We work very hard to preserve the experience created and honed for years by Jimmie and Bob Booth. Impeccable service, delicious regional dishes prepared to perfection in an elegant country setting - that's what people have been coming here for these last 49 years, and we intend to keep that tradition alive and well for as long as we can!"

Golden Lamb Buttery is located at 499 Wolf Den Road, Brooklyn, CT 06234, 860-774-4423. Lunch served Tuesday - Saturday noon to 2:30, Dinner Friday and Saturday 7:00 PM.

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