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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Drink Up: Cappuccino and Bites at Moon Dog Café

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 4:21 PM

click to enlarge Moon Dog Café in Chester - JULIA CLANCY
  • Julia Clancy
  • Moon Dog Café in Chester
It was cold for August; one of those dim mornings that threatened rain but settled for dank fog, which had me craving socks for the first time since May. I puttered along Route 103 from Grafton, heading to my porch in Middlebury to spend an evening rereading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler and drinking the Hill Farmstead Nordic Saison I scored at Willey’s Store in Greensboro a week prior.

But first, coffee. I drove into Chester, scouring Main Street for signs of a pit stop. Moon Dog Café soon came into view, an off-green Victorian with a small stoop, some wrought-iron patio chairs and a striped “Open” flag urging locals inside. “Cappuccino and Juice Bar,” read the blue-and-red sign outside. “Natural Food Market,” read another.

Inside, Moon Dog Café is as welcoming as a friend’s bohemian apartment from the late ’70s: deep red walls, hanging portraits of the feminine Buddha, crates of vegetables from nearby farms, organic peaches, a cooler of local milk and cheese, air plants, aromatherapy bottles, shelves full of tea, hanging lamps and lanterns, wooden tables with mismatched chairs and an enormous stuffed mermaid draped in purple tulle and blue sparkles.

click to enlarge Local and organic produce at Moon Dog Café - JULIA CLANCY
  • Julia Clancy
  • Local and organic produce at Moon Dog Café
Moon Dog had the warm, familiar bustle of a weekend breakfast at home, though it looked like half the town of Chester was there to lounge over morning meals. A family of six sat at the communal table eating plates of raised waffles and Buddy’s Breakfast Bomb, two eggs over easy with Vermont cheddar, potatoes, grilled bread and a fat triangle of watermelon. A couple talked quietly over chai lattes, the housemade brew fragrant with cardamom and maple syrup. Noted in small print at the bottom of the menu: “We use local and organic vegetables, dairy products, and ethically raised meats.”

There’s something nostalgic about Moon Dog, so I stayed a while. I wandered along wooden dressers stacked with natural lotions and bulk bags of beans. I watched neighbors greet each other over a bowl of soup or waxed bag of pastries to go. The café smelled like my grandma’s kitchen in the fall, notes of cinnamon and stewed fruits and smoke and sweating onions.

Someone next to me ordered the blueberry turkey burger with lemon-basil mayo, which arrived later on a seeded bun with a stack of yellow heirloom tomatoes, a leaf of basil and a mound of potato salad. Another customer ordered the Hippy Dippy Caesar with chicken — extra homemade dressing and Parmesan cheese — and a toasted PB&J on Orchard Hill bread.

There's a story behind the food here, and a kind of camaraderie that happens when a place speaks its own language and invites you to join in. It’s a place to get a grilled cheese and root beer, a hemp-spiked smoothie, a Thanksgiving sandwich, Monkey Toast stuffed with cream cheese and bananas, a green juice, Sweet Sue’s spinach salad or a chicken salad sandwich with grapes. They'll cut the crusts off if you ask.
click to enlarge A case of homemade pastries at Moon Dog Café - JULIA CLANCY
  • Julia Clancy
  • A case of homemade pastries at Moon Dog Café
I eyeballed the pastry case, an old china cabinet painted in teal, and browsed the homemade baked goods. There were vegan banana muffins and peanut butter-stuffed brownies, but I got a knobby and nut-laden oatmeal chocolate bar to dunk in my coffee.

I was urged by a regular to get a slice of Orange Dream cake for later, too; it's a pound cake dribbled with icing and tender with orange syrup. It made me think of the Persian orange-blossom cakes made by the mother of a best friend from high school, shared over math homework with mugs of milky black tea. 
click to enlarge Coffee, Oatmeal-Chocolate Bar, Orange Dream Cake - JULIA CLANCY
  • Julia Clancy
  • Coffee, Oatmeal-Chocolate Bar, Orange Dream Cake
I ordered a cappuccino and the pastries, comforted by the smell of steamed milk and espresso. I carted my bounty to the stoop outside and watched oncoming clouds without rain blow over Chester. Signage across the sidewalk advertised back-to-school notebooks and pens. I bought myself a pack; I don't need them, but I like the smell of new paper this time of year. I remember the math homework flecked with tea stains, my notes ridden with doodles and graphs of imaginary menus.

Before leaving, I reminded myself to call my grandma and email Ms. Haddad to ask about her orange cake. 

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Julia Clancy

Julia Clancy is a local chef and Seven Days food writer.

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