I recently acquired two new laying hens, Smartypants and her sister. Her sister doesn’t have a name because, normally, I don’t name my chickens. There have been a few exceptions over the years, for truly exceptional chickens. Mostly, though, they remain nameless because naming them would serve no purpose, and they generally don’t care.
Smartypants and her sister were given to me by my friend Dan. He raised six chicks to pullet stage but couldn’t keep them all, so he brought me his extras. He put a red legband on each one in case I decided they were too much trouble and he needed to take them back, he said. I laughed. I already had six laying hens. How much trouble could two more be?
As soon as Dan left, Smartypants took off her legband. She then began patrolling the perimeter of the outdoor pen, wing tight to the fence, head bobbing up and down, marching like a sentry. Before long, she identified a weak area in the chicken wire and pushed her way out.
I picked her up and put her back in. While I reinforced the gap with rocks and more wire, she found another one. I put her back in and fixed that one. She resumed patrolling the length of the fence, right wing tight to the wire. Pirouette at the corner. Left wing to the wire. She looked down; she looked up. She wouldn’t stop.
She flapped her wings and flew over the four-foot-high fence.
I added more chicken wire, this time leaning it inward at the top. My chicken yard now looks like a concentration camp. She has since stayed inside, but she remains ever-vigilant for opportunity.
The funny thing is, once she’s on the outside, she starts patrolling the same fence, wing to chicken wire, as if it’s still restraining her. She may be a smartypants, but she’s not all that smart.
Country Girl Diner, Chester, VT
Country Girl Diner is a Silk City Silver Diner (#178) built in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1944. It began its life in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and was moved to Chester in 1961. Surrounded by a generous parking lot, it is easy to find on Route 103 (Main Street). In addition to the diner, there is an outdoor deck and picnic tables on a patch of lawn.
This Silk City Diner is small—6 booths and 16 stools at the counter—and it filled up fast the day we visited. It was easy to see why. The food was very good, the waitresses were full of personality, and the atmosphere was very diner-appropriate with jazzy old-time music in the background and lots of whimsical touches including vintage posters and specials with creative names like “The Vermonte Cristo.” It was obviously a favorite of locals as well as out-of-staters, judging by the friendly banter inside and the license plates outside.
Cooking is done in a kitchen added onto the back of the diner, rather than in the original space behind the counter, and restrooms are also located in the addition. The interior of the diner is well-maintained with lots of original gleaming stainless steel behind the counter and a shiny vaulted ceiling. It also contains the original mosaic tiled floor, black and white ceramic tiles on vertical surfaces, and the original footrests, as well as a full complement of red vinyl stools, all in great shape.
The diner serves breakfast until 11:30, followed by lunch until 2:30, Monday through Saturday. Their lunch menu included a nice selection of sandwiches without being overwhelming, as well as a variety of burgers and several types of foot-long hotdogs. They also had a few platters, soups, specials, and a children’s menu.
I ordered my usual BLT and Don had their Smash Burger, a hamburger with raw diced onions pressed into the burger before cooking.
BLT: My BLT was chock full of tasty bacon neatly overlapped throughout, generous tomato slices (of the solid but tasteless restaurant type), and lots of leaf lettuce. The menu mentioned Texas toast, but the bread was commercial and normal thickness, nicely toasted. It was accompanied by very tasty kettle chips and a big sour pickle wedge. Fries, sweet potato fries, or onion rings were offered as alternatives to chips for an additional fee. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent and 5 being average, I gave it (9). The Texas toast would have been nice, and some day I hope to have a real tomato.
Burger: Don’s burger was made from freshly ground beef and came with melted Swiss cheese, tomato, and lettuce and was very tasty with the onions caramelizing on the outside. It was accompanied by a generous amount of nicely cooked handcut fries and a big sour pickle wedge. While restaurant fries can often go unfinished, every one of these fries disappeared! The bun was good, and the sandwich held together well. He gave it a (9). The tomato was the usual hot-house type and the lettuce was just okay.
Dessert: The menu included some interesting desserts including homemade pies and cheesecake. According to the website, all of their pies and baked goods are made onsite with high quality ingredients including Vermont products like King Arthur Flour and Cabot Creamery butter. We did not partake, as we were pleasantly full.
BLT with chips and pickle wedge: $8.00
Burger with Swiss cheese, fries, and pickle wedge: $9.00
Root beer, cheerfully refilled free of charge: $2.00
Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $21.00
The Country Girl Diner accepts cash only. They do have an ATM onsite.
Restrooms: The single-person restrooms were clean and well-maintained. (10)
Service: Delightful. Despite being super-busy, the waitresses were cheerful, funny, and friendly, as well as attentive. A real pleasure. (10)
Overall experience: 9.5
Country Girl Diner
46 Vermont Rt. 103
Chester, Vt. 05143
The Country Girl Diner is open for breakfast and lunch Monday thru Saturday, from 7 to 2:30. On Sundays they serve breakfast all day, from 7 to 2:00. During the summer, they add Friday night dinner from 5 to 8, but will close sooner if they run out of food. Full menus are available on their website.
The Blue Benn, Bennington, VT
The Blue Benn is a Silk City Diner manufactured in Paterson, New Jersey, in the late 1940s. It was assembled onsite in Bennington in 1948, where it has been in business ever since. Located downtown on Route 7, Blue Benn offers plenty of parking, primarily behind the building, and is easy to find.
A blue fabric vestibule tacked onto the front obscures much of the silver sleekness that makes this design particularly appealing (see the beautifully restored Silk City Diner in Castleton for comparison). The vestibule serves as a waiting area for this popular diner’s six booths and was full of would-be patrons at 1:00 on the Thursday we visited. We opted for counter seats to avoid the wait.
Inside, the diner was clean, all of the counter seats in service, and the countertop well-worn. No cooking was done behind the counter; the kitchen and the restrooms were located in an addition built onto the back. As one might expect, the décor was blue, with curtains on the windows and a small jukebox at each booth. It would have been charming except that every vertical surface above and behind the counter was plastered with rows of colored sheets of letter-size paper in plastic sleeves, each bearing the printed name of one menu item and its price. Why this was done is not clear, since the menus are up to date and one could never read every piece of paper without wandering up and down the entire length of the twenty-seat counter in order to see them all. A pair of blackboards adds to the clutter with handwritten information about specials and the quiche of the day, all of it creating an eyesore that detracts from the clean simplicity of the original stainless steel backdrops.
The menu was extensive, featuring breakfast all day, impressive dinner specials, and a fantastic selection of vegetarian meal options. Breakfast included twenty-three different omelets, and the sandwiches spanned everything from hot open-faced choices to cold club sandwiches to specialties from the grill. Prices were reasonable for most things. The menu also offered a nice history of diners in general and Blue Benn in particular.
Service was quick, but impersonal. If you’re looking for the quintessential diner experience with chatty, friendly waitresses, that was not to be found here. Granted, the place was busy, but even smiles were in short supply.
Don decided to forego his usual hamburger and order the fish and chips. I stuck with my usual BLT. Considering the accolades their food receives online, we apparently could have made better choices.
BLT: The bacon was generous, the tomato was the typical restaurant variety, and the iceberg lettuce was okay. The sandwich was short on mayonnaise, however, leaving it basically dry and not particularly tasty. It was served with pickle slices and a reasonable amount of potato chips. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent and 5 being average, I gave it (5).
Fish and Chips: Don enjoyed the crispy battered fish, but the French fries were very brown, limp, and appeared to be the commercially frozen type. The plate came with the usual little paper cup of tartar sauce and a lemon wedge, but not a smidgen of coleslaw, whiff of pickle, or DNA from anything vegetable other than the aforementioned fries. Based on fish and chips enjoyed in other venues, he gave the whole thing a (6).
Dessert: The menu included some interesting desserts in the categories of homemade pies, crisps, and puddings, but we did not partake.
BLT: $4.75, included chips and three pickle slices
Fish and chips: $8.95 for 3 reasonable sized battered fillets and lots of fries, plus tartar sauce and lemon wedge
Root beer (large):$1.75
Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $16.95
The Blue Benn Diner accepts cash only.
Restrooms: The single-person restrooms were clean and well-maintained. (10)
Service: Impersonal. (4)
Overall experience: 6
Blue Benn Diner
314 North Street
Bennington, VT 05201
Their only online presence is on Facebook.