Sunday bunch used to be a staple meal at The Blue Paddle. Dinner and our brunch comprised the core of our humble beginnings when we first opened our Paddle Blue doors here in downtown South Hero. But our real start, our infancy if you, will took place a couple of miles east on U.S. 2. Just before the causeway that crosses over the inland sea, we originally set up shop at Apple Island Resort.
For Phoebe and me, it was always understood to be an interim move. Returning from New York City with a serious culinary stint under her belt working with famed Anita Lo, Phoebe made her intentions very clear: “No more sandwiches, Mandy.” We both were in agreement. The Noonie Days were long gone and, yet, they were still embroidered in our fabric. Opening up “After Noonies” in the campground’s little store was a necessary stepping stone to what was our ultimate goal — a full-fledge restaurant.
Phoebe added a gourmet brunch to help her satisfy her urge to be creative in the kitchen. In a tiny, long and narrow storefront we created a dining area of sorts. In short order, the Islanders and locals from nearby Milton and Colchester flocked to our little makeshift restaurant. Brunch was fun. Every Sunday, I would play a folk song or show tune through our crude stereo system and all our guests would get up and dance, sing and laugh together. It may seem strange but it truly left a mark on many of our friends, as well as ourselves.
It was during one of our first brunch dance parties, that we encountered Mary Powell — a woman who lights up a room upon her entrance and whose eyes can calm one’s nerves, putting them at ease to the point they would disclose their deepest, darkest secrets to a complete stranger without feeling vulnerable. A special woman who doesn’t come around all that often, if at all, in one’s life.
Soon, Mary – along with her awesome husband, Mark Brooks, and gorgeous little girl, Alex, would become Sunday regulars and dear friends of both Phoebe and myself. Mary and Mark are both athletic in their off-time and would often be out biking, or running, prior to their arrival for breakfast. Mary, famished, always wanted to make her own dish, asking for little samples of this and that from Phoebe’s menu. We would giggle together because she could really devour a lot of many smaller plates with a perpetual smile on her face and sparkle in her eye. For such a slight woman, she sure could pack it in! She became “our Mary Powell.”
One morning, Phoebe handed me the brunch menu to write on our chalkboard. The first item simply said: “The Mary Powell.” It was a combination of a mini omelet of choice (Mary’s was always cinnamon-sprinkled apple, honey-baked ham, caramelized onion and Vermont cheddar), a short stack of pancakes, home fries and a meat side. We waited with baited breath until our friend came through our front door that morning. To this day it’s so vivid: She and Mark walked in and grabbed a cup of coffee and took their places at the little counter. Up went her eyes to check out the daily specials and there it was … her special, named in her honor. She let out a huge roar (she has a great laugh) and truly seemed to be pleased with her new found notoriety at our little restaurant.
And, the Mary Powell Special remains one of our best selling brunch items, even after we moved into town as the Blue Paddle Bistro.
The Paddle Brunch still survives, albeit only on rare special occasions, but the specialness of Mary Powell burns bright for Phoebe and me each and every day and, I suspect, on many others as well. Especially women. She’s a role model for all of us – both through her leadership position at Green Mountain Power and her unwavering commitment to assist and encourage young gals and women alike to live up to their potential. Truly, if it were not for Mary, the Blue Paddle Bistro would not exist. She and Mark purchased our building for us, but her presence goes far beyond that incredible gesture of faith from the two of them. She has been our mentor, our guidance counselor, our reality check, our motivator, our check and balance, and – most importantly – our friend.
For us, as long as The Paddle exists, there will always be a Mary Powell Special – it lives and breathes every day and night in this old 19th century clapboard farmhouse. It’s her spirit, strength and warmth that permeates these Paddle walls.
Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.
The Mary Powell Special
- Honey-baked ham, cinnamon-sprinkled apple, caramelized onion and Vermont cheddar omelet
- 3 ounces honey-baked ham
- 3 ounces Vermont cheddar cheese (grated)
- 2 ounces caramelized onions
- ¼ apple (peeled, sliced)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Crack eggs into mixing bowl, add milk and beat in order to ensure a fluffy omelet (do not over beat)
- In separate bowl, add apples and cinnamon; toss to coat apple surface.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat; add butter and let melt.
- When pan is hot, pour egg mixture in and let firm for a minute or two.
- With a spatula, push the eggs towards the middle; be careful. (This helps omelet to cook evenly.)
- When the egg mixture cooked through, add remaining ingredients and fold one side over in shape of a half moon.
Note: To caramelize onions, cook onions in a little oil over a low heat; as onions reduce (because the sugar is cooking out), add a touch of water. Cook all onions, slowly, until they are caramelized.