Appreciating Ariel’s Restaurant

by Mari Omland

The tavern room is aglow with laughter and cozy lighting. The buzz is warmer than social, richer than familial, more intimate than a community supper. If it were an LP or CD it would be called “the best of Ariel’s Restaurant”. In other realms it might simply be called magic or miracle. 

That is the snapshot I hold in my heart of the recent Floating Bridge Food and Farms Cooperative walk-around tapas dinner at Ariel’s. The successful event drew a full house, celebrated local food and elevated the stature and spirits of the Cooperative. These were the objectives Lee and Richard had envisioned when they first volunteered the idea of the fundraiser.

“We try hard not to do anything poorly.” Lee’s classically understated line fits their shared unassuming character. Chatting with Richard and Lee and reading a couple of preview chapters from Lee’s book, I begin to comprehend

the design, talent, risk and stamina required to create something so simultaneously comfortable and marvelous. “We designed every aspect of the restaurant from the paint colors to the sign, from the menu to the wine list, from the dining rooms to the flower beds. We were in debt… and had no financial cushion. We jumped in with both feet, setting up a pattern”.

Indeed the pattern is there. Listen to Richard talk about the quest for balance and to stories of their initial meetings and path is evident. Both were drawn to NECI and later the White House, a Calais establishment which celebrated local food decades ahead of today’s trend.  At the tapas dinner guests from Montpelier reminisced about their delight in Richard and Lee’s efforts to do everything from scratch during their five years with the About Thyme Café. Like with Ariel’s, the café was made special not only with spectacularly fresh simple food but also with attending to place and making people feel special.

Their talent is not simply balancing food within menus and finding the balance in pairing wines with that menu, though one often hears them referred to as amongst the best in the state. Their talents extend to seeing and celebrating place and relationships. At the café it was the fifty-year old brass espresso maker and salmon colored display case. At Ariel’s it is the pond village farmhouse, the beams in the tavern and the drawers from the old pharmacy. Perhaps what matters most is that Ariel’s is also home to Lee, Richard and their sons Simon and Noah. The glow of the place exists because of the alignment of talents, Lee and Richard’s appreciation of each other and their willingness to risk investing so intensely and sharing so intimately. It persists because this is the design – both of their enterprise and their wiring as individuals.

Richard and Lee are pillars of the Floating Bridge Food and Farm Cooperative and they both shape and exude the values and potential of the Cooperative. You can enjoy meals at Ariel’s Restaurant Wednesdays to Sundays through October.  They are also open December to March on a shorter schedule but with cooking classes and wine tastings.