June 21, 2018
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Comfort food with a chef’s approach at Pittsfield’s only sit-down restaurant

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

Bob and Kathleen Phelan and their son, chef Rick LeRose, are proud that their potato chips are made and fried to order. In fact, so are the breads, muffins, salad dressings, roast turkey and sausages made at their Pittsfield restaurant, Vittles.

“If it’s on your plate, it started as a potato this morning,” said Bob Phelan, who with his wife and son opened the restaurant on Main Street in May 2011. “It isn’t the easiest way to do things, but it’s how we wanted to do it. It was really important to us to offer fresh food, made from scratch, a lot of local stuff. It’s a lot less common than you might think.”

For the past two years, Vittles has been one of the only eateries in Somerset County that offers food prepared entirely from scratch. No pre-made chicken burgers. No giant bags of frozen French fries. Even the ice cream is made in house — from chocolate and vanilla to honey cinnamon and blackberry, created by Bob Phelan himself.

Many of the veggies are sourced from either Snakeroot Farms, also located in Pittsfield, or likely grown by LeRose himself, who started harvesting from his own kitchen garden this year. One appetizer salad contains his yellow grape tomatoes and tiny cucamelons — cute, inch-long cucumber-like fruits that look like baby watermelons and taste like a slightly sour cuke — tossed in a poppy seed-pomegranate-chive dressing.

“If there’s one thing I learned from all my years working in kitchens, it’s that it’s worth it to take the time,” said LeRose. “I’m just bringing what I’ve learned in my time here to Pittsfield.”

LeRose attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, graduating in 1999, and for 10 years afterwards worked under an array of chefs, including Frederic Faveau, with whom he worked at restaurants including The Birches Inn in New Preston and at Pastorale in Lakeville, both in Connecticut.

The family had spent summers in Maine for more than a decade, and eight years ago, both Bob and Kathleen decided to move to Maine year-round. When their son moved to the state several years later, it didn’t take long for them to decide to start a restaurant with him — Kathleen had had a dream of opening a place for some time. The space at 107 Main St. in Pittsfield had been the site of eight different restaurants over the course of the past few decades, so when they investigated and found that the place was empty, they moved in.

“The community response so far has been outstanding,” said Bob Phelan. “We get students from [Maine Central Institute], we get people coming through town since we’re right off the highway. They’ve made us feel at home.”

LeRose combines classic American comfort food with the French and Italian food he cooked in fine dining kitchens, and their breakfast lunch menu reflects that with meals like hearty club sandwiches, house-made soups and burgers, right alongside items like a blackberry breakfast panini, mango coconut French toast and a turkey, brie, Asian pear and walnut wrap.

Their weekend dinner menus, served Friday and Saturday nights, range from seared scallops on a creamy risotto to duck breast in a mango-ginger sauce, as well as familiar favorites like shepherd’s pie and beer-battered haddock. Items like vodka and citrus house-cured salmon and grilled zucchini nachos — in which grilled zucchini slices replace tortilla chips — make their way on and off the nightly specials menu. On dinner nights, they also serve wine and an array of Maine craft beers, including selections from nearby Oak Pond Brewery in Skowhegan.

“You just have to strike a balance between food that everybody knows and loves, and satisfying your own creativity,” said LeRose.

Vittles is open for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week. The restaurant also has seatings for Friday and Saturday night dinner beginning at 4:30 p.m., with the last seating at 7:30 p.m.

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