Twenty Seats in The Backroom

Jackson House Inn, Woodstock Vermont

While a charming country store inhabits almost every Vermont town, Pittsfield plays host to one very special store indeed. A destination for many wedding-goers, Pittsfield lies in somewhat of an epicenter for not only Central Vermont locals, but also Killington, Riverside, and Amee Farm visitors. Kevin Lasko and Katie Stiles played the role of such visitors at one time, having participated in the annual Peak Spartan Death Race. One visit in particular introduced Kevin and Katie to the founder of this race, coincidentally also the owner of the Pittsfield General Store. He was in search of a suitable chef and Kevin appeared to fit this role to a T. Thus began this couple’s Vermont venture in taking ownership of the Pittsfield Original General Store, Vermont Farms Catering, and eventually The Backroom restaurant, the success and notability of which have become unmistakable for all three.

Kevin holds an impressive repertoire, including a ten-year position as Executive Chef at Park Avenue Seasons on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Under his direction, the restaurant earned multiple accolades from the likes of The New York Times and New York Magazine. It’s no surprise Lasko now considers Vermont as the ideal intersection between agriculture and gastronomy. Katie, on the other hand, has experience as a publicist and marketing director. Kevin and Katie met and began collaborating on various events. Katie now uses her keen eye to work with clients and dinner guests in creating the ideal ambiance.

Kevin and Katie worked to make Pittsfield’s General Store a destination all of its own. After taking ownership in March of 2014, they revamped the General Store’s merchandise to include artisanal perishables and gourmet edibles, all while maintaining the shop’s classic country store appeal. Jars of penny candy and local Vermont brews accompany the likes of Maple French Toast with caramelized bananas, bacon marmalade, and walnuts off the breakfast menu. Local Vermont newspapers surround the long wooden benches and large hearth in the store’s communal seating area. This humble setting, which so perfectly depicts a down-home country store, seamlessly fosters an elevated assortment and menu appreciated by locals and visitors alike.

IMG_7825IMG_7833Kevin and Katie first utilized the back room of the store as a commissary kitchen for Vermont Farms Catering. Kevin acts as Executive Chef, his wife, Event Director, to provide unforgettable dining experiences with fresh and local ingredients. Wedding season is certainly a busy catering time with partners Riverside Farm and Amee Farm Lodge. In their first year, the couple took on the catering for more than 20 weddings. Yet the couple forged on to open a third operation – a space in which Kevin may experiment and stretch his culinary skills. Having felt the back space underused in the wedding off-season, Kevin and Katie decided to use this opportunity to create something out of passion – a key ingredient for all great destinations. Ergo, The Backroom was born. A unique restaurant offering three-course meals, The Backroom hosts intimate dinners every Friday and Saturday between November and June. Kevin and Katie knew they had something special once The Backroom’s very first Saturday dinner service sold out.

Through the country store we go, past the local book exchange and rows of Kettle Chips to The Backroom, the entrance of which is just as mysterious as the restaurant’s name itself. With zero signage, we felt as if we were entering a space recognized only by those knowledgeable enough to mutter a secret password – in this case, to nab those coveted Backroom reservations. We enter the space, where two communal tables bear the only seating in the room, enough to accommodate 20 guests. Each sit below a cluster of low Edison lights. Add these to the ambiance created by the gramophone speaker, collection of cookbooks, and quality wines lining the shelves, and we find ourselves in an immediate speakeasy atmosphere. With the stovetop aflame and Jasper Hill Cheese a-bubbling, we are delighted to find Kevin front and center. His slate counter sets the perfect stage to lure his guests with the aroma of mouthwatering courses to come.

FotorCreated(2)IMG_7875Kevin remains calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen – the sight of someone doing something he truly loves. Bustling amongst the stovetops, Kevin mentions the emphasis he and Katie place on local producers. For instance, breads come from Red Hen Baking Co., and most meats from local farmers. The couple even plans to host a dinner this spring featuring all ingredients sourced within 20 miles of Pittsfield. In addition to The Backroom’s convenient location to local farms, Kevin notes the advantage of having their General Store so accessible. If one guest is hankering for a lemonade, for instance, Kevin and Katie can reach into their General Store stock and supply quality product without missing a beat.

Having noshed on more than enough fondue delights and ordering cocktails mixed by Katie herself, we sit for our first course of House Smoked Ham with Nitty Gritty Grits and Salsa Verde. A crispy outer layer of ham contrasts the finely textured grits in the most delightful way. We savor this course, while also getting to know our new tablemates. Making friends undoubtedly satisfies the goal of The Backroom’s communal tables, fit for an intimate scene and unique dining experience.

The ham makes way for the “Main Event,” featuring Misty Knoll Chicken with a Beet & Pistachio Dolma and Zatar Spice. Kevin’s take on dolma uses swiss chard to encase a brilliant mix of beet, citrus, and pistachio. The dolma is certainly a highlight of our dinner, made even more savory by the slices of tender chicken on our plates. Katie thoughtfully places a side of kale, sautĂ©ed in maple-ham fat, to accompany this dish.

Katie brings dessert, and our full bellies can’t resist the delight of Mile High Chocolate Pie with Chocolate Mousse and Whipped Creme Fraiche. Kevin also accommodatingly serves a gluten-free option to a few of our table colleagues, making a satisfyingly sweet course to be had by all. Lingering guests are encouraged to continue conversation as Katie serves pots of house-made popcorn, topped with melted brown butter and yuzu – a sour mandarin hybrid from Japan. This is by far the most interesting ingredient of the night, and the perfect snack to round out our meal. Intrigued by its unique flavor, Kevin kindly shares a taste of yuzu citrus he has in the kitchen. To us, this is the sign of an exceptional chef. Kevin so obviously has a passion for his play on ingredients, and excitedly shares this knowledge with those who show interest. We’ve always considered food as a means of coming together, and Kevin and Katie share their love of cooking and hosting with fervent enthusiasm. 

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IMG_7985Relishing our final glass of wine, we enjoy chatting with Kevin and Katie about their new life here in Vermont. The Backroom has certainly created a venue in which the couple can be themselves and thrive within the community. Whether the restaurant serves as a destination or local gem, Kevin and Katie have created a space worthy of its special appeal and recognition.

Unable to snag a weekend reservation between November and June? We’ve got you covered. The Backroom offers private dinners for parties of 15 or more, Sunday through Thursday throughout wedding season.

IMG_8036Thank you, Kevin and Katie, for a remarkable dining experience that we can highly recommend, without hesitation. Your warm conversation and outstanding fare are greatly appreciated. Cheers to an unforgettable evening, and more to come in the near future!

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