831 Rockingham Road, Rockingham
Tied with Kingsfield, Maine’s Rolling Fatties for best weed-pun-named food joint in the Northeast, Smokin’ Bowls is a world-class soup shack located in a rural nowhere zone between towns. But it sits strategically near Exit 6 off Interstate 91 on Route 103, so it’s the sort of place where most people who encounter it will do so on their way to somewhere else. It’s only neighbor in this sparse corner of Rockingham is a lonely gas station, but it’s a familiar sight for skiers driving back and forth from Boston and Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and southeastern New York because it sits at an intersection located about 30 minutes from Magic Mountain, 35 minutes from Okemo, 40 minutes from Bromley, and an hour from Killington and Pico.
As its name might suggest, Smokin’ Bowls doesn’t keep bankers hours (and their website hasn’t been updated in a while), but it seems like the owners have settled on a Fri-Sat-Sun schedule, offering up a constantly rotating selection of hearty soups and chowders, such as Vermont Maple Butternut Squash and Apple-Pumpkin Bisque; sandwiches, such as pulled pork or brisket; and chili dogs to hungry passers-by who want quality hot food on their way to or from their favorite mountains. It’s the sort of soup worth planning a day’s meals around, going light on an early lunch, knowing that sometime around 5pm, during the long drive home, there’s a large cup of West African Peanut soup waiting for me before once again saying goodbye to Vermont’s picturesque winding roads and entering the numbing repetition of the Interstate.
Owner Sarah DiBernardo opened the shack with brothers Ryan James and Reid James in 2007, and though there have been some changes since then – including an abortive move to Los Angeles a few years ago – the quality of the soup remains the same. On a recent visit to Smokin’ Bowls, I asked DiBernardo how business was doing, and she was excited about the volume of customers she was already getting as a result of the early-season snowfall. “Things really pick up on Friday and Saturday evenings,” she said. “We get a constant stream of customers on their way to ski and then going back home.”
And that’s the secret to her success. It’s a ski town eatery that’s not located in one particular ski town; a roadside après spot that caters to a variety of southern and central Vermont skiers and riders. There are a few picnic tables strewn about the surrounding lot, which makes it an ideal roadside quickie picnic spot on a mild evening, a place to relax for a few minutes before the long drive ahead.
Or take one to go and sip as you drive – just make sure to choose a soup with as few chunks as possible. The kale and kielbasa, for instance, can be challenging to eat through a coffee cup lid, and you don’t want to be messing around with spoons at 70 miles per hour.