by Dot Helling
Last time I wrote about an existing Montpelier breakfast hub, the Coffee Corner. In the 1970s there was another hub. While the conservatives were eating at the Coffee Corner, a different crowd gathered regularly at the Horn of the Moon Restaurant. Owner Ginny Callan first opened Horn of the Moon on East State Street in 1977, with seating for a lucky 13. Two years later she relocated to larger space on Langdon Street, the riverfront property now occupied by the Shoe Horn. Ginny’s philosophy was to produce “good tasting food that was good for you” and to offer natural, vegetarian foods that were “pretty and yummy.” The vegetarian fare in those days was plain and often anything but pretty and yummy. Menu favorites included the “RTV” (rice, tofu, and vegetables with a side of tahini), home fries, quiche, soups, fresh ground strong coffee, and Sunday brunch specials. On Sundays, locals would line up down the block, enduring the outside elements to get a seat. Travelers from other parts of Vermont and out of state made the restaurant a destination. The restaurant became nationally known after Ginny Callan published her “Horn of the Moon Cookbook.” That was followed later by the “Beyond the Moon” cookbook.
Ginny sold Horn of the Moon in 1990, and it closed about seven years later. During its heyday, Horn of the Moon featured monthly rotating artist exhibits and traditional music on Fridays and Saturdays. Fred Wilbur from Buch Spieler would play piano and barter music for food. Special events included non-dairy nights, a Chinese stir fry with Steve Bogart (founder of A Single Pebble restaurant), and a Rosh Hashanah dinner put on by Montpelier’s Jewish community. The restaurant was decorated with beautiful plants and art. Ginny started the restaurant as a BYOB establishment, then obtained a license to sell wine and beer. Ginny and much of her staff were activists. The restaurant closed for anti-nuclear demonstrations, air conditioning was taboo, the food had to be natural and Horn of the Moon was the first establishment in Montpelier to ban smoking.
Ginny made soups in 40 quart pots, always two daily choices. The secret to her tofu was pressing it dry in paper towels, then cooking it in sunflower oil in a preheated cast iron skillet and with a finishing touch of nutritional yeast and tamari. Many patrons had individual favorites, and the restaurant catered to them. When state worker Dan Neary showed up for lunch every day, the staff already had his CTS (cheese, tomato, and sprouts sandwich) on the grill. Patrons became known by what they ate. Some were so regular that they would start the coffee in the morning if they arrived before it was ready. Anna Saxman stopped in every morning on her way to law school for her robust travel cup of Horn of the Moon coffee. The restaurant had a full-time dessert and bread baker, and scooped Haagen Daz and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Non-vegetarians, including a number of local attorneys, passed on their meat fixes to come and enjoy the good food and homey atmosphere. The staff was always chatty and friendly, sometimes to the chagrin of those wanting quick service, but always appreciated by the regulars. Randy Hutchins met his wife sitting at the counter in Horn of the Moon. Regulars included Tony Klein, Bob Gaston, and John Durrance, the latter two always ready for some fun. Gaston and Durrance showed up one very hot summer day dressed like criminals with super-soaker water guns and drenched the staff while whining about the lack of air conditioning. Another hot day, to make a point about the suffocating heat, staff members rigged up a bucket of water over the back door to soak Ginny as she stepped out. Thereafter, to combat the summer heat without air conditioning, patrons Matt Rubin and John Warshaw designed an effective heat exchange system.
Horn of the Moon was all about the people, especially Ginny, who was always behind the counter working. One day a customer caught her out on the floor and exclaimed “Oh, you have legs.” For Ginny it was about staff and community family, feeding patrons the best food she could, and always having fun in the process. Today she often brings a Horn of the Moon culinary delight to potlucks, providing memorable palate experiences to those on the guest list.