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Keene, NH vs. Brattleboro, VT: How would food scene factor in to moving decision?

Getting ready for a mid-summer move to the area (from central Michigan- a food desert if there ever was one; thus, my expectations for food are at rock bottom, and can only go up from here). We are weighing many factors in choosing to live in either Keene, NH or Brattleboro, VT, but one of them is where we will spend most of our time eating and drinking when we go out. Our food tastes are fairly broad, tending towards preferences for Italian, Indian, Thai, craft beer and good bar food, vegetarian-friendly. Really, we have spent a lot of time driving all over Michigan looking for fresh, locally sourced, homemade food and want to have easy access to this type of food, with minimal chain restaurants dotting the landscape, in whichever town we end up in. I've been reviewing some of the postings here but haven't been to either town yet. Would be curious- if you had to pick which town you spend more time in, to what extent is that decision based on food and drink? What makes one town "better" or "more fun" than the other? How often would you be willing to drive to one town for its food/bar scene if you lived in the other town, and how annoying would the drive be? Which one has the best beer bars and access to unique craft beers in grocery stores? Thanks for any opinions on this...

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  1. I am not interested in starting a big war here. But... :)

    Vermont is a pretty big center in the "localvore" movement. Vermont is generally more liberal in issues of ecology and carbon footprints than in NH, and it tends to have more people who believe along those lines. NH tends more towards conservative in those areas, when compared to VT.

    There are farmers markets, and farm stands, and farms with stores all around Vermont, and from what I've heard, there is more diversity in Brattleboro than from what I've heard about Keene (but I am NOT an authority on EITHER location). Isn't Brattleboro the place where that new Mexican restaurant has opened up recently? Pretty sure that's the one I keep toying with driving down to visit just for the sake of it. :)

    When we moved to New England from Alaska, we were trying to decide between NH, VT, and ME for where we'd move. We ended up speaking with two people who (brother and sister) had lived in all three states between them, and they both said we'd probably be more comfortable in Vermont for a variety of reasons.

    All that being said, I know there are farm stands and farmer's markets in NH, there are farms with tours and shops, there are agricultural festivals, etc. It's not an awful place, and it is beautiful (even if they DO allow some of that beauty to be spoiled by billboards, no billboards in VT ;).

    Both are college towns, right? I think we'd looked at Keene specifically when we were moving (this was back in 1992), because college towns can often end up being more welcoming to strangers. :)

    Anyway, welcome to the area! Summer's a good time to move here, give you time to get settled before the snow flies. :)

    4 Replies
    1. re: Morganna

      While I agree with everything Morganna has stated, I'll add that Keene is a picture postcard beautiful New England town. The downtown pumpkin festival would be enough to make me want to live there. Brattleboro, not so much. That said, both towns are really close to each other. Not sure it really matters. Find something in the general vicintiy and take advantage of both.

      1. re: Morganna

        True, but Keene is more of a college town than Brattleboro will ever be. The restaurant scene is probably equal in either town.
        Most Vermonters will be found shopping in Keene on the weekends because of the variety of stores available there.

        1. re: RichK

          I'm willing to bet that's less about the variety of stores than it is the lack of sales tax.

          1. re: Morganna

            No, I don't think so. Keene has so many more stores than Brattleboro will ever dream of having. Have you been to either town recently?

      2. I've only been to Brattleboro. My brother Steven K-Brooks lives there. There is a large food co-op at the intersections of Canal St. and Main St. A farmers market sets up shop in the parking lot. Check the website www.ibrattleboro.com My brother and his wife are vegans and they've lived in Brattleboro for more than twenty years.

        1. We live so close yet far away! If you are doing much cooking, I would also look into sources for Asian ingredients. Nashua NH has a nice little Thai market on Rt 101A. There is a larger Asian market in Manchester NH. Nashua would be closer to Keene. Both cities also have some other small ethnic markets. I live just north of Concord NH so I do some ingredient shopping when I'm in the Manchester or Nashua area but so far have only been able to find galangal in Portsmouth NH on the seacoast.

          Hopefully some locals will answer some of your questions. I live in a small town but there are several small farmstands near me including one dairy farmer who sells fresh corn. There are also several orchards/berry farms in my area which make purchasing local very simple. There's some nice farmers markets on Saturdays but that is one day of the week that I'd prefer not to get in the car (until dinner time).

          1. Brattleboro has an Asian market, an amazing co-op, a butcher and two fish markets (although one is decidedly better than the other). There are also two grocery store chains - Hannafords (preferred) and Price Chopper. Restaurant-wise there are Thai, Korean, Mexican and several classic breakfast/lunch places. There is also Italian and Indian but their food is ho hum. Many of the eateries use local, organic food from farms nearby. There used to be a Jamaican-style vegan restaurant that was amazing but they seem to be MIA these days. There is an art house theater and a regular theater. Tons of art featured in all the shops and a monthly gallery walk to feature that art.

            There is a year-round farmer's market and the downtown is definitely attractive with tons of shops and beautiful old buildings. The kind of shops that are owned by locals and have been there for years. I almost never shop in Keene. Maybe once a year I'll head to Target. But everything I need I can get in VT and support my neighbor's businesses.

            Keene is the home of big box stores galore - Home Depot, WalMart, etc. And Keene is a tax free state (sales and state). If big box shopping and not paying taxes is important to you than you should definitely move there.

            I have lived in NH and VT and prefer VT for all the reasons stated in this thread.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bri

              Though others have written with more details than I could add (and you can see my preference by my name), Brattleboro and Keene have very different "vibes"...as do NH and VT. I think Bri stated the contrast very well. You will have to come and get a feel of the two towns. BTW, dfrost...we can get fresh galangal and other Asian ingredients at the Woodstock Farmers Market (actually a small grocery...not your traditional "farmers market" ) in Woodstock, VT...at least right now. Don't know if that would be closer for you.

            2. Because I am a skier I have another perspective. I "save" or collect restaurants in the area of Mt. Snow. My map indicates that there are more dining opportunities in Vermont than in New Hampshire. From Brattleboro to Wilmington is the same distance as from Brattleboro to Keene. By my map, there are lots of dining opportunities in Wilmington and West Dover. Not so with areas beyond Keene. You have to come back towards Brattleboro. This is purely subjective, but I have been paying attention to recommendations for the area around Brattleboro since I started skiing at Mt. Snow, some five years ago.
              There's also good stuff in the Greenfield, MA area. Farther if you're coming from Keene.
              Personally, I have always enjoyed the college town vibe, but since I'm older I don't care so much.

              1. I like Keene. Maybe because I'm so fond of Prime Roast Coffee (in my book coffee counts as sustenance!), and because it has a small old fashioned college town vibe.

                2 Replies
                1. re: bewley

                  Mocha Joe's in Brattleboro roasts their own and has incredible coffee. Their coffee is also featured in various Brattleboro and Putney restaurants and co-ops and sold retail.

                  About the thread becoming a VT vs NH debate, that seems natural to me. You're talking about 2 different lifestyles and people are passionate about that kind of thing.

                  Mocha Joe's
                  82 Main St, Brattleboro, VT 05301

                  1. re: Bri

                    And the OP DID ask for a comparison between the two cities, and because of the rural nature and small sizes of VT and NH, it inevitably turns into a comparison of the states over all simply because you don't always just stick to your one area. :)

                2. If someone were to ask me in a more general way "which part of Vermont or New Hampshire would you choose based on food options" I'd pick Burlington, VT or the greater Burlington area as far as livability, decent culture, good food, interesting people, and a reasonable cost of living over any other part of either state. Brattleboro has its issues (how long ago was it you lived there?), and it isn't nearly as nice as Burlington, but that's not what the OP was asking, so I tried to answer the question posed.

                  Based on the things I've been reading about various restaurant options here on the New England board, Burlington, as well as other pockets around VT, have more diverse and higher quality food things going on from than any of the cities or towns in NH. So if you're looking for a density of foodie options, Vermont is really the place to settle, and if you're looking for a good place to settle in Vermont, that's a different discussion.

                  The OP asked which you'd pick between the two. I'd still go for Brattleboro, for all its problems, over Keene, for loads of reasons that only marginally have to do with food, but do, at least, somewhat have to do with it. :)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Morganna

                    And I'd urge the OP to think very hard about why they want to live in either community. Using the foodie scenes as a major criteria to choose between the two strikes me as insane.

                    Honestly, I live in Burlington, which has an infinitely larger food scene than Keene and Brattleboro combined, and Burlington's food scene bores me to tears because I consider it too small, too limited. And while I haven't lived in Bratt/Keene for a couple decades, I still own housing rental property there, and I'm in both towns monthly.

                    1. re: signothetimes53

                      Thanks everyone for weighing in, and I'm not so surprised that the thread has turned into more VT vs. NH than Brattleboro vs. Keene- I realize we're not talking about LA vs. NY here, at some point, there's only so much to say about each. I have appreciated the general viewpoints, though I still don't really feel that I've heard much from anyone regarding their specific favorite spots in either place (although the locally roasted coffee sounds like something to look forward to, thanks!).

                      As I stated in my OP--the food scene is ONE of the MANY things we are weighing as we make a choice between the two cities. As this is a food board, I thought it appropriate to ask about the food here :) That said, even though it is only one factor in our decision, given our current home in mid-Michigan (where we literally drive over an hour every weekend to go to decent restaurants and bars in cities like Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Grand Rapids) we do NOT want to live in another place that has only chain restaurants or bars with nothing but Bud Light on tap. So, although it might seem silly to someone who is used to many good choices, when you realize what it's like to live in the world of endless Applebees, Chilis, and Panera Breads, you start to think that access to real food and drink is more important than you might have imagined!

                      As for why we want to live in either Brattleboro vs. Keene, we are both academics, and are moving to the area for a new faculty position. We've lived in Chapel Hill and East Lansing in our two prior moves, so the pros and cons of college-town living are very familiar to us. Given, again, that we are sick and tired of driving miles and miles for any form of entertainment, although I am very familiar with the charms of Burlington (I'm originally an upstate New Yorker), we're just not interested in a monster commute.

                      Hence, my original question about the food scene in each town...Thanks all for sharing your opinions!! Keep it coming, this has been great!

                      1. re: erin_grogan

                        Brattleboro is right on 91 and therefore close in minutes to everything else along the river corridor (20 minutes north gets you to Walpo;e, 1 hr gets you Hanover, 1/2 hour south gets you into the Five College zone) . To get out of Keene you have traffic lights, rotaries, and big-box zones to wade through, and then the roads are one-lane-each-way-with-infrequent-places-to-get-past-the-guy-with-the-boat.

                        Take a look at school profiles for each town -- even if you're not a parent, the demographics info will give you another facet to consider. Pretend you have one jock, one scientist, and one singer/dancer/actor in the family and see what their options would be.

                        Travel in Vt and NH is VERY varied, depending on which way you're going. Study your Google maps with care. Consider renting a starter apartment in one of the in-between zones until you know your way around, or go for on-campus housing. If you name your academic institutions there are many on this board that could give you detailed commute advice.

                        If you want to live truly rural or in a small village, you will be able to find pockets of both deep red and blue on both sides of the river, but you have to know where to find them. Good luck!

                  2. No one mentions specific restaurants, because frankly, there's not a lot to share. In Keene there's a popular place, Fritz, "The Place to Eat" which specializes in Belgian style fries. I have no idea how that place is, but it's mobbed when other places are not. We went in one evening and some of female staff (cooking in open kitchen) looked like they just rolled out of bed and very unprofessional, so we didn't stay. Keene has a chocolate shop under the theater on Main St and another place people seem to like is Luca's Mediterranean Cafe. We went for pizza at Amicci's Italian Pizza which was pretty good (and I'm picky about pizza). I've driven through Brattleboro a few times. Went to the coop (it was pretty good) but overall Brattleboro looks and has the vibe of a dumpy town that's seen better days. And I didn't pick up that the people were so friendly either. The reason I was there was because I too was looking, like Erin, for a possible place to live and work. My business does best close to academic communities.

                    Luca's Mediterranean Cafe
                    10 Central Sq, Keene, NH 03431

                    Amicci's Italian Pizza
                    90 Main St, Keene, NH 03431

                    1. As a long time resident of Keene, and a native of NY/NJ metro area, I would say that Bratt is best for you if food and beer is your primary criteria. More diversity in cuisine, better pubs, a great farmer's market and quite artsy. Keene, only 15 miles away, is more upscale with a better economic base. (Many Vt plates on cars there with shoppers).Good family town with outstanding schools and community involvement. Bratt does have a bit of a hard edge with a more obvious drug and violent crime problem. There was a drug street murder of a young person right downtown fairly recently with a woman mugged downtown at 9 pm on a weeknight. Keene pretty much has fights between drunkin college kids from NJ and Connecticut. I live in Keene, and drive to Bratt for fun.....hope this helps....check both town out

                      1. I think that you would probably be happier in Brattleboro or somewhere on the between the two places. As for restaurants there might not be as many as Keene has,but Bratt also does not have all th chains like Keene has. Most of the restaurants on Brattleboro tend to be more ethnic- tehr is Shin -La, Thai Bamboo, Anon's, Sarki's Market, Panda North, Three Stones- the newest and very good- also vegetarian and vegan friendly. I have to say that there are many vegetarians here and the restaurants are used to having to accommodate that. Some other places are Alici's Bistro, Addagio's,India Palace. There is also -Chelsea Royal Diner, New England house, The Marina and a few others. For more fine dining there is Peter Havens and T.J. Buckley's. Brattleboro is good in that you are closer to other areas to drive to for other dining experiences

                        Peter Havens Restaurant
                        32 Elliot St, Brattleboro, VT 05301

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: littlej

                          You didn't mention the subterranean Mole's Eye Cafe...for a burger and beer in Bratt. A dive?

                          Mole's Eye Cafe
                          Brooks House, Brattleboro, VT 05301

                            1. re: Scargod

                              Mole's eye is closed. Heard it may be turned into a beer joint.

                          1. I live in Westmoreland, NH, about half way between the two towns, and a great spot to live if you want easy access to both. In my opinion, the best thing about Brattleboro is its food co-op, followed closely by its Thai and Indian restaurants. Main drawbacks include traffic through town and the drugged out kids on the corners. Keene has a busy Farmer's market on Saturdays and Tuesdays, has a food co-op in the planning stages, and has several excellent coffee shops (Brewbakers especially). It's also family friendly, with a good library, good schools (including a strong Waldorf community), fairs, etc. As others said, there are box stores, but you can choose to support the local stores instead, and sometimes it's nice to have the box store option when something's not available from the locals. There are good (and bad) restaurants in both places. I'm glad we live in Westmoreland, but if we had to pick either Brattleboro or Keene, Keene would win hands down.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Wlander

                              Wlander, this is a great assessment. I tend to agree with you.

                            2. Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

                              Neither is a winner.

                              Be warned, Vermonters will give anything five out of five stars.

                              1. I know this is an old thread and the OP has been comfortably ensconced on his/her new home for some time now. However, I wanted to add that I was pleasantly surprised during a trip to Keene this summer to taste an absolutely delicious house-made mozzarella at Luca's Market. We ordered it in a caprese sandwich and then bought more to take home. Have to plan another trip back the Keene, lovely little downtown, packed with restaurants, many with outdoor patios in summer. Brewbakers a great, cozy place for coffee.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Kat

                                  It's so funny to see this thread pop back up after all this time (I was the OP). So we moved from Michigan to Keene in 2010. We lived in Keene for 2 years, but for a variety of reasons, moved to a smaller town mid-way between Keene and Brattleboro. Now we are about 15-20 minutes from the downtown of each, almost perfectly equidistant. Our eating out and grocery shopping needs are almost equally divided between the two towns. Being so close to 91, we've also been able to easily take advantage of western Mass, and enjoy quick access to Greenfield, Gill, Bernadston, etc.

                                  It's certainly not an urban center, but given that all these little towns have at least 1-2 good restaurants, we've found that it keeps our eating out options pretty fresh and satisfying. And it's certainly a beautiful part of the world to live in!

                                  1. re: erin_grogan

                                    thanks so much for the update and good to know you are happy with where you are living (and I am assuming you managed to avoid the Keene State pumpkin festival ruckus)!

                                    can you find regional cheeses in this area, including vermont cheeses? We are in Boston, but hoping someday to move more rural, and we don't mind the cold.

                                    1. re: Madrid

                                      Uggh, the whole Keene State "misbehavior" is so embarrassing and not at all representative of the festival! Anyway, yes, tons of regional cheese available here.

                                      Hannah Grimes Marketplace in Keene (http://hannahgrimes.com/programs/hann...) includes a wide selection of cheeses from both VT and NH. Both local food co-ops (Monadnock Food co-op [http://monadnockfood.coop/] and Brattleboro Food Co-op [http://www.brattleborofoodcoop.com/]) do as well. There are many other locally focused shops in the smaller towns surrounding these two that have good local selections as well.