What do 18 vintage cars and a hundred miles of Connecticut and New York roads have to do with creating the perfect french country picnic? The short answer–everything. The long answer?
Each spring and fall, Matthew L. deGarmo, Ltd., a vintage automobile broker from Norwalk, hosts a series of fall tours for his clients and friends inspired by a shared passion for driving and the art of the automobile. “My passion for selling vintage sports cars comes from an even deeper passion for driving them. That sentiment is what gave birth to the rallies we organize... an opportunity to get these fantastic cars out of the garage and on to the open road where they belong.” said deGarmo. The rally welcomes cars no later than 1974 and often limits his rallies to about 15 cars per tour.
The spring and fall timing of the tours is intentional, as cool driving weather during these seasonal counterpoints are ideal for both automobile and driver. Carburetors perform best with crisp temperatures, and for a driving enthusiast, there is nothing quite like beating a path through the the backroads and hills of Connecticut’s technicolor autumnal displays.
The rallies often kick-off at a meeting spot, such as Zumbach’s Coffee in New Canaan, which also happens to be ground zero for the popular car enthusiast gathering Caffeine and Carburetors. After caffeinating, drivers take off on a predetermined route that deGarmo has already carefully researched and timed, maximizing twists and vistas, while minimizing gravel and potholes.
The cars that most recently participated ranged from an American manufactured 1948 Packard 110 convertible to a german-engineered early 1970’s 911 Porsche, with some Italian and British marks thrown in for good measure. Showing up in force were a slew of curve-hugging Porsches, from a 1956 356 to the newer but still vintage early 1970’s 911s. Three brave and optimistic souls arrived with their tops down; the Packard, an Austin Healey 3000 and a 1970 Jaguar XKE. The award for most debonair of the corral went to a pair of Aston Martin DB4s, while the style award of the day undoubtedly went to the Italians–a yellow Dino Ferrari, and a Pantera, an Italian-bodied car powered by a big American mid-mounted V8.
For most drivers, the destination often takes a back seat to the journey itself. deGarmo challenged this notion by pulling in Ridgefield’s 109 Cheese & Wine to cater lunch, working with owners Monica & Todd Brown of 109 to elevate lunch into a memorable fall country picnic. Setting the scene, a single long picnic table was situated between a view of the river studded with fly fisherman, and a parking lot filled with the rare eye candy of beautiful, vintage european cars. The final touches of a perfectly crisp autumn afternoon, and the transportive powers of a classic French cassoulet set the bar impossibly high for deGarmo tours to come.
The hearty menu began with a large cheese and charcuterie board: Cremeaux des Citeaux Triple Crème – France | Cow Mac Kenzie Mini Buche - Wisconsin | Goat Chiriboga Blue – Bavaria | Cow Beemster Extra Aged Gouda – Holland | Cow Flory’s Truckle, Milton Creamery - Missouri/Iowa | Cow Sopresatta Salumeria Biellese, NY Serrano Jamon, Spain Spicy Prosciutto Spread.
The Browns tapped good friends and Ridgefielders Bernard and Sarah of Bernard’s Restaurant and Sarah's Wine Bar for some of the subsequent courses, that included: Kale Caesar Salad, Bernard’s Butternut Squash Soup, Bernard’s Cassoulet: (Pork sausages, duck, chicken, & white beans), Bufala Mozzarella & Asparagus Salad with saffron & pumpkin seed vinaigrette, and The Cake Box Cupcakes (Salty Caramel, Chocolate, Pumpkin).
This quintessential fall menu began with Bernard’s butternut squash soup, a staple at the restaurant. The thick and slightly creamy soup was the perfect way to work out the kinks after driving 100 miles in a vintage car (many have no working heat, not to mention a lack of power steering, and double-clutching is often required).
A Tuscan kale caesar salad and bufala mozzarella and asparagus salad were fitting counterpoints to Bernard’s hearty cassoulet. If you have not been lucky enough to experience some of Bernard Boisseau’s classic French recipes, either at Bernard’s restaurant or at 109 Cheese & Wine (they carry the cassoulet and other provisions from Bernard’s in their freezer), you’re seriously missing out. This pork, duck and chicken cassoulet is the apotheosis of what a cassoulet should be, a rich and earthy stew that honors time and tradition. Bernard, a native of France and classically trained French chef, makes his own duck confit, as well as much of his own charcuterie including sausages and pâtes.
The tremendous menu, inspired by spirited driving and the growl of vintage engines, made me long for crisper temperatures to come. By working with 109 Cheese & Wine and Bernard’s Restaurant to host the days culminating event, deGarmo may have set a dangerous precedent.
If you’re lucky enough to afford the cost of entry to a deGarmo rally, an immaculate vintage car and a sense of adventure, here’s to looking forward to the spring tour. If not, I urge to recreate your own “picnic” using the excuse of the cooler temperatures that are here to stay. Simply spring for a trip to Bernard’s, transportation notwithstanding, or head to 109 Cheese & Wine for provisions to host your own.