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HOMESTYLE HOSTEL: A SERIES OF HAPPY ACCIDENTS
A hostel is something you’re not likely to expect in the depths of New England, and one popping up in the middle of Vermont undoubtedly comes about with strong intention. Such is the case with Justin Hyjek and Eliza Greene’s Homestyle Hostel on Ludlow’s Main Street, at the base of Okemo Mountain. What began as a communal lodging initiative naturally grew into a place to gather in various other ways – not only sleep, but to relish in the bounty of some really great food and killer libations. Knowing the quality of dining experience at Homestyle, the development of the hostel’s restaurant and bar piques our interest. According to Eliza, the evolution of this cool, multi-faceted vibe is attributable to a series of happy accidents.
As a guest, you walk into a place of affordable, cozy rooms. The renovated farmhouse consists of classic rooms, suites, and contemporary hostel bunks. Having now seen their business through four consecutive seasons, the couple noticed the bunks being especially popular with through-bikers, skiers, and even families. The option for guests to use the hostel’s spacious kitchen to cook their favorite meals or experiment with local ingredients makes this kind of lodging all the more homey. However, the opportunity for guests to meet new friends and share in new experiences embodies this hostel’s mission. Eliza and Justin do their due diligence as innkeepers in answering all the weary questions that foreseeably come their way. What is a hostel?“Our hostel is essentially an inn with two hostel-style dormitories, three inn-style private rooms, and one 6-person suite. What creates the hostel feel at HH is the abundance of shared spaces: our kitchen, dining room, lounges, and bathrooms … Our building is large enough for a great group setting or finding some quiet time for yourself.” Are hostels just for young people? “No. When hostels are located on backpacking travel routes in other countries, they tend to attract a young traveling crowd, because of their affordability, but there is always a vast mix of ages. At HH, we have the perfect setup for families and guests of all ages. We strive to keep a balance between fun and relaxation ….” Even as locals, we’re tempted to spend a night away in one of their crisp white bunks. After a deliciously filling meal and a couple cocktails, who wouldn’t contemplate this?
As a diner, the wraparound porch and minimalist modern atmosphere lend to a dining scene fit for a special occasion or casual night out. What we find most impressive is the crowd the restaurant attracts on a nightly basis. Sitting at a corner table next to the bar, we observe Eliza and Justin enthusiastically making their rounds in greeting each and every guest. The room is buzzing with children, grandparents, friends, and couples of all ages. A suit-clad businessman could easily be seen next to a leather jacket biker at the bar, along with two children drawing in their coloring books immediately behind them. The pull of this ultra-cool space is undoubtedly and impressively expansive**. So what makes this hostel so successful in its wide draw? Eliza and Justin, first and foremost.
This couple’s positive energy drives a palatable vibe of happiness and ease each time we walk into the hostel. They don warm smiles, even in the midst of a bustling dining room or full bar. This couple truly loves and believes in what they’ve built here. Predicated on their travels throughout South America, Eliza and Justin opened Homestyle in the very town where they were raised. Eliza recalls her father coming to visit as she was cooking (also earning her keep) at a treehouse hostel in Nicaragua. She worked exclusively with local ingredients she hiked up to the kitchen’s mountainside location – all to create these funky dishes to cultivate a beautifully harmonious atmosphere amongst the hostel’s guests. Taken with this communal scene, Eliza’s father urged her to establish a hostel at home. “Vermont needs something like this,” he said.
Eliza and Justin defined their business plan by its communal quality. The heart of their venture came first – the lodging. Together, they created a place in which guests could gather to share their experience of Vermont and beyond, all while hanging in the bunk room, shared kitchen, or outdoor space. Based on their South American hostel journeys and Justin’s innate knack for mixology, a bar seemed like a no-brainer for good hostel atmosphere. And as they say: “If you build it, they will come.” Guests and locals began congregating at the hostel’s bar. We say time and time again that it is difficult to find a quality cocktail joint in Central Vermont – and boy, have we found one. People are noticing, visitors and locals alike – most certainly for well executed cocktails, as well as the hostel’s laid-back ambiance. One exceptionally busy night embodied Justin’s “aha” moment. As the bar’s uber mixologist, he took a moment to reflect on the number of cocktails he cranked out that evening. Justin recalled putting his blood, sweat, and tears into at least 100 handcrafted drinks that night – the successful sign of hard effort, good fun, and a happening crowd in the hostel.
And when you drink, you most likely want to nosh. This is where the next happy accident, the restaurant, came into play. Eliza and Justin followed what organically developed from both their passions and visitors’ desires in deciding to add food to the hostel’s repertoire. The couple now have chef extraordinaire, Alyssa Prouty, manning the kitchen and dishing out some stellar food that we find incredibly impressive. In true HH fashion, plates are served family style and meant to be shared. From lodging, to cooking, to drinking, to eating, many facets of Homestyle Hostel are meant for communal gathering – a recurring theme that we find goes to the heart of our love of food and drinks.
Thus, a series of happy accidents have made the hostel what it is today…a place where you see a friendly face sitting on the porch with her pup, sipping on one of Justin’s nightly libations. We are greeted like old friends as soon as we enter the hostel and escorted to a table with a view of the entire place. An ornate fireplace (once hidden behind plaster) and warm wooden hues accompany red metal barstools and colorful local art on the dining room’s walls. Eliza and Justin’s refurbished horse trough bar pays homage to the home’s once farmhouse utility. Families with young children, a husband-son duo, and even babymooners join us in the dining room.
Cocktails are always our first choice, and we’re served a Dark & Smokey and Naked & Famous – both incredibly executed and delicious. We become accustomed to the happy sound of crushed ice and giddy chatter as we sip and take in the eclectic atmosphere. The night’s specials have us craving the farmer’s market toast with Earth and Sky peasant bread, house-made ricotta, golden beets, radish, English peas, and basil pesto – the assemblage of which is incredibly gorgeous, as well as light and fresh. The creamy and textural house ricotta made for the perfect base to highlight fresh and colorful produce. An order of deep fried calamari with Chinese five spice, cilantro, fine pepper slices, and lime was so pleasantly different with the side of Thai peanut dipping sauce Alyssa whipped up. A heartier dish of whole roasted trout, perfectly coupled with a carrot-ginger puree and sautéed chard, made for a ridiculously delectable combination. Layers of flavor and texture throughout Alyssa’s plates serve as a testament to her true talents, as well as a tell-tale sign that she is having a lot of fun back in the hostel kitchen. Another round of Justin’s labor of love bring about two more concoctions that, as we’ve come to expect, blow our minds.
It’s hard not to leave satisfied from Homestyle Hostel, with respect to both the food and company. Eliza and Justin dove into uncharted territory and have come out with an incredible place to revel in community and sharing. We can’t emphasize enough the value in driving from Woodstock to Ludlow to experience HH’s food, drinks, and atmosphere. Do yourself a favor … and visit before the word really gets out! Come gather for drinks Wednesday through Sunday and dinner Thursday through Sunday. HH also hosts BBQ & game night every Wednesday! Be sure to keep track of the hostel’s happenings through their Facebook and Instagram accounts as well!