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Arethusa Café

by Kathryn Boughton

Litchfield County historically was dairy country with hundreds of little family farms dotting its verdant hillsides. The dairy farms of the past are largely gone, but at Arethusa Farm in Litchfield the mantra might well be “quality, not quantity.”

Arethusa, conceived by George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, top executives at the iconic shoe company Manolo Blahnik USA, is to the average dairy farm what Saks Fifth Avenue is to Sears. Taking great pains to make theirs the best possible herd, the owners have sought out the best animals, such as bovine beauty queen, Karlie, who turned judges' heads and was purchased by Arethusa for $170,000.

Clearly, the dairy products produced at Arethusa are among the finest available anywhere, and now patrons can enjoy them in yet another outlet. Malkemus and Yurgaitis, who have a dairy store and chic restaurant, Arethusa al Tavolo Wine Bar & Restaurant in Bantam, have now opened the Arethusa Café across the street at 833 Bantam Road.

“The Café’s main goal is to focus on our dairy products, which are included in all our baked goods,” said Dan McGill, executive chef of Al Tavolo, who oversees the café.

Bagels, baked fresh daily, have proved to be an immediate favorite, he said, adding that the exclusive cream cheese, not previously available, was created especially for the café. “We’ve done tons of business with bagels,” McGill said. “As soon as we started offering them, they were a huge success. We’ve been struggling to keep up.”

Equally popular are the croissants, made with Arethusa butter and crafted by executive pastry chef James Arena. He trained at Connecticut Culinary Arts and the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York. “We use only our classic, unique ingredients,” he said. “It’s a three-day, slow-rise process.”

Arena’s day begins at 3AM to have his delicacies ready by 7AM.

The café also serves panini—all created with house-made breads and Arethusa cheeses—according to Arena. “All the dairy products are made on the farm and our pastries and bread are made in-house,” he said.

These delectable offerings can be washed down with cold-brewed Stumptown Coffee and Stumptown Nitro Cold Brewed Coffee. “We’re very proud we got them to be our partner,” said McGill. “It’s the premiere coffee in the country. The coffee is never heated and cold extracted so it loses any bitterness.”

The brew is offered bottled and on tap. “Everyone thinks its beer, but we don’t have a liquor license,” said McGill. “The Nitro is infused with nitrogen so it cascades when you draw it on tap and settles in the glass like Guinness. They have been huge sellers.”

Like your coffee hot? Try their Stumptown espresso, made from beans freshly roasted in Brooklyn. “The beans are never ground more than five or six days after roasting,” said Arena. The coffee is brewed with water filtered through reverse osmosis.

McGill said the newly renovated, fresh and appealing outlet—formerly the Bantam Coffee Shop—has seating both inside and out. It is “mainly grab and go” with no waitress, he said. “It’s a lot more casual than the restaurant. We didn’t want to cannibalize the restaurant, so we have a different price point and the menu is different.”

The café is open 7AM-4PM, Wednesday through Sunday.