Taste Test: Phoenix Table and Bar

Reviewed by Alice Leavitt, Seven Days, June 3, 2014 | follow her on Twitter

Softshell crab and grits ☆ Photo by JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

Softshell crab and grits ☆ Photo by JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

Few foods are as emotionally satisfying as a perfect waffle. Jack Pickett and Joshua Bard know that much. At their new Stowe restaurant, Phoenix Table and Bar, the pair formerly behind Frida's Taqueria and Grill treat diners to not one but two excellent waffle dishes.

The pair's waffle is at once savory and just a bit sweet, crisp outside and pillowy within, whether served in a dinner or dessert context. In the past couple of years, practically every contemporary American restaurant to open in Vermont has debuted with chicken and waffles on the menu, and Phoenix Table is no exception.

Read the complete review in Seven Days.

First Bite: Plate, in Stowe

Alice Leavitt covered the recent opening in this Seven Days article. (Follow her on Twitter)

Chef Aaron Martin with owners Jamie Persky and Mark Rosman at Plate in Stowe   ☆   Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Chef Aaron Martin with owners Jamie Persky and Mark Rosman at Plate in Stowe   ☆   Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

In one way or another, restaurants in Stowe often are descended from the town's resorts. Chefs move downtown from the mountains, and former hotel managers try out their own independent dining concepts, all bringing a bit of the slick sheen of big business with them.

Plate
91 Main Street, Stowe
(802) 253-2691
www.platestowe.com

Plate, which opened on Stowe's Main Street on March 12, is an anomaly. The small dinner spot is actually descended from an even smaller restaurant called Jamie's on Main. Jamie Persky and husband Mark Rosman sold their breakfast-and-lunch destination in 2011. Now they're back with a new restaurant, right across the street, bringing a breath of fresh California air.

Read the complete article in Seven Days.

Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate will be moving next door to Plate in early July. A week or so ago, I was poking around in our new space, and ran into Jamie and Mark. I'd been looking forward to meeting them, because, I'd been told, they're both from Los Angeles, as am I. We had a nice chat in an unfinished hall and discovered several similarities and coincidences about our previous lives in L.A.. I'm looking forward to exploring those when we become neighbors in just a few weeks. If you haven't yet been, get yourself in there for a bite to eat; and, perhaps a drink with Mark at the bar.

Alice Eats: Brunch at Rusty Nail Bar & Grille

BY ALICE LEVITT ON APRIL 17, 2012 | SEVEN DAYSThe Rusty Nail There's nothing like a lovely spring day to stir brunch cravings. I'm ready for a Benedict at any time of year, but when I headed to the Rusty Nail Bar & Grille on Sunday, I was met by a brunch rush that could only have been kindled by the 70-degree weather and plenty of outdoor seating.

Having an obsessive fear of sun damage, I was happy to stay inside. Our hostess had some difficulty processing that idea, but, hey, it got me a table right away.

A table filled with local ingredients for Bloody Marys sat beside the bar, and general manager Kate Wise told us that she was making excellent Irish coffees that day. But even at 2 p.m., I just wasn't in the head (or body) space for cocktails.

I was feeling more like a bacon, egg and cheeseburger between two duck-fat doughnuts. Unfortunately, the "Donaught" had just sold out. A burger served on doughnuts had sold out? This brunch crowd was serious, and apparently had learned nothing from Paula Deen's diabetes. My kind of crew.

Chicken and wChicken and Waffles at the Rusty Nailaffles would just have to do. The crunchy waffle was cooked a minute or two longer than I would have preferred, but was still delicious. It was the first sourdough waffle I ever tried. The starter gave it a deep underlying tang at the end of each malty bite. Caramelized peaches seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder took the place of syrup as a sweetener, though I wish there had been even more of the irresistible fruit.

If the waffle was slightly dry, the five meaty chicken wings made up for it. Brilliantly brined, the flaky, peppery breading peeled away to reveal gorgeously moist and flavorful meat.

The eggs Benny's name did little to hint at the uncommon wonders of the dish. First, the homemade English muffins. Thicker and chewier than Thomas', they were an ideally hearty base for the glories built upon it.

Thin slices of chile-roasted pork shoulder and belly were fatty in a moist, delicious Eggs Bennyway, not a greasy one. The meat melted in my mouth with a delightful kiss of heat. Both eggs were poached to reveal an ideally creamy center. Frankly, though, it wasn't necessary in the wake of the Hollandaise. Luxuriously creamy, a hint of smoke from chipotle peppers stayed with me even after I'd finished the dish.

Frequent readers might recall that I'm a stickler about home fries. These were nicely seasoned and fried in duck fat. This gave them a hint of sweetness that contrasted marvelously with a liberal covering of salt. When I reheated them at dinnertime with my leftover chicken and waffles, they were just as good as they had been at brunch.

Even as I write this, I'm salivating. And preparing to face the Donaught soon.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to alice@sevendaysvt.com.

Hotly anticipated Waterbury pub Prohibition Pig opens this week

Big Pig

BY ALICE LEVITT [03.13.12] | SEVEN DAYS

It’s been almost seven months since the Alchemist Pub & Brewery was forced to shut its doors in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene’s wrath. This week, its devotees will finally be able to return to the beloved building with the opening of Prohibition Pig.

Guests will see many familiar faces, says owner Chad Rich. Of the 14 full-time employees at the Alchemist when it closed, 11 are now on staff at Prohibition Pig. The familiar burgers, fries, wings and pretzels are there, too, along with Alchemist brews, now produced on higher ground at the Alchemist Cannery.

Those beers are among 24 on tap and 120 bottles, giving PP one of the largest craft-beer lists in the Northeast. The bar also stocks about 100 bottles of craft spirits, many of them hard to find.

Rich, the former bar manager at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, has given that role at PP to Jeff Baumann, who was once his boss behind the bar at American Flatbread Burlington Hearth. By the end of the year, Rich hopes to begin distilling several of his own drinks.

For now, Baumann has conceived a list of 12 cocktails made from craft-distilled beverages — and some other surprising ingredients. The Averna Flip features herbaceous Amaro mixed with chocolate stout, bitters and a whole egg. The Red Delicious pays homage to Rich’s formative years in North Carolina with Noilly Prat vermouth, applejack, Campari and the deep-red Southern soda Cheerwine.

The food nods southward, too. Rich chose former Flatbread chef Brian Sheehan to head his kitchen because of his way with meat. “I just used to see it on all the specialty flatbreads, braising meats, doing the amazing things he did,” says Rich. “He’s really talented. I’m really excited about his food.”

Construction of some parts of the building took longer than expected, but the kitchen has been completed for weeks. In that interval, Sheehan has been perfecting the vinegar-sauced Carolina-style barbecue that gives the restaurant its name.

Though Rich says he doesn’t want his business to be known just as a barbecue joint, he’s particularly taken with Sheehan’s brisket. As for the smoked, seared fish, he touts it as “something I can go in and eat many times a week, and I don’t feel guilty about eating it, either.” Rich will make room for shrimp and grits, too. Most likely, so will a slew of new fans.

Seven Days: Alice Levitt's Best New Restaurant Dishes of 2011

POSTED BY ALICE LEVITT ON JANUARY 02, 2012 AT 03:29 PM IN ALICE EATS - RESTAURANT REVIEWS, FOOD AND DRINK, VERMONT Alice just wrote this article with her list of 10 dishes from new restaurants that captured her fancy in 2011 above all others. Of the 10, 1 is in Stowe; the other, in Waterbury -- here are those 2; discover all of Alice's favorites here, in blurt, the Seven Days Staff Blog.

The Rusty Nail Bar & Grille

1190 Mountain Rd., Stowe 802-253-6245

With the Bluebird Tavern's charcuterie now available only à la carte, what's a girl to do when she wants a meaty surprise? Hightail it to Stowe.

Though the Rusty Nail has long been a local favorite, it got some new blood with the 2011 addition of chef Michael Werneke. His butcher block is ever changing, but reliably showcases some of the best fleshy treats in Vermont.

Be on the lookout for the smoky, Southern-inflected headcheese and creamy, salty rillettes, studded with tender chunks of meat.

Juniper’s Fare

23 Commercial Dr., Waterbury 802-496-5504

Juniper's Fare, on the border of Moretown and Waterbury, is more a restaurant reborn than a new restaurant. It was more than a year old when Tropical Storm Irene gutted it. Less than a month later, the Church of the Crucified One's café was remodeled, and is better than ever.

Three cheers to that, and to the "famous" chicken club. The name is honestly earned with juicy, citrus-marinated chicken, gloriously crisp bacon, fresh veggies and pungent garlic mayonnaise.

The crusty Kaiser roll that holds the whole thing is noteworthy on its own; so are the onion rings, which are some of the best and sweetest I've ever had.

Sneak Peek: Prohibition Pig to open in the former Alchemist space in Waterbury

Prescription: Alchemy

Side Dishes: Prohibition Pig to open in the former Alchemist space in Waterbury BY ALICE LEVITT [12.06.11] -- Seven Days

Scores of devotees expressed their dismay when owners John and Jen Kimmich announced last month that they would not reopen the Alchemist Pub & Brewery in Waterbury [which was destroyed in Hurricane Irene]. But those fans won’t have to wait long for its replacement. Prohibition Pig will open in Prohibition Pig logothe same building in 2012 as soon as repairs are completed, most likely in February, says owner Chad Rich.

Rich, previously bar manager at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, says he’s had plans to open Prohibition Pig for more than a year. The only problem was finding a space. When the Kimmiches decided not to revive the Alchemist in the building they own, Rich realized the flood-ravaged pub would be perfect. “I absolutely love that space,” says Rich. “It reminds me of an old pharmacy building.”

The architecture fits seamlessly into Rich’s concept of a pub that evokes the era when booze was still viewed as pharmaceutical. As he puts it, “You saw your bartender for your medicine.” The “pig” in the restaurant’s name refers to the smoked meats, particularly pork, that will be added to the Alchemist’s menu.

Yes, that menu will remain — in part. “Unfortunately, it can’t be the Alchemist again,” says Rich, acknowledging the sentimental value attached to the name. “And we’re making minor changes.”

He’s working with the Kimmiches, who have helped him identify items they would have eliminated from the menu on their own. Rich will put his own dishes in those spaces, including brisket, smoked chicken and pulled pork that boasts a vinegar-based sauce he learned from a pig-farmer friend in North Carolina.

In his goal to retain as much of the Alchemist as possible, Rich will seek to rehire former staffers. “I feel like they deserve to work there more than anybody,” he says. The chef, however, is a new hire: The Alchemist’s chef had left the restaurant just before the flood to work at the Kimmiches’ Alchemist Cannery. Rich isn’t ready to divulge a name yet, only to say, “This guy is really good with meats — that’s his thing. I’m very excited about this guy; I really like him, and I’ve always admired his food.”

Rather than installing a new brewery, Rich plans to offer as many as 24 beers on tap, drawing them from the surviving Alchemist Cannery and friends such as Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Hill Farmstead Brewery and Stillwater Artisanal Ales. He says he’ll be sure to leave room on tap for Rookie’s Root Beer and house-brewed kombucha, too. Eventually, Rich hopes to get a distilling license, which will enable him to make genever, bitters and other cocktail components for Prohibition Pig.

Despite his additions, Rich wants to reassure those who miss the Alchemist that Prohibition Pig won’t stray too far from their memories. “The idea is definitely to respect the history of what was in there and make as few changes as possible,” he says.

Mountain Road Gourmet

This just in from ALICE LEVITT [10.18.11] at Seven Days

Après-ski goes gastro in Stowe and Jeffersonville

Butcher Block at the Rusty Nail, Stowe, VT

Many business owners live by the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Thirteen years ago, a Boston Stock Exchange trader by the name of Charlie Shaffer purchased the Matterhorn Restaurant in Stowe and decided to buck that advice. Far from broken, the expansive nightspot had been a popular destination for music and après-ski beers since 1950. So why was Shaffer putting in a wood-fired pizza oven and introducing sushi?

“I just listened to everybody when they came. People said Stowe needed a sushi place,” says Shaffer, as he serves up a boat filled with garlicky, peppery tuna carpaccio. “Certainly, it was a way of bringing in revenue that wasn’t being exposed before.”

The lusciously tender fish comes on a bed of sweet seaweed salad, with a side of housemade ponzu sauce. Shaffer says he’s learned to prefer raw tuna to filet mignon. It suits his bottom line as well as his palate. Sushi and other foods rarely seen at pubs, such as blueberry-venison sausage with cheese fondue, account for 55 percent of Shaffer’s sales year round and much more in the summer, when local families outnumber ski bums.

These days, Shaffer’s take on the Stowe après-ski scene seems prescient. In an area long known for sports bars specializing in out-of-the-bag, into-the-fryer wings and burgers, more and more pubs are following the Matterhorn’s lead with food that is sophisticated and handcrafted.

Some of this shift arises from a migration pattern of chefs who are dissatisfied with the conditions of cooking at lofty, white-tablecloth establishments. Jeffersonville’s Brewster River Pub & Grill opened in the former Brewski space near Smugglers’ Notch earlier this month. Two of its four owners, Chris Ferguson and Billy Mossinghoff — the general manager and chef, respectively — come from jobs at Solstice and Hourglass at Stowe Mountain Lodge. They spent last winter riding their snowmobiles over the Mountain Road from Jeffersonville to work.

One of Ferguson and Mossinghoff’s former colleagues, Michael Werneke, also left the Stowe resort for a nightclub kitchen. He became executive chef at Stowe’s Rusty Nail Bar & Grille in May. Manager Kate Wise says that when Werneke contacted her in April, “It was a miracle.”

Wise started working at the tried-and-true music venue and bar when she was in high school and has filled every job at the Rusty Nail since, including running the long-defunct creemee stand at the side of the building. At the start of the 2011 season, Massachusetts-based owner Stan Swierzewski asked her to take over from another manager who had left operations in poor condition. Just reopening the restaurant was a struggle, recalls Wise — until Werneke asked for a job.

Since his arrival, the Rusty Nail has quickly become the crown jewel of the ski area’s emerging gastropub scene. The food is comparable to that of Burlington’s Farmhouse Tap & Grill and Bluebird Tavern, but it’s still very much Werneke’s own.

His passion for smoking shows on the butcher block. The wooden board, branded with the Rusty Nail logo, holds slices of buttered, toasted bread; homemade grainy mustard; and bright pickled celery, onions and peppers. Placed front and center, a slice of headcheese melts in the mouth in a gelatinous wave. House-cured ham betrays Werneke’s Southern roots; smoked slices of duck breast have a saltiness counterbalanced by pickled cherries. Country pork pâté is dotted with pistachios and flavored with anise. But the pork rillettes are perhaps the most delicious. The spread is often bland, but Werneke’s is creamy and salty, with tender chunks to remind the diner that this is indeed meat, not a decadent dessert.

Traditional main courses get a makeover at the Rusty Nail, too. The Rusty Nail burger is topped in warm, fatty house pastrami and Cabot cheddar. For an extra dollar, the kitchen adds ultra-crisp, rich duck-fat fries to the plate along with a homemade pickle spear.

Kate’s Full Rack is a summer-only rib dish, but it’s worth a trip until it leaves the menu for the season. A crust of sweet bark hides decadently moist pig flesh that clings to the bone, barbecue-competition style, until given a gentle tug.

The Rusty Nail will close for renovations on October 30 and reopen with its winter menu on November 17. While staples such as the butcher block and burgers will remain, Werneke’s new bill of fare is more Eastern than Southern. One addition is homemade ramen with alkaline noodles from Vermont Fresh Pasta in Proctorsville and Werneke’s own pastrami in the broth. Werneke is also planning to offer family meals that must be ordered a day ahead. One is a pork shoulder based on David Chang’s recipe from New York restaurant Momofuku; another, a Vermont-style whole chicken with roasted fennel, beets and duck-fat mashed potatoes.

“The menu is kind of taking on a life of its own,” the chef says. “I’m really excited with the stuff that’s already there, and now I have to pick and choose. It’s like picking one child over another to put in a pageant.” One thing that won’t change: “Sysco’s not even allowed in our driveway,” says Werneke of the food-distribution giant, without a hint of humor in his voice.

John Wykoff, who co-owns Rimrock’s Mountain Tavern in Stowe with his brother, David, is learning a similar ethos. Wykoff moved to Stowe from Boston in 2008 to help with his brother’s already four-year-old Adirondack-style pub. At the time, he had a four-year plan to transform it from a bar with limited food to a lounge and restaurant. If all goes well, that plan will come to fruition in December, when a new dining room separates families and serious diners from the sometimes-rowdy sports-bar crowd.

Before John Wykoff joined the business, a single pizza oven provided all the sustenance at Rimrock’s. He wanted to add food as a new revenue source, without going too sophisticated: “Our stuff is pretty straightforward,” Wykoff says. “We’re not trying to wow people by frying French fries in different types of oils.”

Instead, he’s sticking to local, grass-fed burgers and making everything from scratch, from the raspberry-sage vinaigrette on the Vermont Salad to the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies he uses in ice cream sandwiches. A Jamaican cook prepares specials from his homeland and makes sure the wings are plenty hot.

Since Wykoff introduced the latest menu in July, he says, dinners are a hit, and the lunch crowd is growing. Reviews online are roundly positive. “The other night we served more food than we served alcohol or beer,” Wykoff says. “We’re not just a bar anymore; we’re a locals’ place with great food that’s reasonably priced and a little different than all the competition. In terms of stacking up with Rusty Nail and the Matterhorn, we’ve done well. We’re like the little engine that could.”

Down the mountain at the Brewster River Pub & Grill, Ferguson and Mossinghoff also think they can — especially once the November closure of the top of the Mountain Road isolates the Smuggs area from Stowe. Mossinghoff, who’s also cooked at the Hearth & Candle at Smuggs and One Federal in St. Albans, is serving house-smoked pork, mushroom risotto and red-curry mussels with local beers on tap. In six months he hopes to have the licensing to pour his own brews.

A longtime home brewer, Mossinghoff says those are “a little bit more eclectic” than your average suds. “Thick IPAs, porters and stouts. I do a pumpkin porter, vanilla-bourbon porter and some lagers in the winter,” he adds. “I do a lot of experimentation.”

With any luck, the eccentric beers will pair well with Mossinghoff’s diverse burgers and sandwiches. The Godzilla Burger is named for his and Ferguson’s favorite snowmobile trail. Like the rough ride, the burger throws everything at you: local beef, pastrami, pulled pork, smoked bacon, pork roll, a fried egg, and cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses — “basically, every protein we serve,” says Mossinghoff. The chef foresees crafting an extra-large Godzilla and holding competitions to see who can down it the fastest.

Like Wykoff, Mossinghoff says he’s not trying to establish a gourmet outpost: “All I want is to be a brewpub with good food and good beer.” And good music. A Pulse Prophets CD-release party opened Brewster River, and Mossinghoff says booking future acts is a priority.

At the Rusty Nail, hot local music every weekend was the pub’s original raison d’être, and manager Wise says that won’t change. When she started at the Rusty Nail, “[Food] definitely wasn’t the focus,” Wise says. “Nor do I think it is now. It’s a nightclub and bar — now we happen to serve some of the best food in the area.”

Balancing change and continuity is the challenge for competing bars in these small ski towns that don’t put a cap on liquor licenses. After keeping the Matterhorn busy for more than a decade, Shaffer thinks he’s found the secret of success: Never stop improving and changing with the times, whether that means adding new sushi rolls or remodeling the entryway, as he’s doing this year.

“When you’re really doing a good job, it consumes you,” Shaffer says. “I think all the time about how to make it better — constantly.” It’s a lesson his competitors have learned, as well.

Brewster River Pub & Grill, 4087 Route 108, Jeffersonville, 644-6366.

Matterhorn Restaurant, 4969 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-8198. (A Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol favorite)

Rimrock’s Mountain Tavern, 394 Mountain Road, Suite 5, Stowe, 253-9593.

Rusty Nail Bar & Grille, 1190 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-6245.