When in Burlington, the Hotel Vermont will be our Address

Our room with a view

Our room with a view

With all the positive press garnered by the new Hotel Vermont since it opened in June, my wife and I went to the big city to see for ourselves. And, of course, we absolutely had to dine at the new, and 2nd location of Hen of the Wood (read the very recent Seven Days review), which is somehow associated with the hotel, despite it being next door without an interior connection.

Well, I'm here to tell you we have found our new and best close-to-home getaway. The hotel was immaculate; our room couldn't have been better; and, the staff was attentive, polite, and efficient.

Going to Burlington for an afternoon to poke around before lunch or dinner is no longer just a day trip, but rather an opportunity for an exceptional 1-night vacation. And while we may not eat at Hen of the Wood every time, the Hotel Vermont will be our Burlington address.

I found this review that is consistent with our own:

Hotel Vermont: It's So Vermonty!

Burlington's Eco-Chic New Hotel Has True Vermont Style in Every Detail

By Kim Knox Beckius | About.com New England Travel

When a state governor stands in the lobby of a new hotel and pledges support to ensure it is "sold out every night," you know this is no ordinary establishment. Hotel Vermont (check rates at Kayak.com) is the state's first independent hotel to open in 40 years, and it's more than a hip place for Burlington visitors to rest their heads. Owned by entrepreneurial Vermonters and built with environmental sensitivity and a commitment to local producers of everything from furniture to flannel robes to food, Hotel Vermont is a vibrant showcase for all that makes Vermont singular among the nation's 50 states.

At Hotel Vermont's June 25, 2013 grand opening, Governor Peter Shumlin also vowed to be at the first table when acclaimed Vermont Chef Eric Warnstedt opens his second Hen of the Wood farm-to-plate restaurant on the premises in late August 2013, an addition that will cement the hotel's status as the destination for an authentic Vermont experience.

Read the rest of this review here.

Taste Test: Hen of the Wood Burlington

Taste Test: Hen of the Wood Burlington

Two weeks ago my wife and I went to the big city for a Saturday night stay-over. Burlington is an hour away — we stayed at the new Hotel Vermont and had dinner at the new and 2nd location of one of northern Vermont's most acclaimed restaurants: Hen of the Wood. We're in a minority of those who still have not yet dined at the original, and still thriving, Waterbury location. Best to call days and days ahead for a reservation. We didn't. We waited an hour and 40 minutes for a table, and we would do it again. Here's the Seven Days review, hot off the presses:


"Burlington’s Hen of the Wood was arguably the city’s most eagerly anticipated restaurant this year. HOTW’s first location, in a former Waterbury mill, carries a certain mystique; wildly atmospheric and challenging to diners seeking reservations, the place has long been popular for special-occasion dinners. Chef Eric Warnstedt, a multiple James Beard Foundation Award nominee, is behind its resolutely seasonal dishes."

Read More

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


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.

Taste Test: Crop Bistro & Brewery

A Crop Divided

Photo: Tom Bivins - Crop Bistro - Stowe, VT

By CORIN HIRSCH [02.21.12] — Seven Days

When the crew behind Crop Bistro & Brewery began revamping the space in Stowe where the Shed Restaurant & Brewery had reigned for 45 years, they trod carefully. After all, the Shed was a beloved local hangout with its own mythos, where the food seemed almost immaterial to the scene and the ever-flowing beer.

So as restaurateur and chef Steve Schimoler (co-owner of Waterbury’s now-closed Mist Grill) began gutting the place after the Shed closed last fall, he was careful to preserve the pub’s feel. The Crop gang scrubbed and tore away decades of funk and smoke and spilled beer, but kept the bar, the layout and the cozy, woodsy feel.

In the spacious dining rooms on the other side of the building, Schimoler went whole hog with the renovation, decking out the main bistro room with an elegant, circular bar adorned with gnarled cedar boughs. With its warm-toned walls and floors, Peter Miller photographs, and humongous stone fireplace, the space is drop-dead gorgeous.

As his culinary ace in the hole, Schimoler partnered with Tom Bivins, former executive chef at the New England Culinary Institute. After stints at the Inn at Shelburne Farms and Warren’s Pitcher Inn (which he opened), Bivins had been at the school for eight years, cementing his reputation as an inventive chef and champion of local — particularly wildcrafted — foods. Just a few months ago, he won the Chef of the Year award from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

A high-profile chef, a high-profile spot and a stunning new dining room. So is the food immaterial to the scene at Crop Bistro? No, but it’s still finding its footing.

Key to understanding this work in progress, perhaps, is noting that the restaurant’s concept was imported from Crop Bistro & Bar in Cleveland. Schimoler founded that establishment five years ago as both a farm-to-table eatery and a food lab, in many ways an extension of his work as a food scientist and researcher for Cabot Creamery and Nestlé. In Ohio, Crop has earned a reputation as an innovative, playful spot where the kitchen marries fresh produce with modern culinary gear such as vacuum tumblers.

Its name has become something of a brand, adorning many dish names (Crop Cobb, Crop Burger, Crop Pops) on the Vermont menus, which can be a tad confusing. There’s a bistro menu and a pub menu, but they refer to times of day rather than places. Whether patrons sit in the pub or the main dining room, they can order from the same lunch and dinner menus, the same wine, beer and creative cocktail lists.

Some of the starters come straight from the Ohio menu — for instance, deviled eggs dusted with chili powder ($4 for four), two of which are topped with bits of crispy, salty bacon. The Cherry Bomb ($7), a plate of two Roma tomatoes stuffed with chorizo sausage and Jack cheese, wrapped in wonton shells and deep fried, comes off as a midwestern snack — gut sticking and kind of greasy. Cleveland diners reportedly have gone wild for Crop Pops, the warm, savory popcorn drizzled with various sauces. A $4 bowl of popcorn with balsamic vinegar, wilted arugula and sun-dried tomatoes is a sweet-salty and inventive snack, albeit a little soggy and best ordered alone as bar food rather than as an appetizer — it’s filling.

Other appetizers (and main dishes) mimic their Cleveland cousins with rustic twists. For instance, in Ohio, braised pork belly is served over a malt waffle; in Stowe, the cubes of luscious meat are crisped on one side and served over a delicious tangle of cider-braised cabbage ($10). It’s almost a meal in itself.

Other appetizers are less well balanced or muted in flavor. A cheddar-and-ale soup had the cheering color of golden sunshine but was on the thin side, both in consistency and taste. Also disappointing was a plate of broiled Blue Point oysters ($12 for six). Instead of having blistered flesh, these were only slightly warmed before being bathed in what tasted like a roux; the toothpick-thin radishes scattered across the top accentuated the textural discordance.

From the start, the owners have been clear that Crop is not trying to be a “white tablecloth” restaurant. Still, the more I ate here, the more I picked up on a kind of dissonance. Perhaps those Ohio-born dishes are out of place in Vermont, or perhaps the kitchen is still working things out, or perhaps the two separate dining spaces have brought about a similar fjord in the menu.

It can be unfair to pin a dish’s success on its surroundings, but I found myself happier eating most of Crop’s fare in the pub, where it felt more at home. Take the Raclette ($10): a double-fist-size cast-iron pan layered with soft, steamed potatoes and oozing raclette cheese (from Spring Brook Farm) and laced with minced, piquant cornichons and red onions. With a pint of beer in the other hand, this was the perfect unfussy, filling après-ski snack. In the more majestic dining room, it seemed unanchored and dwarfed by its surroundings.

Same with the po’boy, stuffed with light-as-a-feather fried, crunchy oysters and drizzled with tangy, messy remoulade slaw. In the pub, the sandwich was a finger-licking snack. Set down in the dining room, it looked underdressed for the ball. So did the Poulet Confit sandwich, filled with shredded chicken and slathered with a scrumptious grain mustard; in the pub, I could be more forgiving of its slight dryness. (The fries that came with both sandwiches were long, fingerlike, moist and fresh.)

Each night brings a weekly special here, and I looked forward to the braised short ribs offered on Wednesdays. However, when I visited, the ribs were replaced by tenderloin. I opted instead for a Crop Burger, a wide, flat patty delivered on a glossy, almost-blackened bun. Though the burger came medium-rare as requested, the meat lacked a depth of flavor, a flaw that even melted cheddar, tangy ketchup and mustard, grilled red onion, and two crisscrossed slices of maple-cured bacon could not disguise.

To be fair, I was much more interested in the small-plates list and didn’t delve too deeply into the entrée menu, which includes dishes such as scallops with “chorizo dust” and grilled skirt steak in a ginger and porter sauce. I expect that, in Bivins’ hands, the truffled mushroom and barley risotto is an earthy delight. But we were definitely thrilled with a warm salad of succulent lobster chunks tossed with fingerling potatoes and a creamy, saffron-like sauce lightly laced with sherry ($25).

If Crop’s food sometimes leaned to the restrained side, the drinks did not, at least flavor-wise. The cocktail menu includes a stellar, puckery sidecar and a not-to-miss libation called a Mr. Figgy, a martini glass filled with bourbon, fig reduction and rosemary shards and garnished with maple-cured bacon. The bar offers some 15 wines by the glass — including two sparklers — and an eclectic list of reasonably priced bottles.

In a few weeks, 1859 Mountain Road will again become a bona-fide brewery with the arrival of new equipment from Germany. Schimoler says brewer Mark Ewald will concentrate on food-friendly beers such as kölsch and lager, sometimes using hops grown out back. For now, the exuberant tap-beer list includes Rodenbach Grand Cru, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA and the smokin’ new Fiddlehead Brewing IPA from Shelburne.

Those beers may be the main draw between 2 and 5 p.m, when the eatery switches to a pub menu composed mostly of snacks. (Those who arrive right after 2, as I did one afternoon, will find the cutoff is quite strict.) Whether it’s afternoon or evening, diners may find the service at Crop can be languid. In the pub, we had to ask three times for water, once for a fork when the second courses arrived and so on. In the bistro, service was snappier, but our waitress disappeared for significant stretches.

Crop feels like it’s trying to do a tricky balancing act — adapting a menu from one region to another, making that menu work in two very different dining rooms and negotiating the Stowe site’s past and future. In Vermont, farm-to-table is practically a second language, and this ski town is crowded with dining options that shoot for the mid-palate. Once local gardens and woods start teeming with life again, it would be gratifying to see Crop find its ground, literally and figuratively, with a menu as wild and free as the imaginations of its partners.

Crop Bistro & Brewery, 1859 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-4765. cropvt.com


First Bite: O'Grady's Grill & Bar, Stowe

Inland Sea

BY CORIN HIRSCH [02.07.12] | Seven Days

With his ruddy cheeks and earnest demeanor, Kevin O’Grady certainly looks Irish. And a passerby on Stowe’s Mountain Road could be forgiven for thinking his namesake eatery is exclusively Irish, too — a classic pub with plenty of beer and hearty food.

That’s what I expected to find inside the rambling place where the Partridge Inn Seafood Restaurant used to reside. But when O’Grady — a former radio advertising salesman — purchased the place in late fall and began renovations, he talked about not just beer and pub fare but also seafood, saying it would still loom large on the menu. After all, the restaurant shares grounds, and will soon share a building, with Stowe Seafood.

When O’Grady’s opened in late December, its menu was peppered with Irish/English classics such as shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish nachos — the requisite oversized portions of gut-sticking fare. One visit, though, was enough to raise my seafood antenna, and, after two visits, I thought of O’Grady’s as a miniature ocean in this mountain burg.

Sure, diners can come here for the warm vibe, the copious beer and the bold flavorings of chef John Howell, who once presided over the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort. (The Maryland-born Howell also cheffed for five years in North Carolina, and the first clue to his Southern provenance arrives with the bread basket: It’s filled with warm cornbread muffins and banana bread.) But there’s much here for fish-heads to love, and at gentle prices, too.

Inside, O’Grady’s has a dual personality. On one side, two huge dining rooms are painted in cool tones, their tables generously spaced. On the other, a blood-red pub features beamed ceilings, two televisions, a long bar, a few high tables and clever, homey touches: The staff keep liquor bottles on an old stairway, an antique copper tub is filled with ice and bottles of beer, and taps are installed in a horizontal beam behind the bar.

It was here that I downed six plump, crisp Thatch Island oysters ($13 for six), served on a bed of salt with a punchy tomato mignonette. They were so fresh, they tasted almost ethereal; the starter promised more good things to come.

A few days later, I tucked into a plate of Ed’s Fish ($9), named for Stowe Seafood owner Ed Flanagan. The slivers of snow-white haddock were first dipped in an Otter Creek Alpine Black IPA beer batter, then deep-fried and piled atop moist, fingerlike fries. Once again, the fish was fresh and light as a feather, almost a meal in itself.

So, too, was another gem from the starters list: a bowl of tender steamed clams ($8), bobbing around in a buttery broth laced with slivers of tomato and herbs.

The parade of seafood continued through the larger plates. A rosy filet of Arctic char ($19) with a paper-thin potato crust was tasty, though somewhat dwarfed in flavor by the powerfully smoky cheddar mashed potatoes served alongside it. A seafood cioppino ($17) yielded hunks of über-fresh salmon, shrimp and clams, with curls of roasted red pepper for sweetness and charred slices of crusty, garlicky Elmore Mountain Bread to mop up the juices.

O’Grady’s offers lovers of landbound fare plenty of dishes, as well, most of them composed with careful attention to flavor. A grilled romaine salad, tossed with artichokes and a tangy grain-mustard dressing spiked with minced anchovies, was rich with charred, earthy notes. A half rack of ribs ($15), falling-from-the-bone tender, was rather sweet, but tempered slightly by the baked beans and creamed spinach sides.

The tap beer selection is local but not wildly original — think Magic Hat #9 and Switchback. But a few creative cocktails, including an Irish Manhattan (made with Irish whiskey), and thoughtful wines round out the menu.

Though I haven’t had those Irish nachos yet, I saw them delivered to other diners a few times. They appeared to be a tangle of potato slivers smothered in melted cheese, dotted with crème fraiche and kissed by chives. And they disappeared quickly. Someday I’ll give them a try, too — if I can wean myself from the fish.

O’Grady's Grill & Bar, 504 Mountain Road, Stowe. Info, 253-8233. ogradysgrill.com

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: Inside Stowe's soon-to-open Crop Bistro & Brewery

New Crop

BY CORIN HIRSCH [12.20.11] -- Seven Days

There will still be a cozy pub, a spacious bistro serving unfussy fare and a brewery. But inside the footprint of the restaurant formerly known as the Shed, the new eatery set to open in a few weeks is altogether reimagined.

Inside Stowe’s Crop Bistro & Brewery, at 1859 Mountain Road, the rooms are full of the smells and noises of renovation. Its scale speaks to the vision of the collaboration between Tom Bivins, former executive chef at New England Culinary Institute, and Steven Schimoler, longtime restaurateur and food scientist. Schimoler is the former chef-owner of Waterbury’s renowned Mist Grill, which closed in 2005.

Many new elements, from the menu to the décor, will draw on the template of a namesake Cleveland restaurant, the 16,000-square-foot Crop Bistro & Bar. Schimoler founded it four years ago, in part as a food lab. It has since won national recognition for its inventive approach to farm-fresh food.

“We’ll capture signature stuff from Crop in Cleveland,” says Schimoler, who is on his third restaurant launch of 2011 and his 11th overall. Beyond assurance that diners will find locally grown and wildcrafted morsels, he and Bivins are enigmatic on the specifics of the food. They’ll definitely introduce Crop’s signature popcorns (with such flavorings as sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic reduction) and develop a Crop beef jerky using local supplies, such as beef from Vermont Highland Cattle Company.

Schimoler opened Mist in 1999, long before farm-to-table was hot. “Crop is about food that is local, and that has become a given,” he says. “That’s what we were doing 15 years ago.”

“The goal is for Crop Stowe to have its own food identity,” adds Bivins. Diners can choose from a pub menu or a bistro menu served in one of the more spacious dining rooms, or occasionally a “Tour de Crop,” or seven-course tasting menu.

As they finalize the fare, the pair have gutted the kitchen. Workers have peeled away the pub floor to reveal wide pine planks. A curved bar adorned with gnarled cypress boughs creates an Adirondack Great Camp feel in the middle of the former dining space, and Vermont photographer Peter Miller’s iconic images will hang throughout. Glass will expose the brewery, anchoring a corner of the pub.

A new copper-clad brewery is on order from Germany, and Bivins and Schimoler have already hired their head brewer: Mark Ewald, formerly of Long Trail Brewing Company. Ewald is formulating recipes on his home brewing system, where Schimoler says he sampled “one of the best beers I ever had. I like to think he’s an 11 on a scale of 10. He’s very accomplished.”

Beers will work in tandem with the food rather than overwhelm it — nothing “over the top” or too high in alcohol, Schimoler says. “We’ll have traditional Old World styles, such as Kölsch and lagers. We’d like to honor tradition.”

Cocktails will draw on the kitchen’s culinary prowess. In Cleveland, Crop’s libations have such ingredients as rhubarb bitters, coconut foam and fig reduction. “We find ways to get our kitchen philosophy into the bar. I look at it as an extension of the kitchen,” says Schimoler, whose son, Steve, will oversee the bar program.

Crop will eventually get a water-conditioning system similar to that of its cousin in Cleveland, which will enable the staff to improve on their well water and possibly replicate the subtle flavor profiles of other waters around the world. That can be a building block for dough and beer, says Schimoler.

Schimoler is confident that Stowe’s diverse clientele can support the new establishment, but “You have to earn that trust,” he says, and notes that Crop will offer food at various price points. “You can eat for $15 or $50. Local food doesn’t have to be expensive.”

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.


Maple's Moment (See Michael's on the Hill, Waterbury Center, after the break)

From the Wall Street JournalFOOD & DRINK | MARCH 12, 2011

From scrambled eggs to side salads, a guide to all the marvelous places the golden syrup can go.

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Karen Evans

Thanks to the historic lashings of snow that hit the Northeast this winter, we're poised, pancakes stacked, for what's likely to be a banner year in maple production. Icy nights and warmer days are essential to a good syrup season-the end-of-winter rhythm of freeze and thaw coaxes sap from the trees for as long as they can resist the urge to bud, usually four to six weeks. Last year overheated prematurely, leaving some producers with a maple bust. But it's been a snowy season, and chances are good that the sugar bush (as tapping areas are cheerily called) will stay chilled and the sweet sap will flow.

With a glut of nature's most bewitching sweetener headed our way, it's high time to break maple out of its brunch hour rut. Under that sticky toffee veneer are layers of smoke and tannin that play just as well at dinner or cocktail hour. In search of a few unexpected ways to use the spoils, we turned to chefs across the Northeast.

-Kristen Miglore

The Salad Dressing Maple can be a powerful supporting seasoning in a salad dressing. Chef Tony Maws at Boston's Craigie on Main considers it a "smoky, almost sinister substitute for honey" in a vinaigrette, and has also been known to simmer it with cider vinegar and sage for a sweet-sour gastrique for pan-roasted sweetbreads.

Ice Cream Topping At her restaurant Prune in New York, chef Gabrielle Hamilton serves butter pecan ice cream "drowned" in a pool of syrup, finished with a shower of coarse salt-a step up from the childhood treat of maple poured over fresh snow.

The Poacher Anything is better cooked in a hot maple bath. At Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon, biscuit dough is poached in maple syrup and cream for pudding chômeur and lightly scrambled eggs are simmered in maple, then piled on a buckwheat crepe with sliced fingerling potatoes and seared foie gras.

Latin-Style Lee Duberman, the chef at Ariel's in Brookfield, Vt., has found that maple syrup bears a strong resemblance to Mexican piloncillo sugar: "It adds a lovely dimension to moles and classic tacos al pastor."

The Cure-All Everything from duck breast to pigs' feet, it seems, can be improved after a long soak in maple and salt. At Michael's on the Hill in Waterbury Center, VT, trout that's been steeped in a maple brine-along with aromatics like fennel, celery leaves and caraway-is then smoked over maple chips and served with horseradish crème fraîche. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Maple Staples

Dark, heady late-season syrup (classified as Grade B and sometimes labeled "Extra Dark for Cooking") is prized by chefs and barkeeps for holding its own against strong spices and booze. Here are two bottles we love.

Tree Brand Maple

Tree Brand Maple, Marston, Quebec

Its buttery, molasses-like tang is ideal in making cakes or granola and for glazing gamy meats like duck or short ribs. $25 a quart, themaplefarm.com

Green Wind Farm Maple

Green Wind Farm Maple, Enosburg Falls, Vt.

An aromatic syrup that slings you with clean maple sweetness. Stir this into your morning yogurt or mix it with bourbon and soda at night. $17 a quart, pumpkinvillagefoods.com

Watering Holes: The Alchemist Pub and Brewery (Outside Magazine)

The Alchemist, in Waterbury, Vermont is the only eatery (and brewpub) in Waterbury, Vermont that my wife and I frequent! Here's an excerpt from the The Guide: Watering Holes in the July 2010 issue of Outside Magazine. The Alchemist Pub and Brewery Waterbury, Vermont "Yes, it's always remarkably jamming, and, yes, they have the requisite gluten-free beer on tap. But this isn't your run-of-the-mill upscale gastropub: The beer (award-winning-Light-weight pilsner) is so good and the food (sweet potato fries with herb sour cream) so local and fresh that, after a day of skiing or mountain-biking at nearby Stowe Mountain Resort, we'll happily wait in line with the local neo-hippies, greennecks, or whatever they're calling themselves these days."

Go: 23 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05676 If you're lost: 802.244.4120

Congratulations to Chris Francis of Stowe!

Stowe, VT (April 9, 2009) On Wednesday, April 7th Chris Francis, owner of Ye Olde England Inn, was named the 2010 Vermont Travel Person of the Year at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference held at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vermont.

Chris Francis

Francis began his career in the travel industry the summer of 1983, when he purchased the Ye Olde England Inn while on vacation with his wife Lynn. They had traveled to the states from England to catch the Americas Cup Races in Newport, Rhode Island. After, Chris and Lynn made their way up to Stowe, Vermont. It was during this visit that Chris decided he would like to own an inn and pub there, was interested in the lodging property San Souci and made an offer using his credit card. On the way back to England, he was notified that the offer was accepted and on November 4th, 1983 the Ye Olde England Inn officially opened.

Francis' devotion and dedication to both Stowe and Vermont has kept him actively involved in the community. He has been on the board of the Stowe Area Association for 25 years and its president for 8 of those years. Francis is also the force behind many of Stowe's car shows including The British Invasion. This event attracts hundreds of British cars and thousands of visitors to Stowe and to the state of Vermont each summer. Francis is known for his wit, negotiating skills and peacemaking and most importantly his strong advocacy for Vermont and the town of Stowe.

The Vermont Travel Person of the Year exemplifies an ongoing dedication to what makes Vermont such a special place to visit. The award is presented to an individual who contributes significantly to Vermont's travel and tourism Industry.

Source: Stowe Area Association

Personal Note: Ye Olde England Inn: Best and biggest beer selection you've ever seen, and great pub food!

36 Hours in Stowe (NYT)

Ski Guide 2010

by Lionel Beehner, New York Times, December 13, 2009

WHEN people envision the idyllic Vermont ski town – soaring church steeple, covered bridges, no chain stores in sight - they envision Stowe. It is the grande dame of Green Mountain ski resorts, with a Main Street that is as folksy as a yellowed New England postcard, which makes it all the more shocking that the ski resort is owned by AIG, the insurance behemoth bailed out by the government."  Read the rest of the story here.

(Don't go looking for the Brew Trail (in the article, see: Saturday, 4 pm, #8 A Secret Trail,) though, you won't find it. It is the Bruce Trail – while it's accessible from the top of the Quad, just off the beginning of the Toll Road, it is beyond the Resort's boundaries; it's not patrolled. If you go, have a cell phone with you.)

Taste Test: Santos Cocina Latina

This, just in, from Suzanne Podhaizer at Seven Days. According to her, once the word gets out, you'll be needing to make your reservation: 802-253-3110

Read the complete story here.

Santos Cocina Latina
311 Mountain Road, Stowe