Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dine on Nine: duo

My review of duo restaurant is the latest entry for a series of reviews I am calling Dine on Nine.  Route 9 goes all across the south of Vermont and is lined with several communities between Bennington and Brattleboro.  People from all walks of life end up on this little stretch of highway, and there are not just fun diners, drive ins and dives, but fine dining establishments offering up classic as well as innovative fare.  Some may be a few hundred yards off the highway, up a little lane, and those may end up providing the best meal you or I have ever had.


Let the duo evening begin! Cabin Fever in the foreground, Hermit in the Woods in the background


A room with a view: one of the nice things about duo is the location on the corner of Main and High streets. The two walls along the streets are all windows, so the daylight floods in, you can watch the light change as the sun sets, and there are great views of one of the busiest intersections in town.  You know you're right in the middle of things. Hanging reclaimed windows define spaces in the dining room, so the light is unimpeded.  I really enjoy the sense of openness that these transparent materials create.

Duo is committed to using local sources and forming partnerships with local farms.  I will always support this effort, and duo staff make the most of what they get, which is a bonus!

For a recent visit, the "Hermit in the Woods" cocktail, with hops and pine bitters was the most surprising of the evening.  The cinnamon sugar rim on the "Cabin Fever" was somewhat jarring and didn't seem to belong to the same drink as the rest of the ingredients. But all the cocktails did the job that they are meant to do, so the party started on the right foot.

On one of our evenings at duo we ordered drinks and then had all six of the appetizers - it was a great way to get a variety of interesting flavors in tidbit sizes. Since this restaurant provides a seasonal menu, it won't be relevant for me to try to run down every dish.  Suffice it to say that duo goes far, far beyond wings and fried mozzarella. The night we were there we tasted a lovely variety of newer, fresher, interesting flavor combinations. Each appetizer has its little quirky side, and along with cocktails they woke up the party.

After appetizers we shared three entrees: The lamb shank was solid - everyone felt like the saffron rice was improved with salt, otherwise somewhat bland and not supportive enough for the beautifully tender shank.  Once the rice was properly salted we scarfed with abandon. The mushroom ravioli captured everyone's attention with the texture of the pasta and the intensity of the flavors. The bass on gazpacho [fish of the day] was the evening favorite. While it appeared to be bass on just another tomato sauce, it was a smash hit as people realized that the all-fresh gazpacho was enlivening and an excellent complement. We kept asking for more spoons to slurp up the great sauces on both the appetizers and the entrees.

To add a spring accent rhubarb was the fruit instead of apple in the dessert crostata, and combined with the creme fraiche gelato it knocked my socks off. The frozen lemon mousse with  raspberry sorbet wasn't bad either. But since the menu will change with the seasons and local availability of foods, these specifics are passing examples. I trust that duo will be making up great dishes with what they find any time of the year.

There are plenty of typical family restaurants in the area that serve the common American menus, so duo stands out as a different experience. They maintain a framework of the expected beef, pork fish and poultry dishes, but make them extraordinary with excellent sauces and presentations. The combination of the thoughtful, well-prepared food and the wise and stylish use of the space make this a good context for enjoying friends and family at brunch or dinner.

LorreBob sez: go and try some of this good local food for yourself!  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dine on Nine: Top of the Hill Grill

This is the latest in a series of reviews I call Dine on Nine.  Route 9 goes all across the south of Vermont and is lined with several communities between Bennington and Brattleboro.  People from all walks of life end up on this little stretch of highway, and there are not just fun diners, drive ins and dives, but fine dining establishments offering up classic as well as innovative fare.  



Their seasonal existence is due to the service model, which is basically the ice cream stand model. Stand outside and order at one window and pickup at the other window.

There is plenty of al fresco seating, under shelter and in an enclosed room with heaters for early spring and fall. The place has a very enjoyable & festive outside atmosphere. As I was enjoying a particularly pleasant outdoor lunch I heard a neighbor remark how hard it was going to be to go back to work.  I'm retired and I was also thinking how hard it would be to leave such a pleasant place. I can basically go wherever I want, and the greenery, nice tables and trees are hard to beat.  There are enough barriers to block out most of the road noise, so conversation is easy.




The dishes are very good for northern barbecue. The sides are the typical bbq sides that you are going to find all over North America- beans, cornbread and coleslaw, and they have some non- bbq dishes as well. They have the standard beef, pork and chicken in sandwiches and on plates with two sides. They also make sausage and smoke turkey. I will take a very long time to work though the extensive menu, because I will go for the barbecue almost every time. I've been there more than once  now, and the meat is consistently tender and moist and smoked to a pleasant degree. They sauce the meat lightly when serving it up and offer extra sauce.  I have never found it necessary to ask for extra and they are careful not to overpower the flavor of the meat with sauce. You can also order the meat and sides in bulk quantities for take away.



I cannot say that I am happy about the use of paper and plastic utensils.  Having a dishwashing operation is one thing I highly recommend. It's not only very hard on the environment to use disposable  items, it's yucky.

There is a small selection of soft drinks.

Many people call for takeout and if you want to avoid a long window line, that's the way to do it. Lunch lines have never been very long for me, but that may not always be so. For large parties, they will likely have something for eveyone because of the extent of the menu.

Their large menu is online:
http://www.topofthehillgrill.com http://www.topofthehillgrill.com

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dine on Nine: The New England House

This is the latest in a series of reviews I call Dine on Nine.  Route 9 goes all across the south of Vermont and is lined with several communities between Bennington and Brattleboro.  People from all walks of life end up on this little stretch of highway, and there are not just fun diners, drive ins and dives, but fine dining establishments offering up classic as well as innovative fare.  

West of Brattleboro, just before the long ascent to Marlboro, an interesting road side restaurant is serving good food and good times. Some would drive right by due to the brown exterior and subtle signage, and those folks are missing a comfortable and cheery dining experience.  I have kept going back as my curiosity has led me through different parts of the lunch and dinner menus. There are a side dining room and a square bar room that includes dining tables. On a Saturday night one may find a large contingent of one's neighbors enjoying the food and libations.

A recent late lunch with a friend included a shared appetizer of thinly sliced fresh tuna sprinkled with savory condiments that made it an excellent treat.



My friend, I'll call him Viking Dude, was very interested in the schnitzel, and so I chose the meal-size crab cakes (- yes, one is missing in the photo). The schnitzel was a bit dry and we felt that the very fine breading had soaked out most of the meat juices, but it was tender and the plate was completely clean at meal's end. We also felt that the breading was oddly devoid of any flavor and could have provided more ooomph to the pork. The crab cakes were finely ground with savory bread fillers and I would describe them as common or average, and a good size for a full meal.


The food is not especially innovative or extreme, but it's a good place to go with a large party that has varied tastes, like an office holiday party or a big family birthday celebration. There will most likely be something good for everyone.

The chef also likes to organize special themed nights, such as Italian night, so watch the website and outside marquis for information.

I've found service to be both attentive and responsive. In my experience the staff has checked for special requests a few times during the meal and kept up with drinks without being intrusive.  I have only one unfortunate experience of waiting almost an hour for my steak on a Saturday night, and the floor managers were so concerned that they did not charge me for the dinner, which was executed well and other than being very late, a good meal. 

I think this would be a nice choice for a night out with friends when you don't feel like having something too expensive or formal, and you want a varied menu of good choices. There's something of a mellow party atmosphere on a Saturday night in the bar that might be just the ticket for good times.

Those touring southern Vermont on Rt. 9 will find a very nice meal that should satisfy each person's tastes.

Full menus and more information about services and reservations are here: http://www.newenglandhousevt.com/dinner

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Entrepreneur to Table - this year's Slow Living Summit June 1-2

Goodness!  Where has the time gone?  Just as I've been digging around in our yard, I supposed I'd better get busy digging around in our local food scene again.

So here it is darlings! Our very own local food summit:
http://www.slowlivingsummit.org



Our local food and business entrepreneurs need all the support we can give them, so this summit has been produced to allow them to network among themselves and with people who can provide the expertise they need to keep their businesses on track and to provide us with the best products.

Even if you don't think you'll attend the summit, go to the page and take a look at all the things that are important for todays food and ag businesses.

If you think about all the time and energy it takes to produce the food we enjoy, you'll also want to celebrate our farmers at the Strolling of the Heifers festival in Brattleboro, June 2-4, which follows the summit over the weekend.  Get out and meet our farm business people!  Tell the farmers and other business people involved in our food how much you appreciate what they do in person!





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BBQ, Pizza and Wings: The Stuff that Makes Good Times



When I found out that Hazel serves some of my favorite foods, I made it a point to go to Elliot Street in Brattleboro and find out what was going on. Yes, BBQ, pizza and wings are casual food or pub food, but countless digital space has been used to discuss these seemingly inconsequential dishes. So many of us love them and celebrate fun times with them in very large groups. Some of the difficulty with our familiarity and casual consumption of these foods is that people get lax, as in:  Oh - it's just wings. Well, I want to be wowed by food.  I want really really good wings and pizza, not something that has been tossed inconsiderately out of the kitchen. I want the pub to care about these casual foods to the point that they enhance whatever party or game or office lunch, rather than just remain at the "meh" level.

At first I thought I'd dry the BBQ, so I ordered a rack of ribs. When I dived into my first bites I couldn't believe what had happened. The probably nice and tender and juicy smoked rack had been put under some hellish flash grill or something of the kind and burned to the point that it was like biting into toothpicks, the meat had been so dried and charred. What little barbequed meat flavor was left was barely discernable, so I knew at one time these ribs had probably been tasty. Perhaps a young inexperienced cook thought that drying them into crisp charred sticks was the way to go.  I was a bit bewildered. I ordered the cole slaw and mac'n'cheese sides. The cole slaw was delicious. This is not an insignificant comment. Cole slaw is particularly difficult for restaurants to get right, so most restaurants serve awful cole slaw.  Not Hazel!  It was very well balanced with fresh flavors and not too much dressing. I wish I could say the same about the mac'n'cheese, which was a very sour/bitter concoction that looked like milk poured over little oily pasta shells and not stirred.

The service staff, consistently polite and efficient, handled the return of the mac'n'cheese and ribs well. I was comped a slice of very lovely and delightful cheesecake.

On another visit I tried the wings, which were actually small drumsticks. I always wonder why people call a food by a name that isn't correct. Am I too literal minded? Hazel has a choice of Asian, Buffalo, Sweet BBQ, Spicy BBQ, and  Szechuan flavors, so I chose the Buffalo, wanting to know how they would prepare this classic wing style.  I've lived in upstate New York long enough to know that in that area one would not call what I was served a "Buffalo" wing.  It doesn't have the right sauce, which is Frank's hot sauce with butter. Frank's is chocked full of peppers and vinegar. The wings I got had a mild, vaguely BBQ sauce and were good. I'm sure we're far enough from New York for this not to matter. Sort of. I ordered the slaw again, which was delicious. I wanted to try the cornbread, and it was a standard sweet style.  I love cornbread, so I relished the perfect crumb and it complemented the wings and slaw beautifully.

I haven't tried the pizza yet and people say that Hazel has good pizza.  I'm eager to try all their great-looking combinations.  The menu has several other items such as poutine and other BBQ choices beyond the ribs. The bar looks like a great place to enjoy drinks and food, and they have live music. 

Although I've had hit and miss experiences I think Hazel is capable of making really good food. I'm hoping to enjoy some there soon.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's in a Name?

The Restless Rooster is a breakfast spot, cafe and coffee lounge at the corner of Elliot Street and Elm Street. They are just a couple more steps beyond what might be considered the business end of Elliot Street.  But people are discovering the yummy breakfast offerings, and the most recent time I was there for breakfast the place was filled up by 9am.

I have to have a discussion of the name, which strikes me as the kind of oddball thing that must have a story behind it.  But I don't particularly want to hear the story.  Restless Rooster leaves me flat. All the connotations are wrong for me and they don't seem at all to fit the clean, well-lighted place that is this lovely little cafe.


Beautifully clean interior of the RR

And now that I have made several trips out Elliot Street to taste their wares, I'm able to get past the name and just enjoy the food and nice service.

It's obvious that they specialize in breakfast and coffee. I've sampled the biscuits and gravy [which stand up admirably to any I've had south of the Mason Dixon line] and the corn waffle with maple and bacon from the specials menu. I could see right away why the place fills in the mornings. 

I also passed over the special breakfast burrito for the every day menu breakfast burrito and was very very glad I did. It's a build your own style, and you can even have it as a bowl without the wrap.  I got the wrap on the side, and managed to get a fantastic combination of 4 out of the dozen or so ingredient selections.

I've had mixed reactions to the coffees, enjoying the regular old coffee coffee and having a difficult time getting past the grossly over-sugared Almond Joy speciality coffee drink. Perhaps almond milk and coconut milk would not overpower like the almond and coconut syrups do.

I asked my friend Wolfie to go with me on the most recent visit because I wanted to try lunch. We both looked over the menu, which Wolfie noted was mostly variations on the same sandwich.  I saw a sandwich Cubano, so I was intrigued.  I later found out that the kitchen staff has some Cuban connections, and so this sandwich comes from direct experience in the milieu.

The menu has variety, but it's not overly ambitious.  There's something for everyone, but it's tight enough so that the kitchen staff can hone in on getting all the details right.

I found the balance in my Cubano to be delicious.  Nothing too much.  The thin ham and the moist, tender shredded pork were perfectly  complemented with the cheese and pickle, and the roll was substantive enough to hold everything together without being too tough or hard from grilling.

Since the couple who own the restuarant have had experience in Florida [the website provides an introduction and some background],  I'm presuming they had to get the sandwich down cold.  I appreciated it immensely. I want to see a few more of these sandwiches before I pass on to the next life.



Wolfie's idea was to try something very basic, to see how they treated a classic. He ordered a BLT.  He reported that it was a solid entry, if perhaps a bit dry.  No signature flash, but it fulfilled all expectations. He wondered if the price might be a bit high because of the ordinariness.  That made me notice that the sandwiches are accompanied by a sole dill pickle spear, no chips or fries or anything.  For me it made a satisfying lunch.  The Cubano was on a nice size bread.  For larger appetites one may wish to explore the offerings from the list of sides.


Putting the name aside, this cafe is well worth traveling the extra block, and they have several off-street parking spaces. I have always experienced very polite and cheerful service.  There have been a couple mistakes, but that is inevitable and no harm was done. 


LorreBob sez: check it out the next time you're in town and you want a great breakfast or nice lunch in a clean, bright location out of the fray.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dine on Nine: Chelsea Royal Diner

This is my opening serve for a series of reviews I will be calling Dine on Nine.  Route 9 goes all across the south of Vermont and is lined with several communities between Bennington and Brattleboro.  People from all walks of life end up on this little stretch of highway, and there are not just fun diners, drive ins and dives, but fine dining establishments offering up classic as well as innovative fare.  Some may be a few hundred yards off the highway, up a little lane, and those may end up providing the best meal you or I have ever had.

Determined to become knowledgable regarding most of all food in southern Vermont, I want to review it all.

Having stopped at the Chelsea Royal Diner now and then for around 20 years, I think it's a good beginner for the series. It's along rt. 9 just west of Brattleboro, at the base of the hill that descends from Marlboro. The  building is based on a vintage 1938 Worcester Diner.

[from their website]


These days the diner sources quite a bit of their menu locally, and some even as locally as their own garden. I have to admit that I have a bias toward this sort of thing. They also do their own smoking and they enjoy making their own hard ice cream. They also prefer grass fed beef.

The menus have many of the classic diner dishes, lists of half dozen or so daily specials and a special for each day of the week. And their prices are moderate. They have a Mexican menu a couple nights each week as well.

My most recent lunch was a sandwich of pulled pork BBQ that was smoked in house, with cole slaw and baked beans.  The pork was perfectly tender and plentiful on a buttered and grilled bun, but a bit more heavily sauced than I prefer. A very minor complaint, and a matter of taste.  The cole slaw had flavor - even GOOD flavor, which is more than I can say for 85% of diners. The beans were a nice constituent of this classic trio. For a ten dollar platter it was a very good lunch. Having tasted my way through the menu for all these years I'm not recollecting a meal I didn't like.

I haven't had many of their desserts, and I noticed that there were 13 on the desserts chalk board as I was enjoying my pulled pork. For some reason my vision has always been diverted from the ice cream, and it may have something to do with the ample portions of the dishes. Once the season comes around in the spring I'm sure I'll be working my way to the Royal Madness - several dozen flavors that range from Aztec Mocha to Toasted Coconut.

Service hasn't always been as snappy as I like it, but it has always been very friendly and helpful.

LorreBob sez: check it out.