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