Saturday, July 22, 2017

Blue Benn: a Vermont Diner

I love diners, like a lot of us do. A lot of my rules for other restaurants are suspended for diners.  They are a different animal altogether. I've been going to the Blue Benn diner for over 30 years now, even though I have never lived in Bennington. It's a great place to meet and talk and linger over brunch, and the food is such classic diner food that you just have to go with the flow. Over the past few years I've even actually eaten from other parts of the menu than the breakfast section - which is available all day. The decor and ambiance are un-remodeled authentic diner, complete with regulars at the formica counter who flirt with the wait staff, squeaky wooden benches and the well-placed steel art deco panels.

One of the fun parts of ordering is trying to see all the specials, which are pasted like colorful flags behind the counter - several dozens of them. There are white boards with hand-written desserts of the day up in there too.

There are a couple odd omelette combinations that I probably would not have again, but on the whole one is going to get a fabulous diner breakfast at the Blue Benn. I've had them again and again over the years, and a good breakfast like that with a good friend is a nourishing experience indeed.

The sandwiches, salads, soups and dinner specials are all classic diner fare, with hot open faced meat sandwiches slathered in gravy, chicken fried steak, burgers, club sandwiches and most anything you'd find on a typical diner menu.  The specials from the wall go into other areas of ethnic cuisine, but given my love of diner classics, I can't tell you much about this aspect of the place.  Go and try - the prices are also nice inexpensive diner prices.

The desserts are also quite lovely, given the category: "diner desserts".  They're not necessarily innovative, like  the type of thing with sugar sculptures on top.  They are decadent, sweet, and lots of times have berries and other seasonal fruits involved.  On my most recent visit I sampled this coconut custard pie and was delighted by the cool custard with a golden coconut crust on top - definitely not coconut cream and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Blue Benn has a mature service staff who will take good care of you and who do not suffer fools and jerks gladly. Give them the respect they deserve and you will have very good service with a friendly attitude and smile.

Those in the know hit the diner early on weekend mornings - otherwise there can be quite a wait.  But if you know what is in store the wait is worth it.

LorreBob sez:  Go and have the classic diner experience with your friends and leave full and happy.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dine on Nine: Jezebel's Eatery

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.  

Today's review concerns the village of Willmington, a village close to Mount Snow between Bennington and Brattleboro.

Stopping into Jezebel's is easy - they are open breakfast lunch and dinner, and provide seating inside and outside in the warm months.

For being a teensy town, Wilmington has a lot of nice places crammed in their few blocks of interesting, historic commercial district. I'm beginning to explore beyond Dot's, which has generally captured my attention for breakfast and lunch as I've been passing through.  Since friends recommended Jezebel's, I have happily stopped in to see what is going on there.

Jezebel's is ensconced in the historic 1836 Lyman House on the main drag of Wilmington

Extensive lunch menu with lists of appetizers, salads, sandwiches 

Hey hey - local brews!  When in Vermont, quaff what the locals are quaffing. Try some of Vermont's finest.

My sandwich experience was mixed - while it was a delightful combination of ingredients, it was made with inconsiderate abandon. Large wads of meat and creamy cheese were stuffed in the middle of the bread and not mashed down.  I recommend spreading out the ingredients across the surface of the bread so that each bite has all of them, rather than leaving the diner to get a bite of largely tasteless beef then an entire bite of cream cheese.  It's supposed to be a  blend of ingredients for a reason. With an extensive list of sandwiches, I'm hoping the back end of the house will get this elementary aspect of sandwich making in the near future. I did the only thing to be done myself, and took the sandwich apart to spread everything out.  Yum.  I'm glad I took that extra step to taste the combination. A lot of thought has gone into the sandwich list and I'm hoping Jezebel's will get the kitchen in shape to execute them well.

These duck legs are called duck wings on the menu - can I take off points for this?

YUGE slice of prime rib

My prime rib experience was mixed. It was rare, as I requested, it was flavorful, tender, and  it had  "rested" all the way to cold on the outside.  It is a "generous" portion, about 3/4 pound at least.  I nibbled around the edges and packed it in a box.  The potatoes were perfect.  The veggies were flawed by woody asparagus. So-so.  What else can I say about food of this quality?

While Jezebel's eatery is not pretentious, it shows its aspirations in the menu listings, which are extensive and include fish, pork, beef and fowl.  I like their ideas for sauces and sandwiches, and they have ok presentations - nothing really fancy in that department.  The execution in general is lame, and the back of the house needs some stern guidelines to follow so that the food will be worth the prices we are paying for it. What kitchen worth its salt should be told by a customer that the sandwich is all balled into the middle of the bread, or that the prime rib - one of the priciest dishes on the menu, has gone cold?  If my experiences are the norm, the staff must wake up and be professionals.

This place has many ingredients for a very nice restaurant experience. With a kitchen that has gotten over being lazy, Jezebel's will be a highlight in the Wilmington scene. As it is, I'd look for less expensive fare that is more reliable, or go for the established fine dining places and have something that has been professionally made and presented.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dine on Nine: Thai Bamboo

My review of Thai Bamboo 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.

At the corner of Main and High Streets in Brattleboro, nestled in beside Pliny Park, Thai Bamboo is serving Thai food of good quality.

I like most of the Thai food I've been served in the U.S. and Thai Bamboo is no exception. The menu is full of the classic Thai specialties so there are the soups and salads, the curries and the noodles and the rice dishes. There is a list of a dozen or so chef's selections that I'm currently tasting.

Little touches

Most of my visits to Thai Bamboo have been at lunch time, so I have been tasting my way through the lunch menu, selecting from the different groupings. My sense is that Thai Bamboo is going to serve a bit thicker sauce, and make things a bit more sweet than other Thai restaurants in the northeast. So if there's coconut milk in the recipe, it will be a bit more in quanitity and a bit thicker, such as in their Thai curries.  I find them quite delicious once I become accustomed to this difference. I don't know whether it's a regional difference or simply the chef's preference.

Light beginning to a lunch special

Each time I have made my visits, the service has been polite and professional with the occasional slip up. I went with a rather large party of 20 or so people during a Slow Living Summit event, and one person at the table wasn't served until all others were done eating, so every restaurant staff has its weak points, and sometimes the back of the house can't provide the service that the front of the house would wish.

Beef Macadamia, except with cashews

On a recent visit I tried the beef with macadamia nuts and enjoyed the plentiful marinated beef and also was mystified that there were no macadamia nuts. The kitchen substituted cashew nuts and said nothing. No restaurant should do something like this, however sometimes the back of the house just doesn't get it.

In summary, it's a lovely place to have a Thai meal in Brattleboro, and the good service should make it a pleasant enough visit as well.  You may encounter a weak spot or a bit of unprofessional behavior, and you'll have to decide how you respond if it happens to you. 

I'll continue to have my lunches at Thai Bamboo, but I'm also exploring that Thai food truck up at the roundabout on Putney road.