Boston Restaurant Blog -- October, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I occasionally do day trips to Southern and Central Vermont, often making the Vermont Country Store and a restaurant or two part of the trips. But I rarely stay in these two sections of the state, as they are close enough to the Boston area to make for a relatively easy day trip. Recently, however, we did do a two-day trip to the region, and got to several restaurants, all but one of which I had never been to before.
Our first stop on the trip was Newfane, a gem of a village in the southeastern corner of the state that is one of the most photographed communities in all of New England. Before wandering around the village, we stopped at Rick's Tavern, a roadside restaurant and bar just south of the center that had quite a crowd at lunchtime. The place felt old, but in a rustic, comfortable, and well-worn kind of way, It included a packed bar in the front, a spacious dining room with old wooden tables toward the back, and a small game room attached to the back of the dining area. We seemed to be about the only non-locals in the place, but the server was friendly and welcoming, with a "How are ya doin', honey" type of personality that I'm used to in the dive bars around Boston. The food was a mixed bag, as both the chili and onion soup had too many undercooked onions but were otherwise tasty, while the turkey club and cheesesteak were good, solid sandwiches that filled us up in a hurry. The fries, potato salad, and macaroni salad were all ok but nothing outstanding. And the beer? Well, they have Switchback, which earns points from this beer lover, as it is something I literally seek out whenever I come to the Green Mountain State. Overall, Rick's Tavern didn't disappoint, but it didn't really bowl us over, either. As a certain NFL football coach might say, it is what it is, and considering the absolutely gorgeous area the dining spot is in, I would have no problem going back there.
After stops in Grafton and Weston (two picture-perfect towns that are home to the Grafton Village Cheese Company and the Vermont Country Store, respectively), we wound our way down to Ludlow, which would be our home base for our trip. Dinner was at the Pot Belly Pub and Restaurant, a dining spot in the center of town that I had been to at least one other time (I may also have gone there after a group ski trip years ago, but can't really remember, to be honest). My last trip to the Pot Belly was remembered mainly for great food and so-so service, and this time was no different. First, the good: The spinach salad was fabulous, with a deliciously tangy dijon dressing going nicely with the crispy bacon and carmelized onions, while the stuffed chicken with gorgonzola and cranberries in a madeira wine sauce was a sweet and savory lover's dream, and the turkey dinner was simply tremendous, with a moist, perfectly textured apple-sage stuffing that could have been a meal unto itself. And to top it off, the Switchback at the Pot Belly actually tasted a little fresher than it did at Rick's Tavern. The atmosphere was memorable once again, as the front of the place is dark and cozy, while the back is more open but rather rustic, with a barn-like feel. But then there's the service. It was slow almost beyond belief, with our several servers always seeming to forget to check in on us, and repeatedly forgetting to bring us water, which we had requested early on. The servers were friendly for the most part, but it was inexcusable that they left us alone for such long stretches of time. Granted, the restaurant was busy, but not overly so. The food really was excellent at the Pot Belly, which would probably make me think about going back there at some point, but they definitely need to do something about that service.
The next morning, we headed back into the center of Ludlow for breakfast, stopping at The Hatchery, a restaurant that I had read some good things about. This was a real townie place, with lots of families and retirees sitting in the two small but pleasant rooms that made up the place. After a short wait, we were seated by one of the windows facing the sidewalk and were promptly greeted by our server. Within a few minutes, we had our food and beverages, and there were a couple of real highlights here. First, the homemade corned beef hash was simply tremendous, with a lot of corned beef, relatively little in the way of onions, and just enough potatoes to lighten up the dish a bit. This hearty yet non-greasy hash was about the best I have had anywhere, including some of my favorite spots in the Boston area (the Wheelhouse Diner in Quincy and the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown come to mind). And the homemade French toast was nearly perfect, as the pieces of toast were moist and slightly chewy on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside, and flavorful throughout (the Vermont maple syrup certainly helped as well). The home fries weren't quite as impressive, as they were a bit too dry and some of the potatoes were much too salty. Potatoes aside, I loved the overall feel of this place and toyed with the idea of returning to The Hatchery for lunch, but the timing didn't quite work out. This is surely a place that I want to try again, perhaps the next time I'm in the area.
After making some stops in Woodstock and Bridgewater, we found ourselves in Chester around lunchtime, stopping at a wonderful dining spot within a Victorian house called Alice's Restaurant. We won't bore you with details about this terrific restaurant, since it has actually been featured on our site. (If you'd like to read the review, go to our Alice's Restaurant link.) Alice's was our final dining stop before heading back to the Boston area, though we did continue to hit some shops and farmstands on our way out of the state.
So it was a relatively quick trip to Southern and Central Vermont, though a great one, with beautiful foliage, charming towns, and some very good food. A day trip to the area might be in the works for later this year, and there is a slight chance a food-based road trip may also take place in the region over the coming months, so as always, stay tuned!
Related Blog Entries: Vermont restaurants
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