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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bernie's Restaurant, Montgomery Pizza and Subs, The Belfry (Montgomery Center, VT)

Bernie's Duck Breast with Blueberry Sauce
Every time we visit Vermont, I find myself wanting to move here. People are so friendly and many live such interesting, outdoorsy lives. There are small-production cheese and butter makers everywhere you turn and good, simple (and simply good) food in some of the most out-of-the-way places.

On our first night, even before skiing had whetted our appetites, we stopped in at Bernie's Restaurant, a small chef owned establishment with quite an eclectic menu. There's standard pub grub, Mexican selections on some nights (advertised as authentic; we hear they're popular), and options with distinctly haute aspirations.

Justin ordered the grilled pork chop with mashed potatoes and gravy. I had a special of duck breast with blueberry sauce (pictured at the top of this post). Each entree came with either a soup or a salad, as well as the vegetable side of the day. On the night we went, the vegetable was sauteed broccolini and baby cut carrots, which were well made, crisp tender, and perfectly seasoned with what I think were fresh rosemary and garlic.

Bernie's Clam Chowder
Our starters were a mixed bag. Justin's salad included humdrum Dole prepackaged salad kit-esque lettuce, a bit of carrot and red onion, and a few grape tomatoes. But my soup, a non-cream based clam chowder, was very good, possibly homemade. It was rich with clams and the flavor of the broth was well developed.

Justin's pork chop, a generous one-inch cut on the bone, was well brined and well seasoned, though it came overcooked in parts. A few bites of one edge were inedibly charred; the parts near the bone were moist and perfect. Gravy was probably a doctored version of something from a can or jar, but inoffensive.

Bernie's Pork Chop
My duck breast was oddly tough and chewy in parts, though it'd been cooked to a good, medium rare temperature and much of the fat had been rendered from the skin. (I'm wondering if there was a mishap while defrosting. I've ended up with meat that was rubbery on the edges after over-defrosting in the microwave.) The blueberry sauce, full of tiny wild blueberries and spiked with some sort of liquor, was delicious though and a thoughtful match for the meat. Fries on the plate were well fried, crisp and non-greasy. The highlight of the plate was probably the broccolini, though, which was simple, but perfectly made.

Overall, we were surprised at how good some of the food was. Like any small, family-owned restaurant with an extensive menu, there are a good number of largely prefabricated components of dishes, but Bernie's menu also includes a few standouts that indicate the presence of some real skill in that kitchen.

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The next day, after a full day of amazing skiing on fresh powder at Jay Peak without stopping for lunch, we were dog tired and ravenous. We tried for an early meal at the Snowshoe Pub, but it was packed with the apres ski crowd so we opted for what we thought would be forgettable takeout from Montgomery Pizza and Subs, instead. We were pleasantly surprised.

Montgomery Pizza and Subs is a charming, hole-in-the-wall, casual takeout joint with a few tables added as an afterthought. The menu features pizza and subs as advertised -- made, we hear, with homemade bread and pizza crusts -- as well as homemade cookies, cakes, brownies and burritos. Really, really good burritos. Bettie, the owner, who came out to talk to us after Justin let on that I'm wheat intolerant, was just lovely and very open to making something off menu to accommodate. Justin and I opted for the chicken burrito, mine with a gluten free wrap and Justin's with a garlic herb wrap. We took it as a good sign that Bettie went out of her way to tell us that the wraps were not homemade; nearly everything else was.

Our order took a while to come, but those burritos were worth the wait. The filling, basically a very good homemade chicken stew with rice and sweet peppers, was chock full of savory, well developed flavors, though the chicken was not overcooked in the least. It was tender and moist. My burrito came loosely wrapped in a hard, tough, brittle tortilla, but that's really just the nature of the beast. I haven't met a pliant, gluten-free tortilla anywhere. Justin's burrito was tightly wrapped.

A side of fries was the only disappointment: They were undercooked and soggy with oil, a sure sign of having been fried in insufficiently hot oil.

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Belfry Bacon-Wrapped, Maple Glazed Pork Chops 
The very best meal we had in the Jay Peak area, though, was at The Belfry on our final evening in town. We were hobbling about with sore knees and not really motivated to go out for dinner. Frankly, I would've been glad to drink a bottle of wine with a Power Bar and call it a day, but Justin was a real trooper and offered to drive and carry me from the restaurant to the car if necessary. I'm glad we (he) rallied.

Beers at this rustic pub / diner / bar were, by NYC and Vermont resort standards, dirt cheap: Most 12 oz mugs or bottles are less than $4. There were locally brewed Long Trail and Switchback ales on tap. Switchback was unfiltered, easy drinking and likable, if somewhat bland. Long Trail was slightly spicy and fruity, with a hint of apricot on the nose, also fairly quaffable. Both were great, low-alcohol beers to drink after a physically demanding day.

Justin ordered a creamy tomato vegetable bisque to start, which was fair, though not wonderful. For a soup that included heavy cream, the broth was bland and it included bits of rubbery canned mushrooms, an ingredient I personally find appalling.

Belfry Penne with Rose Sauce
For our mains, I had the bacon wrapped, maple-glazed pork chop special with twice baked potato and a small side of vegetables. The lone spear of broccoli in the vegetable medley was crisp tender, still bright green and pleasant to eat given our somewhat vegetable deprived diets of the past few days, though in truth, the remainder of the vegetables (I remember a hard lump of carrot and some undercooked onions) were mediocre. The real stars were the pork chops and potato, both legitimately excellent. The pork chop was succulent and bursting with juices and it paired gorgeously with the maple glaze and bacon. (There was also a little ramekin of apple sauce, but it was forgettable in comparison to everything else.) Bacon was perfectly crisp, the maple glaze strongly aromatic, but not overly sweet. Our waitress told us the owner had just harvested this syrup the prior weekend during an annual maple syrup festival. Twice baked potatoes were creamy and... well... I don't use this adjective often, but it's appropriate, here: They were glorious. Creamy. Cheesy. Rich. I'm quite certain they were not healthy. :)

Justin ordered the penne with sausage and "rose sauce", a marinara and cream sauce, I think. The plate was well portioned for hungry skiiers. The sauce was pleasant, though almost certainly a doctored version of something jarred; slices of sausage were juicy; the pasta itself was al dente. It was sprinkled with grated parmesan and attractive (though largely flavorless) dried cilantro or parsley. Justin said he enjoyed the plate, but wasn't thrilled about it. To be fair, he'd had a large sandwich just a few hours prior and a good hunk of bread with butter with his soup, so he probably wasn't very hungry.

Belfry Maple Cream Pie
For dessert, we shared the maple cream pie, which tasted like a version of chess pie flavored with maple syrup. The generous wedge was topped with canned whipped cream and drizzled with more maple syrup. Somehow the pie avoided being overwhelmingly sweet and the maple flavors were wonderfully vivid.

Prices were fair: Pasta entrees were about $13, burgers were about $6 or $7, and specials were between $16 and $20. This is a restaurant I'd be excited to pay a return visit to, next time we ski up this way.


Bernie's Restaurant
72 Main Street
Montgomery Center, VT 05471
(802) 326-4682

Montgomery Pizza and Subs
216 Main Street

Montgomery Center, VT 05471
(802) 326-4343



The Belfry
14 Amandon Rd,
Montgomery Center, VT 05471
(802) 326-4400

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