73 Main Street, Brattleboro 802-254-2073
There aren't many James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs in Vermont. Even fewer can count America's Test Kitchen's Chris Kimball as a fan. The TV host and writer is quoted on the Fireworks website saying, "Eating at a Matthew Blau restaurant is always a singular pleasure." In fact, Kimball says that Fireworks is a frequent stop when in Brattleboro. When I hit southern Vermont this weekend, I hoped that if it was good enough for Kimball, it would be good enough for me.
The elegantly eclectic pair of dining rooms reminded me of the upscale northern Italian joints that dot my native Connecticut "gold coast." Unlike in the restaurants I frequented as a kid, service here was as warm as the wood-fired oven that serves as Fireworks' centerpiece. When I ordered, my server met each choice with genuine excitement. She clearly loved the food at her workplace.
Instead of going for one of the appealing salads, I started the meal with a pear, roasted in the hearth (right). The fruit arrived still so hot that I had to wait to eat it, a feat given the aromas of Gorgonzola mixed with 8-year-old balsamic that called me from the plate.
Once I cut in, the blend of ingredients was superb. The pear itself had taken on a surprising richness, rather than sweetness, in caramelization. The Gorgonzola was little more than a pleasantly mild dash of creaminess when combined with a crispy belt of prosciutto and the liberal pools of powerfully sweet-and-sour vinegar.
Though it was not prepared in the hearth, I simply couldn't resist the promise of housemade pappardelle. For that matter, it's tough for me to avoid a Bolognese. The combination thereof? Impossible. The wide, fresh noodles were ideally al dente and deeply satisfying. I was less enchanted with the sauce, which was a little low on flavor. Undercooked celery and onions also gave it an unexpected (and unpleasant) crunch.
Most tables around me were feasting on brick oven pizza. We tried one called "The Beautiful South," a perhaps excessively poetic name for barbecued chicken pizza. It was a nice pie with roasted chicken, caramelized onions and jalapenos on top. The sauce was sweet, but had enough vinegar so it didn't recall dessert. Cilantro sprigs also broke up the sugary proceedings. The crust was thicker than I tend to expect at a restaurant of Fireworks' particular genre. It was nonetheless nicely crispy outside, though I would have been happy with a bit more elasticity in the dough.
Blau showed a hint of his award-winning creativity with dessert. My server warned that few people order the fried pumpkin pie ravioli (right), but added that it was her favorite.
Three ravioli the size of large cookies arrived at the table, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried.The chewy outside gave way to a creamy, cinnamon-spiked pumpkin filling. Spooning bits of the vanilla ice cream that came on the side created a satisfying mix of temperatures that took the strange little dish over the top.
I have plenty of other Brattleboro destinations on my to-do list, so it might be a while before I head to Fireworks again. However, I'll always remember the glorious night that the pumpkin ravioli and I shared.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.