by Alice Levitt
1557 Route 7, Middlebury, 388-2876
When 7 Nights comments come in, we here at Seven Days read them carefully. Over the last couple of years, we've noticed a downturn in star ratings for A&W Drive-In in Middlebury. A recent negative comment was the final straw that made one of my editors ask me to go check out one of New England's last car-hop drive-ins, once considered so great.
Guess what? It's still great.
Great enough that I drove an hour in torrential rain and thought it was unquestionably worth it.
There has been talk of a change in ownership, which is not correct. Tony Neri has owned the snack shack for years.
Even in the downpour, the car hops were extraordinarily friendly and eager to please, giving us as long as we needed while we perused the menu.
The bacon cheeseburger was a must. Admittedly, it is not as physically attractive as the burger I photographed two years ago. I also found that the patty was slightly thinner. Otherwise, it was still the wonderfully balanced symphony of fatty flavor I remembered. The bacon was thick yet crisp, the patty was juicy and the cheese more flavorful than one would expect from its Day-Glo color. Fresh slices of tomato and big leaves of lettuce completed the satisfying picture.
I ordered a "classic grilled dog" Coney-style, a saucier, more flavorful alternative to the Michigan. I was pleased to be able to order a smaller size than the girthsome quarter-pound dogs I've had in the past.
This one was just as flavorful, with a garlicky, beefy snap. It was as juicy and intense as anyone could want a hot dog to be. The Coney sauce was something of an afterthought, but a tasty one, like a mild beanless chili. The sauce seeped into the bun, which was sufficiently fluffy that it did not become soggy.
I also tried something new at this visit: a three-piece fried-chicken basket.
I did not have high hopes for what I assumed was out-of-the-freezer legs and thighs. I was probably right about the frozen part, but the chicken was delicious.
Even the breast was juicy. The thicker-than-average breading was so substantial and well seasoned, I would have been happy to make a meal of it alone. I usually feel the need to add some acid to my fried chicken, in the form of lemon or hot sauce, but this, with skin that simply melted away, didn't need it.
7 Nights readers have recently been disappointed with the fries, too. I found them to be pretty ideal, though I'm not sure whether they're still hand cut. They are still skin-on and just thick enough to have a creamy, soft center, but thin enough for an overall delightful crispness.
My one complaint was the bizarre coleslaw, which included mayonnaise-drenched shreds of cabbage, but also pickles and golden raisins. It didn't taste good. But then, who goes to A&W for vegetables?
We ended the meal with a slightly thin but deeply chocolaty shake. It was so substantial, my boyfriend took it to his rehearsal of the Middlebury Opera Company's La Rondine to finish it. I guess it was addictive enough to give a singer bad habits. Good enough for me.
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 email@example.com.