by Alice Levitt
325 N. Main St., Barre, 479-9862
I've always been curious about certain out-of-town restaurants that I still haven't patronized. Until last week, Soup N Greens was one of those restaurants.
I felt like I was penetrating a secret society as I finally made my way inside the old-school Barre favorite. And, expecting little more than a lunch counter, I was immediately surprised by the size of the place: Tables spilled back the length of three rooms.
I sat at a booth near the front window right around 8 p.m. on Friday. In another misconception, I thought the family restaurant would be slowing down by then, but the joint was still jumping.
Making a choice was difficult. I asked our waitress what on the menu was homemade or a specialty. "Like, everything," she said, sounding annoyed. She recommended the chicken Cordon Bleu and I took her advice.
All dinner entrées came with soup and salad bar. The small layout was a pretty typical, bacon-bits affair, not quite the homemade spread I might have hoped for. But I was able to make a nice plate of greens topped with sunflower seeds, slightly chalky feta and Italian dressing.
Though I was tempted by the chocolate pudding, I only made room on my plate for a tiny spoonful of ambrosia salad, which did appear to be homemade. It was light and fluffy, with more sweet coconut than tangy pineapple flavor. It was, however, still ambrosia salad.
All-you-can eat soup was available at the salad bar, too. I didn't feel like heavy corn chowder on that hot evening, so, despite our waitress' warning that there was no sharing allowed, I kept watch while my boyfriend spooned out the ultra-thick chowder. It tasted more of cream and potatoes than corn to me, but his purrs of satisfaction seemed to signal I was missing something. Could our no-no have been why our server left the plates and bowl on the table through the rest of the meal?
I was glad I'd saved room when this came to the table. The photo at right does no justice to the bowling-ball-like appearance of that Cordon Bleu. At first glance, I didn't expect to finish it. I did despite myself.
It wasn't because it was particularly well put together. While the surprisingly sharp, melty Swiss was nicely distributed, there was a thick wad of ham only in the middle. The crust was flavorful, but what the menu described as Suprême sauce (OK, they didn't have the circumflex) completely lacked the lemony tang of the classic cream concoction. I think it may have been turkey gravy. It was fine, but disappointing all the same. The wild rice (called rice pilaf on the menu) was nicely seasoned, with nice al dente grains.
What's that thing at right? Possibly the mightiest meat-loaf sandwich I've ever seen. Two huge slabs of old-fashioned, pan-shaped meat loaf rested on top of soft, white bread. The loaf itself was low on actual meat and had a texture suspiciously similar to that of the bread. However, it tasted great, with hints of sweet, sour and earthy flavor.
The thick, brown gravy tasted mostly of salt. The loaf probably would have been better without it, but the mashed potatoes would have been lost. Crunchy, breaded onion rings were a little too raw in the middle for me, but were a fun touch.
Though I was uncomfortably full, it was nonetheless my journalistic duty to report on dessert. Specifically one of the many homemade pies available in the dessert case. Peanut butter chocolate chip sounded good, but there are few dessert barometers (or comedy vehicles) quite like a coconut cream pie.
This one stood out. The rich, heavy pie itself tasted as much of vanilla as it did coconut. Plenty of shreds of the fruit dotted the mix. For added texture and a slightly richer flavor, the pie was topped with toasted coconut.
With a taste of old Barre working its way through my digestive system, I was feeling plenty old and tired myself. I guess next time I'll have to eat a tad lighter. Honey-stung fried chicken, anyone?
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.