by Alice Levitt
4 Jericho East Drive, Jericho, 802-899-5466
It's a comfort food world, we're just living in it. And if you're going to sup on food like Grandma used to make, why not really go old school and eat something that's been lovingly handcrafted, too?
At The Hungry Lion in Jericho, you can do just that. Though it's named for a restaurant that its owners, Roberta and Paul Gillespie, favor in Jamaica, you won't find jerk chicken or saltfish and ackee at the Vermont Hungry Lion. Instead, the Gillespies have upgraded the home cooking that typified their now-defunct Underhill bakery, the Flour Shop.
Appropriately, every meal starts with freshly baked bread, which our caring and knowledgeable server, Holly, excitedly announced as she presented it on Saturday evening. Even a party of two gets nearly a full loaf.
The inside was ideally hot and doughy, the outside lightly crisped, but not crusty. Unfortunately, the whole thing lacked salt, leaving the otherwise nice bread bland. Melty Cabot butter helped, but not quite enough.
A pair of soups, perfect for dipping, was a better foil. The soup of the day, cream of mushroom, had a thick, well-seasoned broth that tasted discernibly of mushrooms, not just cream as such soups often do. This was thanks in part to the meaty little shreds of the fungus that filled the bowl. Parsley dusted the top and oyster crackers came on the side. Flavor and texture were pleasing, especially considering the soup came free with the meal.
Better yet was the French onion soup. Unlike the mushroom, this required a $2 up-charge, which was unquestionably worth it.
The broth was a lovely combination of rich beef bone and light, sweet sherry. Quite a compliment to the hefty portion of tender, caramelized onions within. The croutons, made from the restaurant's own bread, soaked up the broth and took on a delightful dumpling-like texture. I always deduct a point for mozzarella in the place of Gruyère in my French onion soup, but this layer of cheese was sufficiently salty to give a flavor of its own.
It's always a rare treat when a restaurant serves homemade veggie burgers. This meat-free patty reminded me of a crab cake. With a crunchy crust and creamy interior, the puréed veggie mix was dominated by red pepper and seasoned with a varied spice mix that placed it somewhere between Mexican and Middle Eastern flavors.
Big, red tomatoes, red onion and whole leaf lettuce lent additional fresh flavor. My boyfriend elected to accompany the burger with a chewy-skinned baked potato instead of the default sweet potato fries. It came with a mound of sour cream, decorated with parsley.
The "Chef's Country Chicken" sounded pricey at $18.95, but nonetheless worth a try. I wasn't disappointed. The football at right was a boneless chicken breast stuffed with apples, crunchy almonds and mild cheddar. With a slightly sweet, fried coating, the whole thing reminded me of a chicken-apple jelly doughnut. Oh, baby. A boozy, cider-based sauce mitigated the sweetness just enough, but this was still like meat dessert.
Fluffy long grain rice on the side was studded with soft onions, which lent a pleasantly vegetal flavor. Two kinds of squash and carrots were cooked beautifully, with the gourds soft and the roots just crunchy enough.
Though dessert was hardly a necessity, we had seen enough chocolate mousses go by that we couldn't resist. By textbook standards, this mousse would probably not have garnered high marks. It was almost as heavy as a ganache, and huge (as evidenced by its stature compared with the tall bamboo shoots behind it).
The dessert could easily satisfy two. It was sophisticated, as well: A very grown-up initial burn of rum was followed by a rich, chocolaty finish. Unfortunately, the effect was diminished by what tasted like canned whipped cream.
The mousse was good, but of all the sweet treats at the Hungry Lion, it's the "Chef's Country Chicken" that will entice me back.