by Alice Levitt
Lincoln Peak Village, Warren, 583-6311
I recently traded lift tickets I won at Top Hat's Trivia Mania for a restaurant gift certificate. That should tell you everything you need to know about my nonexistent interest in skiing. Sure, I have balance issues, but I'm also lazy.
What occasionally interests me is a good après-ski menu. It was the bill of fare at Castlerock Pub that inspired me to make the trek to Sugarbush on Sunday.
I was glad to have relatively mobile feet, unbound by ski boots, as I made my way through Lincoln Peak Village. Just past the parking lot, a new tasting room devoted to East Shore Vineyards wines boded well for a gustatory experience.
Castlerock Pub is inside the Gate House Lodge, at the far edge of the quad that abuts the mountain. Its close proximity to schussing meant that a little past noon, it was stuffed to the gills with adults, children and skis. A seat-yourself policy created minor mayhem: Hungry sportsmen clomped through the large space trying to find a table or seat at the bar.
I parked myself in front of a couple paying their bill. After about 10 minutes, I had a seat facing the kitchen, a great way to see what looked good. The burgers, made with Neill Farm beef and served in egg-washed buns as shiny as patent leather, looked promising. So did the fact that the bar had brand-new Fiddlehead Brewing beer on tap, as well as Schaeffer, Genesee and other offerings on a "retro" beer menu. Saving my money for food, however, I passed on the brew.
I started with mini Chicken Cordon Bleus. Cute, right? Considering the dish was $8.95, there could have been more of it. But this was the only case of mountain inflation I experienced at Castlerock.
Besides, each of the little balls was handcrafted on-site. The crunchy, thick batter was salted and peppered to perfection. It gave way to chicken that was slightly dry, but wonderfully flavored, with smoky ham and gooey Swiss cheese. The Dijonnaise dipping sauce on the side reminded me of a similar honey mustard sauce at Chili's — all sweetness and cream. A delectable bite, detectable mustard taste or no.
Sugarbush's director of food and beverage, chef Gerry Nooney, used to head up internationally minded Egan’s Big World Pub in Waitsfield. At Castlerock, he offers a Hungarian goulash ($12.95) that reminded me of the one I recently enjoyed at Poland's most famous Hungarian restaurant, Balaton.
The meltingly tender pork, singing with smoky paprika, wasn't in a potato pancake, as I'd had it in Krakow, but I liked Castlerock's accompaniment, teeny, tender spaetzle, even more. Fried in butter and dotted with salt crystals, they were the dumpling equivalent of movie theater popcorn. It was fun to have a blob of sour cream in the middle of the plate to mix in at will. My only complaint was the lack of a vegetable. In Eastern Europe, I learned to expect braised cabbage or a set of root veggie salads with such a dish.
I got just that with the menu's other Alpine meal. The spaetzle mac and cheese ($10.95) came with an ample side of greens topped with a creamy and very sweet celeriac, carrot and cabbage slaw.
The tureen of mac was larger than it appears at right and was almost overwhelmingly rich. Texturally, it seemed to contain about a 50-50 ratio of tender spaetzle and a cheese mix dominated by sharp, stretchy cheddar.
This combo might have gotten boring if not for the meaty chunks of housemade tasso ham inside. The tender Cajun-style pork butt was peppery, but not spicy, and just enough to wake up the dish. I was especially happy that my last bite consisted of a giant piece of pork wearing a jacket of cheese crisped at the edges.
Although what I'd already eaten merited a day of working it off on the slopes, I instead headed to the foot of the mountain.
I couldn't go all that way without trying a waffle. Made with Scandinavian pearl sugar, the gaufres from the Rutland-based chain Waffle Cabin were the perfect way to end my meal — though being surrounded by athletes made me feel even more gluttonous.
"To hell with it," I said, and got a drizzle of chocolate on top of the malty, crisp waffle. I can safely say my excursion to Sugarbush was worth the trip. I was precariously close to the slopes, but escaped with a full belly.
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.