by Alice Levitt
116 Main St., Colchester, 878-6440
If nothing else, I thought it would be funny: brunch at the dive bar. But amid the tanned faces emerging from the door labeled "outback," perhaps after a game of horseshoes, and already-tipsy bodies bent over the bar, the Spanked Puppy Pub surprised me with good-humored service, a creative menu and well-prepared grub.
Sure, our entertaining, motherly server admitted that the sausage patties we ordered were "whatever the supplier brought us," but this was an Experience with a capital 'E.' Sort of a redneck theme restaurant if you will, but with better food.
The cuisine may have exceeded the bounds of its theme, but prices did not. Eggs Benedict with tangy Hollandaise sauce, ideally soft-centered poached eggs and, get this, pepper-crusted filet mignon, rang up at $10.95.
There was plenty of beef, meltingly tender and enrobed in an alluring jacket of spice. A dining companion compared the dish to the quality of the creative specials at Sneakers Bistro in Winooski, with a notably lower price point.
Not everything stood up to that breakfast behemoth, though. Admirably crispy homefries were under- or perhaps un-seasoned.
The side of toast made up for it. English muffin toast, to be exact, something I had never experienced before. The kitchen staff used the same spongy loaf in the buttery Texas toast another co-diner ordered to go with his perfect over-medium eggs.
Not that he needed more food with his meal of pound cake French toast. You read that right. The folks at the Puppy struck on the idea of battering and frying pound cake in butter. For breakfast.
The airy cake, showered in powdered sugar, was unspeakably indulgent on its own. With a dose of maple syrup, it entered the realm of overkill, even had it been served as dessert. But don't get me wrong. It was delicious overkill, and the tangy sausage patties mitigated the sweetness with their salt, sage and spice.
Compared to that dish, a plate of caramel-swirl pancakes seemed strangely modest. The cakes were airy in texture with a pleasing hint of chewiness. The caramel swirl, though, seemed to have absorbed into the pastry, leaving circular tracks but not much flavor.
I also detected an unfortunate hint of vegetal flavor that the pancake presumably picked up from an insufficiently clean grill.
But hey, there was a lot of bacon. At least five or six rashers, all cooked to an admirable crispness.
The pancakes, which were on the page-long specials menu, might not be worth a return trip, but our other dishes were. And next time, we'll get there early to make sure the Puppy's much-touted seafood omelette isn't already sold out.
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.