by Alice Levitt
294 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-6253
Sometimes, you have to get past a drunk guy or two to get to Dad's library, but usually it's just him and his buddies. Inside Stowe's Vermont Ale House, the sauced fellows may be total strangers, but the books are pretty much the same.
In the sunken side room, complete with blazing stone fireplace and flat-screen TVs showing a hockey game and skiing, is seemingly every book ever released as part of a Time Life collection. There are issues of National Geographic dating back to the 1960s. And as far as I could tell, there are copies of every Agatha Christie and Hardy Boys book, too.
I could have spent all evening enjoying myself with a volume by the fire (part of Teddy Roosevelt's collected works, perhaps?) on Saturday night, but there was eating to be done at my table just up the stairs.
The "Alice Eats" price limit prevented me from trying one of the bar's creative cocktails such as the Ruby Faye, composed of Green Mountain Organic Gin with rosemary syrup, fresh lemon, soda and orange-blossom water. I also had to skip the 24 beers on tap, which include local and hard-to-find craft brews.
The obvious first gustatory stop was the house specialty: a hot roast beef sandwich.
Even for this blood-craving carnivore, the meat was simply too rare. The thick wad of beef was a mess of gooey flesh and fat in my mouth. The situation improved when I thought to cut small slices of the sandwich and dip them in the warm, scallion-speckled beef broth on the side. Sour cream flavored with horseradish was a nice addition, too, but it was still not an easy sandwich to get through.
For an extra two dollars, I added fries to my plate, which was an excellent move. The crisp, lightly battered potatoes were salted to perfection.
I also liked the balance of the arugula salad. Shaved fennel and paper-thin slices of Fuji apple contributed fun, crisp textures and hints of licorice and sweetness to the greens dressed in a light, white balsamic vinaigrette.
The ball at the bottom of the plate at right is a breaded orb of Vermont Creamery chèvre. It was too large for its own good, throwing off the cheese- to-crust ratio, but who can argue with the interplay of hot, fried cheese and refreshing greens?
But there was no contest: The dish worth returning for was unquestionably the fried chicken.
Believe it or not, the two very large pieces of boneless bird at right are thighs. That means they were not only meaty but optimally juicy, especially with the help of their buttermilk brine. The extra-crisp, flaky coating was nearly as light as tempura, but seasoned like peppery, southern fried fowl.
A pair of miniature biscuits was freshly made, if a little too crisp to soak up the white gravy the way I would have liked. But that gravy and a dousing of sticky honey made a splendid pairing.
It was a dish of pure indulgence. And my veggie friends can enjoy it, too, as there's a version made with cauliflower instead of chicken. But I'll be sticking to chicken.
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.