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Side Dishes: Raising the bar in Middlesex

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Jaquelyn Rieke - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Jaquelyn Rieke

Until recently, the town of Middlesex didn’t have a single place to buy a drink. So when Jaquelyn Rieke, owner of Nutty Steph’s granola and chocolate company, applied for a license to sell beer and wine, the local liquor control commission fast-tracked the application. “The town happily approved my request about four hours after I gave them the paperwork,” she says. “Then I got the state’s approval.”

Rieke’s shop, which shares a building with Red Hen Baking Co. on Route 2, used to be dedicated to the sale of bulk breakfast cereal and chocolate confections, ranging from housemade candy bars to dipped fruits and cookies. Now she also offers meads from Honey Gardens apiaries, a selection of organic wines and 20 craft brews, plus housemade orange cream soda and ice cream floats made with chocolate stout.

The combo of sweet treats for the kiddies and alcohol for the grownups is common in Europe. “I want to institute more daytime drinking in America,” Rieke says. “I think it’s a very civilized practice, but people often express shame at the mention of it.” Want some high-test Belgian Delirium Tremens at 10 a.m. on Tuesday? You got it.

On Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to midnight, Rieke has a bierhaus-appropriate theme: meat. That’s when a ragtime pianist shows up to play, and cured pork belly greases — um, graces — the menu.

“There’s a full bacon menu, around five varieties at a time,” Rieke says. Some patrons go for the $2 Hormel plate, while others fork over a premium for high-end local bacon. There’s also a sampler option, and you can order the pork any way you want, from “extra crispy” to “undercooked.” A truly decadent choice: the cup of melted chocolate for dipping.

For those who prefer the sweet without the meat, chocolate fondue can be applied to bread, guava paste, pretzels, strawberries and pineapple at $1 each. For $14, Rieke gives you 14 dark chocolates plus a drink.

Who’s sampling Nutty Steph’s fare? So far it’s mostly central Vermonters, says Rieke: “There’s a Middlesex crew. This is the first bar they’ve had as a gathering point.” A “good contingent of folks from Waterbury and Montpelier” shows up to welcome the weekend, too.

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