DRIVE UP STOWE’S MOUNT MANSFIELD (or, if you have a constitution more rugged than mine, bicycle or walk) and, when you near the peak, clamber in and around the paths and boulders that constitute Smuggler’s Notch. Imagine forbidden cattle being herded over that mountaintop, cattle from Canada, forbidden because conflict with Canada-friendly Britain was a defining feature of early 19th-century politics.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
Mt. Mansfield continues to dominate the town: it’s the highest peak in the state, and has given rise to the tourism upon which the area now thrives. Hikers, campers and, especially, skiers show up when it’s warm or cold; foliage draws tourists in fall.
Lodges humble and swanky flank the road to the mountain, but in the center of the charming village of Stowe sits the Green Mountain Inn, one of the first structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with an 1833-vintage building at its heart. Other buildings have been added over the years, and the complex now offers tasteful accommodations ranging from a single queen bed to a two-bedroom, multi-story townhouse – over 100 rooms in all.
Rooms are tastefully decorated, with antique furnishings and attractive wall coverings to offset the inevitable intrusion of TV sets, and even the buildings themselves have handsome lobbies and gathering areas. I took advantage of large wooden chess set in one sitting area to remind my daughter who’s still boss.
The Inn also offers the delightful custom of afternoon tea, laid out in the main building’s breakfast room, with a cornucopia of homemade cookies to assist your tea (or lemonade) consumption.
Downstairs is the Whip, the lunch and dinner venue. “We’re not trying to be fine-dining restaurant,” says food and beverage director Steven Truso. “There are other options for that in town. “We’re providing comfort food that people who visit us year after year can count on.” Truso spent several years as chef here before assuming his present title, and still can be seen flipping omelettes at brunch when it gets busy.
“This time of year we try to bring in as much locally grown produce as possible. All of our eggs are local, and we’re able to get some of the greens year-round from nearby greenhouse growers.” And, of course, maple syrup. The restaurant buys out one local farmer’s entire crop of about 300 gallons a year.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
“When I started here as chef,” says Truso, “I tried to change things around a little, and I took the corn chowder off the menu. You wouldn’t believe the response – people wanted it, and it went right back on the menu and has stayed there ever since.”
As we discovered, the corn chowder ($4.25/$5) is a perfect example of a dish that breaks no culinary ground, but by being as well-crafted a version of this dish as you’ll find – creamy, rich, generously laced with corn and bacon – it offers what I can think only to call a restful dining experience.
Likewise the turkey dinner ($19). “That’s been on the menu for at least 25 years,” says Truso. “It’s one of our staples.” It starts, not surprisingly, with Vermont turkey, real white-meat slices layered over a traditional apple-sausage stuffing.
The reckless pursuit of convenience has let us to welcome an astonishing amount of prefab crap into our kitchens. When you taste real gravy, real cranberry sauce and real mashed potatoes, as you do with this dinner, you realize how much true comfort you’ve sacrificed in order to spend less time at the stove.
The restaurant is divided into dining areas that give different views and slightly different levels of intimacy, but the tables throughout are comfortable and you soon get used to being surrounded by antique buggy whips.
There’s a good wine selection, nightly wine specials and a plethora of Vermont microbrewed beer. A daily specials list supplements the regular, seasonally changing menu.
The light fare menu includes burgers (Vermont cheddar, of course, is available), in beef and vegetarian varieties and a Reuben with corned beef or turkey – all in the $9-$10 range. Grilled flatbread pizza is $14 and changes daily, with a vegetarian version always offered. We sampled a flatbread-of-the-day topped with rib-eye steak bits under a bubbling raft of mozzarella and blue cheese, with its thin, crisp crust giving the illusion that I could consume more of the delicious slices than proved to be the case.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
That too-familiar saloon concoction, artichoke and spinach dip ($9), sports large chunks of the hearts, set off with plenty of garlic and the requisite spinach. So it’s not as creamy as might be expected, but nevertheless dresses a pita chip well.
Romaine and gorgonzola fruit salad ($6.75/$10) combined two contrasting fruit: strawberries and tomatoes, both at a peak of freshness, sharing space with chunks of cantaloupe and honeydew under a lemon-mango vinaigrette.
And who can resist Vermont chevre ($9.25) as a starter? The creamy goat cheese is warmed, presented over fresh greens, drizzled with a Balsamic vinegar reduction, and served alongside garlic-dabbed croutons.
The only less-than-successful entrée I sampled was the jerk salmon special ($21), which turned out to be not much more than a blackened piece of the fish with a tangy fruit accompaniment. Re-fashioned the following night as coconut and citrus-poached swordfish, it had better confluence of flavors.
Sides of basmati rice and crisp beans were prepared just as they should be – there’s a comfortable consistency to this kitchen. A request for mashed potatoes instead of rice with the roasted Quebec duckling ($22) was not a problem; the duck was served as two parts of a large half, with a deep, gooselike flavor and a pineapple-ginger accompaniment.
Knowledgeable, attentive servers overlook no detail and are a great help in choosing your way through the best of the menu. I’ll pass along one such recommendation, for a signature dessert: sac de bon bon (for two) looks like some manner of mousse arriving in a dark brown bag. But the bag is dark chocolate, the mousse is classic, the fruit sauce decorating the plate is perfect to swipe not only the chocolate through but also the many pieces of fresh fruit that finish the plate.
The Whip Bar and Grill, Green Mountain Inn, 18 Main St., Stowe, VT, 1-800-253-7302, 802-253-4400 x615, greenmountaininn.com. Serving lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-4:30, Sun 10:30-4:30, dinner daily 5-10, brunch Sunday 10:30-1:30. AE, D, MC, V.
– Metroland Magazine, 11 September 2008