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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

A Mountain of Comfort

By B.A. Nilsson

The Whip Bar and Grill

Green Mountain Inn, 18 Main St., Stowe, Vt., (800) 253-7302, (802) 253-7301. Serving lunch 11:30-5:30 Mon-Sat and 2:30-5:30 Sun, dinner 5:30-10 daily, brunch 11-2:30 Sunday. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: local-infused continental

Entrée price range: $18 (baked stuffed shells) to $29 (gorgonzola-crusted filet mignon)

Ambiance: publike

Drive up Stowe’s Mount Mansfield (bicycle or walk, if your constitution is more rugged than mine) and, when you near the peak, clamber in and around the paths and boulders that constitute Smuggler’s Notch. Imagine the forbidden cattle being herded over that mountaintop—cattle from Canada, forbidden because of a conflict with Canada-friendly Britain, which was a defining feature of early 19th-century American politics.

Agriculture, though, was a defining industry in Stowe, so, politics be damned, cranky Vermonters needed their animal trade.

Mount Mansfield continues to dominate the town. It’s the highest peak in the state and has given rise to the tourism on which the area now thrives. Hikers, campers, and, especially, skiers show up in their respective seasons; foliage draws tourists in the fall.

Both humble and swanky Lodges flank the road to the mountain, but in the center of the charming village 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-sized bed to a two-bedroom, multi-story townhouse—over 100 rooms in all.

Downstairs is the Whip, the lunch and dinner venue. “We’re not trying to be a 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 can still be seen flipping omelets at brunch when it gets busy.

“This time of year we try to bring in as much locally grown produce as possible,” Truso says. “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 per year.

Chicken, pork, steak, salmon: the menu is built around standards, with only a few creative twists here and there on the specials menu.

“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 call a restful dining experience.

The same can be said of 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 slices of white meat layered over a traditional apple-sausage stuffing.

The reckless pursuit of convenience has let us 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 all the tables 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 available. 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.

Appetizers and salads can be worked into standalone meals: the Maine crab cakes ($10.50) proved to be enough for my wife’s whole dinner. They’re so rich with crab that the breading seemed like almost an afterthought, and the accompanying basil aioli, prepared with excellent olive oil, was served alongside fresh field greens.

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 their peak freshness, and shared 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 little more than a blackened piece of fish with a tangy fruit accompaniment. Re-fashioned the following night as coconut and citrus-poached swordfish, it had a better confluence of flavors.

Sides of basmati rice and crisp beans were prepared just as they should be. 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.

The knowledgeable, attentive servers overlooked no detail and were a great help in choosing our way through the best of the menu. I’ll pass along one of their recommendations 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, and 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.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Two significant cigar dinners take place this month. Habana Premium Cigar Shop has combined with John and Bobby Mallozzi to present a black-tie event at the Italian American Community Center, 257 Washington Ave. Extension, Albany, at 6 PM on Sept. 23. The menu includes yellow pumpkin ravioli, cinnamon scented duck breast in a bing cherry reduction, double-bone lamb chop with whipped Yukon potato, espresso bread pudding and much, much more. Each guest gets an assortment of four premium cigars. Price is $100 per person; black tie is optional. Call 690-2222 for more info and reservations. . . . Saratoga Rose Inn and Restaurant (4136 Rockwell St. Hadley) presents Dinner and Cigars Under the Stars at 7 PM on Sept. 18, featuring three world-renowned Davidoff Cigars courtesy of Cup O’ Joes and a seated buffet dinner under a tent in a Victorian garden. The buffet includes boneless breast of chicken with wild mushrooms in madeira sauce, smoked cajun loin of pork with bourbon and molasses sauce, orzo with caramelized onions and fresh sage, along with Saratoga Rose Inn house wines and beer. It’s $100 per person, including tax and tip, and requires a reservation. Call 1-800-942-5025 or 518-696-2861.



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