Exceptional Dining

That's Hen of The Wood in Waterbury

There is nothing quite so sad as the last bite, the last time the knife helps to cajole that last bit of main course onto the fork for final gastronomic satiety in estimable eateries.  Even more sad is that there are not enough restaurants of this caliber quite near enough.  However, when one is willing to drive a little ways, as I will be forevermore, Vermont is blessed.  Put another way, when chef prowess excels, people will drive.

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My favourite Vermont restaurant is the Back Room in Pitsfield.  Click here. Nonetheless, a close second is this Hen of The Wood.  We are fortunate indeed as there are two in the Green Mountain state.  Just before the crunch of Restaurant Week now ongoing, we snuck in for an early reservation at the Waterbury location.  (The second location is in Burlington).  Skiers may remember the Grist Mill a decade ago.  At exit 10 from interstate 89, you simply go right round down to a rushing waterfall and the little building sits privately tucked into lovely giant rock. I have chosen to write about this now as the days become longer and the drive may certainly be done in thrilling, golden evening light.  We think that this actually adds to the whole outing.

The dining room has a cave-like feel with tall, paned windows to envelop food lovers.  Waiters are plentiful and everyone contributes to maximum table attendance.  We were mostly served by a kind and gentle soul named Mike.  I love a calm, attentive waiter and he is just that with dark, kindly eyes and quiet perfection.  The Hen of The Wood menu is not long and there are daily specials seasoned and added as well.  Of course you want to order everything, but sacrifices must be made and we settled on a plate of 'domestic' prosciutto and pâté de campagne with homemade pickles and grilled country bread.  The prosciutto was simply served as a sort of pink nest with undulating slices of tissue-paper-thin meat, so simple, so elegant.  Each slice was weightless yet somehow offering up the taste of the soil from this once roaming beast.  For the main course we chose a hanger steak and a sliced duck breast.  Each one featured their heart-red, tender middle.  The duck slices were nestled in a celery root purée and the beef was adorned with a delicate melting crown of Bailey Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill farms.  A couple near us asked about special vegan possibilities and I watched them quite satisfied as they sipped their red wine.

So at this point, the empty plate is discreetly removed by Mike; his eyes, a twinkle of subtlety, reveal that he need not ask how we enjoyed our meal. We most definitely would not share dessert as we had to succumb to our own selfish, sweet ending.  The choices are chocolate cococtions accompanied by ganache and strawberry-rhubarb ice cream, olive oil cake, or salted caramel custard.  There is also a whole beautiful page of local farm cheese.  L'embarras du choix, as the French say...The embarrassment of choice.  Do any of you remember sponge candy?  My childhood came roaring back when I bit into this crunchy sweet mass, a brilliant partner to the olive oil cake along with a tiny vanilla dollop of something soft and rich.

Of course, situated in Vermont beer country, the local ale selections are exciting - Alchemist's prized Heady Topper ON TAP! The wines are also unique, varied and sumptuous.  I have said before that the measure of a good restaurant is often in the basket of bread at the beginning, but also especially in the selection of wine 'by the glass'.  This Hen outdoes itself.

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To read about Woodstock's beloved farmstand where everything is divine, click here

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