Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Worthy Kitchen, Vermont

As you may know, I grew up in New Hampshire, and my family still lives there.  Since I've moved to San Francisco and turned a bit more, uh, opinionated about food, I've found it hard to fit in at home when I've visited, particularly when family members can't wait to show me their favorite restaurants (sorry, dear sister, The Flying Goose is horrible).  You can read all about my adventures in the area here.

I've mostly stopped going out to eat when I visit, besides of course getting a lot of ice cream in the summer, and eating my share of pancakes and other brunches.

This year, I was in town for Mother's Day, fairly last minute, and my mom indicated that she wanted to go out.  I tried to make reservations all over town, but, alas, everywhere was fully booked.  My sister (and father) both pretty much refuse to wait places, so, all the reservation-less brunch venues were clearly out.

I checked my list, and I checked it twice, and finally came up with the answer.  It may not be a traditional Mother's Day venue, but Worthy Kitchen, in Woodstock, seemed like it would fit the bill.
Lunch Feast!
What is Worthy Kitchen?  They describe the restaurant as "a craft beer and farm diner", which, well, yeah, does sum it up.

Our group enjoyed a large variety of selections, ranging from poutine and freshly fried donuts (yup, Mother's Day classic, right?), to salads, fried chicken, burgers, and grilled seafood.  Everyone was happy with not only their options, but also, with how delicious it all was.  There really was something for absolutely everyone in my family at Worthy Kitchen, which is honestly no easy feat.

I'd happily return, as would my entire family, so I'm very glad to have Worthy Kitchen now "on the list".

Setting

Let me be clear: Worthy Kitchen is NOT a fancy place.  They call themselves a diner for a reason.  It is NOT where most people would take their mother for Mother's Day.  You order at a register, seat yourself, fetch your own food.  Open for dinner nightly, and lunch just on weekends, certainly more of an evening place.

Our group of 5 (the guest of honor, my mother, my father, my sister, my sister's husband, and myself) headed to Worthy Kitchen at 12:45pm on Mother's Day Sunday.  Yup, prime time.  No reservation, because they don't do that.  We did have a short wait for a table (they had a physical list to add your name to), but by the time we read the menu and got ready to order, a table was waiting for us.

The main room is fairly large, with assorted seating ranging from bar stools, to high tables, to traditional low tables.  There is a smaller side room, and additional patio seating during the summer as well.  We were seated at a high top in the main room.
Menu and Ordering Counter.
The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall, leading up to a register at the bar where you order food (and drinks).  Once you order, the person who takes the orders also fetches the drinks, and then gives you a buzzer to take to your table.  You have the option of keeping a tab open for future beverages.
Bar and Taps.
The beer lineup is impressive, with a 18 local beers on tap.  They also offer a handful of wines by the glass (and a few on tap too), cocktails, and ciders, but, craft beer is clearly the focus.  Oh, and draught root beer and ginger ale.

If you want to order just drinks (or desserts) later, there is a second register on the other end of the bar with much shorter lines.
Water Station.
Since Worthy Kitchen is a place where folks spend the evening mostly drinking, they smartly have a self-serve water station, with plastic cups, pitchers you can bring back to your table, and, a classic bright orange water cooler, elementary school sports-style.  Charming, in its own way.
Food Pickup and Kitchen.
On the other side of the room is the food pickup window, where you bring your buzzer when it goes off, in exchange for trays of food.  Silverware and additional condiments are located here as well, self-serve.  There is a second water station here as well, "All you can drink".

Drinks

Worthy clearly prides themselves on their beer list, mostly a lineup of local small brewers from New England.  It changes constantly, and the one beer drinker in our group was more than satisfied with his options.

My mother and I both went for cocktails.  They had a fairly limited liquor selection (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, bourbon), just one brand of each, and a couple signature cocktails on the board.  My mom went for a bloody mary given the time of day.  I didn't get a photo, but it came garnished with a full pickle spear, which was quite novel to my group (they clearly are not aware of the ridiculous garnish on cocktail fad that is happening elsewhere ...).

Her cocktail failed to impress.  She asked for it not spicy, and it was very spicy.  I watched it being made by the bartender / cashier, who clearly just took some mix, added the garnish, and handed it over.  She didn't care, and it was pretty clear.

Don't go here for the cocktails, but beer drinkers should be very pleased.
Worthy'Rita.
"Tequilla, lime, oj, ginger."

I joined my mom in the cocktail drinking, opting for the Worthy version of a margarita.  It caught my eye because it had OJ in it, which seemed appropriate given that it felt like morning to me (it may have been 1pm there, but it was still very much 10am in my head).

Just like my mom's bloody mary, it was not good.  Again, the bartender just grabbed a mix, added cheap house alcohol, and handed it over.

It was very sweet, not complex, and I didn't taste the tequila at all.  No garnish on the rim, no flair.  I didn't bother finish it.  I did like the glass, the same one all their beverages are served in, "specially designed to preserve volatile aromas and flavors that might otherwise escape."

Food

The food is what sets Worthy Kitchen apart from other casual drinking establishments.  While they do have plenty of standard bar food options (wings, fries, burgers), they also have a slew of other comfort food dishes, and daily specials, all of which have something fairly unique and special about them.  Oh, and they really, really care about ingredient sourcing.

Yup, this casual bar, in Vermont, works directly with farmers to source local ingredients, and writes the daily menu accordingly.  Their Facebook feed is a stream of excited posts about spring ingredients coming in, locally caught seafood of the day, and the like.  
"Buy high quality ingredients from farmers we know and trust; turn those ingredients into food that's both delicious and healthy; and serve that food to the people in our community who want affordable, farm fresh dining in a high energy, streamlined environment."
Yup, that about sums it up.  They source incredibly well, have a diverse, incredibly approachable menu, and throw in a twist on many dishes.
(Part of) Menu.
The menu is shockingly large, a mix of classic dishes that are always offered (with changing accompaniments) and daily specials.

To get started, they have a bunch of shareable apps, like wings in all varieties, spinach and artichoke dip, and poutine (with rotating toppings).  More on that poutine soon.

Burgers/sandwiches make up nearly one entire menu board, with a beef burger, a lamb burger, fried chicken burger, "Worthy Bomb" (a beef burger topped with fried chicken), a veggie burger that constantly changes (brie and veggie stuffed portabella mushroom cap on our visit), loaded hot dogs, and a brisket melt.  Side note: Worthy Kitchen also has a prior establishment, Worthy Burger, elsewhere in Vermont, that offers an entirely burger focused menu, with all these, plus a "turducky" (turkey and duck confit), a fish burger, and more, plus seasonal sides and desserts.  Burgers are a big part of their brand, and the Worthy Kitchen concept is the expansion of the successful Worthy Burger.

Healthier eaters won't be disappointed though, salads are not just your token house garden salad and ceasar, and instead are filled with really creative ingredients and seasonal items.  I honestly wanted to try them all, and I'm not even that much of a salad fan.

The specials are where the diversity really kicks in.  On our visit, they had a fried chicken platter, a bulgogi burrito, spicy vegetarian curry, a vegetarian bean based "farmer's basket", steamed mussels, steak, and grilled swordfish salad.  A few days earlier, they had a fried softshell crab sandwich, a chimichonga, mac and cheese, roasted leg of lamb, and a cubano.  The variety is really ridiculous.

Sides included roasted seasonal veggies, fries (regular or truffle paramesan), and additional simple proteins.

Kids too are catered for, with smaller versions of the cheeseburger, hot dog, chicken, mac and cheese, and a basic buttered pasta.

And of course dessert.  A very small lineup of just their famous warm doughnuts and ice cream.

Seriously, something for everyone here, which worked really well for our group.  We ordered poutine to share, and then individual entrees, which included: the burger, the bulgogi burrito, fried chicken platter, grilled swordfish, and salad.  How many places do you know that can do good southern fried food and korean fusion, while treating fresh seafood and vegetables with respect?   Yeah, usually a menu like this is a sign of doom, but they execute shockingly well on all of it.
Worthy Poutine. $11.
"Our small fries topped with cheese curds, duck fat gravy, and crumbled maple peppered bacon."

Swoon.  That is about all I have to say about this.

I wanted an appetizer to share, and the poutine was easily agreed upon by my sister, her husband and I.  My dad had never heard of it, and my mom didn't really care about an appetizer, so, this was an easy choice.

It arrived with the rest of the food, which I was a bit annoyed with, as I intended it to be an appetizer not a side, and ordered it saying "to share as an appetizer", but, alas, not that type of establishment.  They also didn't have any share plates available, so we had to rather awkwardly fit poutine onto the sides of our very full plates.

But, serving logistics aside, this was really, really good poutine, not that I've had tons of poutine in my life of course (read all about my first encounter at The Crazy Canuck in Canada, and then again at an airport diner in Buffalo).

The fries were normal size fries (aka, not thin, not thick steak fries), some skin on.  They were kinda soft and mushy, but that didn't matter in the poutine.

The fries were totally slathered in flavorful gravy, salty in all the right ways (although I didn't taste the duck fat listed on the menu, I'm not sure I would have wanted to?).  I was really impressed with the application of the gravy - I never felt like I was lacking gravy, or that any particular fry was missing out, but there also wasn't so much that they were swimming in it.  They really nailed having just the right amount of gravy.

The curds were excellent, actual fresh local cheese curds.  Again, just the right amount, tons of curds, making it definitely a cheesy dish, but, not too many that they took over.  I was really impressed however with how some of the curds were melty, resulting in stringy melty cheese, and the majority stayed soft and just nearly melted.  Temperature was nailed, and this is where poutine so often suffers, from unmelted cold cheese curds.

And then ... the non-standard poutine addition: bacon.  The bacon was seriously awesome.  Really crispy, no flabby bacon.  It was very flavorful (maple pepper).  The chunks were large and plentiful, and, just like the curds, just like the gravy, there really was just the right amount of them.

Overall, the execution of this dish was just perfect.  Hot fresh fries, flavorful expertly applied gravy, slightly melty soft curds, and crispy bacon.  Everything came in just the right proportions and sizes.  The ingredients were clearly high quality.

I really, really liked this poutine, and couldn't stop eating it.  Everyone else was more distracted by their main dishes (and my parents didn't want it in the first place), so I had far more than my share (and also took some home to waffle ... more on that soon!).  I can't get over how this random little place in Vermont nailed poutine like this.

Poutine is a menu regular, but it changes out toppings.  The previous version had confit pork belly, smoked cheddar, and pickled shallots, which certainly sounds interesting, but the version we had was a serious winner.

I'd gladly get any version of poutine they offered again, and even really enjoyed the leftovers ... cold, or, uh, waffled.
Springer Salad. $12.
"Frisee & Raddichio, pecorino, hazlenuts, cous cous, cucumber vinaigrette, housemade pancetta bits."

Yup, I went for the salad.  I know, I'm not usually a salad girl, and there were plenty of other things I like on the menu, but I actually wanted something lighter, and new I was going to load up on poutine and dessert.  Plus, sometimes I crave salads ...

Even choosing which salad to get was hard, the arugula salad with gala apples, fig spread, bartlett pears, walnuts, bailey hazen blue cheese, honey pesto drizzle, and balsamic vinaigrette sounded unique and full of textures and flavors that would work well together.  The special salad topped with grilled swordfish and grilled ramps also sounded tasty, but my mom ordered that, so I knew I'd get to try it.  In the end, I went for the "Springer", and asked for the dressing on the side (it normally comes dressed).

It was a ridiculously huge pile of salad.  I wish I had photos of my sister's fried chicken platter, or her husband's bulgogi burrito, as they were also ridiculously jumbo-sided portions too, but, for a salad, it somehow looked even more silly.  It was a mound, a serious mountain of salad, and everyone at the table laughed at it, and was amused that even after eating for a long time, it looked like I had barely made a dent.

So anyway, the salad.  The base was shredded frisee and raddicchio, both of which I adore, but I've never seen before in shredded form, but it totally worked, as I'm all for slaws.  The greens were fresh and crisp, colorful, and an excellent base, far more interesting than any standard spring mix.  The cous cous was large pearl cous cous, mixed in with the greens.  It was bit hard to see at first, but, there was tons of it, and it provided a lot of substance.

Hazelnuts were chopped in assorted sizes ranging from tiny chunks to nearly whole hazelnuts, and they added great crunch.  The housemade pancetta was salty and chewy, added more texture, and there was tons of it.  I didn't love the flavor of the pancetta though, I'm not sure why.

I wasn't super excited about the sound of the cucumber vinaigrette since I'm not a big fan of cucumber, which is mostly why I asked for the dressing on the side (also, I knew if I wanted to save leftovers it would keep better that way).  The dressing was intensely cucumber flavored, and my mom loved it, but, as expected I did not.  I also asked for a side of the honey vinaigrette which I really enjoyed, but actually, the salad had so much going on that it didn't necessarily even need a dressing (it was also great with some gravy and cheese curds mixed in from the poutine, which I discovered since I didn't have a plate for poutine ... )

Overall, I liked this really unique salad, lots of textures, colors, flavors.  It was certainly not just filler, not just greens, so even if I hadn't consumed all the poutine, and wanted to save space for doughnuts, there is no way I could have finished it, as the cous cous, nuts, and meat made it very filling.

The $12 price was very reasonable for such a large portion, and one that included some premium ingredients.  I'd love to try more of their salads.  
Swordfish Salad. $24.
"Parmesan-peppercorn crusted swordfish, with confit potatoes, asparagus, spinach, feta, piccholine olives, grilled ramps, preserved lemon vinaigrette, and chive oil."

Worthy Kitchen seems to always have a seafood special, ranging from big eye yellowfin, to faroe island salmon, to roasted mahi mahi, to striped bass, to soft shell crab.  On our visit, it was swordfish.

My mom ordered this, and of course offered me some, before she even dug in, even though it was mother's day.

Her salad too was loaded with interesting ingredients, ranging from confit potatoes, asparagus, olives, and feta.  I didn't try any of those things, but I did try the swordfish, which was very moist and she raved about for days (although I didn't taste the promised parmesan-peppercorn crusting).  The spinach base was slightly wilted from the hot fish, but I believe that was intentional.  I adored the grilled ramps on top, but my mom didn't, saying they were too chewy.  I gladly took them off her hands.

I didn't like this as much as my own selection, but she was very pleased with it.  It did seem a bit expensive, although I know it had a generous amount of swordfish.

[ No Photo ]
Buttermilk Fried Chicken. $18.

"Sweet Potato Puree, Pesto Chevre, Asparagus, & Garlic Honey Syrup."

My sister went for the fried chicken platter, and I stole a bite, even though I don't like chicken, as it just looked so ridiculously good.

It was awesome, perfectly fried, really crispy, not oily, incredibly moist inside.  I loved the garlic honey drizzle on top, and she loved the pesto chevre.  The sweet potato puree was smooth and creamy.  Another winning dish.
Worthy Doughnuts. $6.
"Warm cinnamon doughnuts with vanilla bean creme anglaise."

And finally, dessert.  The dessert options were only ice cream or doughnuts, but, the doughnuts were what people all rave about, so a bigger menu was not needed.

We did actually consider not ordering the doughnuts as our portions were all huge and we were all stuffed, but, we couldn't really go all that way there and not try the signature dessert, could we?  Not my family!  We settled on just a single order, knowing it was only 3 doughnuts, and cutting them in half.  I ordered them from the second register, received a new buzzer, and they were ready within 10 minutes, not nearly enough time for us to make room in our stomachs.

The doughnuts were hot and fresh, clearly straight from the fryer.  They weren't greasy or oily.  But ... I didn't really like them.  They were kinda just boring, a bit too dense, not very flavorful.  The cinnamon sugar coating was generous and well applied.

In the base of the bowl was creme anglaise to dunk them in.  It too was fine, but also not remarkable, no particularly strong flavor to it.

So yes, hot fresh doughnuts, yes dipping sauce, all of which were fine, but none of which was great.  It really sounded better than it was.  Maybe we were just too full?

For $3.25 extra, we could have added ice cream, which is the other dessert, also available just by the bowl for $4.25 (chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel).  We opted not to, which I think was the right decision.
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