Updated: Mar 8, 2019
I've been to Stowe, VT maaany many times- having a timeshare at the Trapp Family Lodge since I was born (and even before I was born- in my ma's pregnant belly..) Stowe's downtown is pretty much like my backyard. But one day--all of a sudden--there was a new restaurant that opened in Stowe called "The Bench" and everything changed. In 2014, the Reservoir Restaurant & Taproom owners, Chad Fry and Mark Frier, opened The Bench. What really intrigued me and got my attention immediately was their logo: a circular saw blade with a knife and fork on either side... that seems cool! Let's go inside!
The first time I went to The Bench I was bar hopping with my sister on a very cold winter night in 2015. Again, this place took me by surprise, it opened so recently and yet it was PACKED! When we opened the first set of doors, we were treated to a forceful blow of hot air right in our faces. Me, being freezing in the dead of winter in Vermont? I appreciated that hot air fully, I almost thought about dining right there if they'd let me. Inside there was a small (like 5 seats) bar right ahead of us overlooking the kitchen, with chefs hard at work right in front of a wood-fired oven cooking pizza- And that pizza looked goooooooooood!
The decor in this place was very.... well... Vermonty (not to quote Phil Davis from White Christmas or anything..) Wooden beams, seats, and tables all with accents of copper which made the whole place feel very warm and cozy. The wood-fired oven reflected off all the copper in the restaurant and made it feel like each person had their own little fireplace near them. For actual light fixtures, they repurposed old bicycle wheels, strung them with small lights and hung them like down-to-earth chandeliers. They even had bike wheels lining up and down the restaurant walls- very cool looking, Once settled, me and my sister (Victoria aka Tor, also an artist, http://www.victoriaartanddesign.com/ ) took a look at their tap list- wow what an amazing list, and so many beers! They had around 25 local beers on tap.. and not JUST beer either!
So back in 2015, I wasn't drinking beer yet, ( I was allergic to it.. long story ) so the fact they had LOCAL cider, made me so happy. Plus they usually have Rookie's (Alcoholic) Root Beer for the non-cider and beer drinkers. Most of the beers (like 96.3%) they serve are all local like Zero Gravity, Lost Nation, von Trapp, and Fiddlehead to name a few. The ciders they have are just as local as well, with the likes of Stowe Cider (my favorite! We will definitely have a post on them soon) and Champlain Ciders, who make dry ciders with a lot of care, and not sickly sweet like Angry Orchard (the closest thing I have to an arch nemesis).
Since it seemed like pizza was their specialty, we felt like we had to get one. So we got the Pipeline pizza: extra virgin olive oil, arugula, basil, prosciutto, mozzarella, with a balsamic reduction. YUM! Since we were here bar hopping, we only got the one thing, but someone next to us got a plate of french fries--and man they smelt so heavenly--but we had already committed to going to at least 3 other bars in Stowe..... So we left...but came back 3.5 hours later.
By the time we came back, it was around 9 pm, so it was a lot emptier than it was before, but now we heard some people laughing in the back of the restaurant-- another bar? When we were there the first time we just went straight to the bar right in front of us with the wood-fired oven. We never even noticed a bigger bar in the back with more seats, TVs, and a giant copper board with all the taps written down. Needless to say- we planted ourselves down and then furiously scoured the menu for those heavenly fries that smelled so good. Duck Fat Fries. DUCK FAT FRIES! Hand cut fries cooked in the fat of a duck, with rosemary and sriracha salt- YES PLEASE! Let me tell ya, when you have been drinking all night, this is exactly what everyone craves. I inhaled them, to put it lightly, and halfway through I asked for some ranch dressing on the side because I was getting so thirsty (and drank way too much of everything at that point already.) Whenever I come back to Stowe, I have to come to The Bench to get some duck fat fries, and I always ask for a side of ranch, as you should too. I find it's such a good idea to keep your comfort food simple but with adding a little twist. Even though I always have the duck fat fries, they have exactly what you would expect for comfort food, but with a delicious twist. Nachos, wings, duck, sandwiches, spaghetti, eggplant parmesan, and pizza.... but all cooked in a wood-fired oven. And that makes a big difference towards the taste of the food, smokey and complex. Plus I'm sure it's more of an experience, an 'artistic dance' for the chef rather than just plopping it in a conventional oven. I always prefer using wood for cooking or even for aging a spirit- I love my bourbon after all. I'm not sure what kind of wood they use for their oven; hickory, maple, cedar, or applewood- whatever it is, it tastes delicious.
If you're looking for an authentic Vermont experience, great comfort food, cool vibes, and to drink your way through Vermont? If so, then hed to The Bench, in Stowe, VT and plant yourself at the bar with the copper board tap list, you will not be disappointed.
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