Until now, at least. A few months ago, Vine Brook Tavern opened right in the center of town, and I feel like I've found my local watering hole AND a place I can firmly recommend to friends and guests. I've been a few times already, each in very different circumstances (once for a drink and appetizers, once for a more casual family-like dinner, and once for a finer evening out), and I've only seen the quality of everything improve over time. The building, which has housed a few Italian chain restaurants in it's last few iterations, has been cleaned up a lot, and it really fits in with the historical look of the town now. I'd call the design contemporary colonial, with lots of wood and iron and muted colors. And yet, it still feels inviting! The only thing missing is a fireplace to have a drink next to.
First off: the drinks. There is some fine cocktail work happening here! The fig sidecar (with fig-infused Bulleit bourbon) is something I dream of, and the Bee's Knees is perfectly sweet. And these drinks aren't wimpy, either!
Another appetizer you have to try: the cauliflower steak ($8). Personally, I love cauliflower and would eat it any day of the week, but I know most people aren't quite so excited by it. Even our waiter said he wasn't a fan of cauliflower, but he strongly recommended we try this dish. It's a wonderful presentation of crispy roasted cauliflower with plenty of garlic and capers. I love the idea of starting a meal not with a salad, but with a cooked veggie!
The entrees are equally delicious and hearty. My steak frites ($23, which I ordered with sweet potato fries instead of regular, and you should too) were perfectly cooked, and the fries were tossed with arugula, parmesan, and garlic, which wilted the greens slightly. Oh so good! The roasted salmon ($22) was also clearly cooked with expertise and was served with crispy root veggies and a bright beet sauce.
I didn't have high hopes for dessert, which was OK , because I was plenty full. But when our order of apple and pear crisp came out, piping hot, with a pile of melty vanilla ice cream on top, I suddenly found myself willing to eat some more. The fruit was still chunky, not cooked down to mush, and the topping was loaded with oats and was nice and crunchy. What a way to end a meal!
Like I said, I am so happy to have a place like Vine Brook Tavern open in my hometown. We sorely needed something of this quality, and I know I'll be back. Chef Chris Frothingham (who has previously worked at Sel de la Terre, Bonfire, and Kingfish Hall) is doing great stuff with fresh and seasonal items while maintaining a varied menu that can appeal to a wide variety of diners. I can't wait to see what he comes up with when all the local produce comes in during the summer!
Full disclosure note: one of my three visits was paid for by the restaurant.