Hen of the Wood Celebrates a Special Vermont Anniversary
by jessica bowne PhotograPhy by jessica anderson| November 19, 2014 |
Food & Drink
Hen of the Wood’s second Vermont location celebrates its first anniversary by reaffirming its commitment to local ingredients.
Chioggia beets with hazelnuts, feta, and currants.
Let’s set the scene: It’s a cool evening. Two excited diners head to the romantic Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont, for a reservation made six weeks ago. There they are told that they actually made their reservation at the Burlington location—30 miles away. What to do? For devotees of executive chef and co-owner Eric Warnstedt’s two restaurants, there’s only one logical answer: Hop in the car and drive like mad.
It is no small task to open a restaurant with a cult following (many drive a half day from Boston), but to do it twice? In Vermont? After he and partner Will McNeil unveiled the first Hen of the Wood in a 250-year-old mill in Waterbury in 2005, Warnstedt took the leap and opened a 95-seat Burlington outpost—celebrating its first anniversary this winter—at the new Hotel Vermont. Warnstedt’s reputation in the food community, with favorable reviews from Food & Wine, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times, was cemented when the James Beard Foundation named him a finalist for the title “Best Chef in the Northeast” in 2014, but opening in Burlington was a reflection of the city’s sophistication.
The restaurant’s rustic dining room.
“When I met with one of the owners of the then soon-to-be-built Hotel Vermont, everything just felt right,” says Warnstedt. “We had the same vision of Burlington: one foot in the past and what makes the roots so special, and another foot in the future with the vision of running a business in a socially responsible way.”
Warnstedt worked with architect Scott Kester to blend the character of a rustic barn with a modern Danish aesthetic to give the space a cozy “I just stumbled upon this secret spot” feel. “We used vintage windows and doors sourced from locally salvaged buildings, and rough-sawn pine straight from the mill for the ceiling coffers,” says Kester. “Even though it’s a new restaurant, we hope that when crossing our threshold, you feel like you’re visiting an old cabin to relax.”
Grilled octopus with scallions, sunchokes, and ginger.
Warnstedt bounces between the two locations (although each has its own chef de cuisine) and has created a completely local menu, with ingredients for both restaurants coming from farms such as the solar-and wind-powered Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield and Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro. The menu can change daily, with recent standouts including a starter of Mayflower Point oysters with a bright mignonette that complements the shellfish’s briny flavor, followed by wood fire–grilled octopus with sunchokes, scallions, and ginger.
While the Burlington location has more small plates, the mains also shine, like crispy rabbit leg with buttered celery root, parsnips, and cranberries, and brown butter crêpes with tender chanterelles, house ricotta, and winter squash. At the 15-seat bar (located under a chandelier designed by Kester), mixologist Christopher Maloney puts his own spin on classic cocktails like the apple daiquiri. Dessert, deftly handled by pastry chef Andrew LeStourgeon, isn’t just the end to the meal but an exclamation point, whether in the form of homemade lavender ice cream, almond sponge cake, or local maple fudge.
The kitchen of Hen of the Wood.
“Writing menus from the ‘global pantry’ is just too easy and creates no sense of place,” says Warnstedt. “We stray every so often for some fun items, but the core is 100 percent local.” Local enough for diners near and far to call Hen of the Wood their destination spot. 55 Cherry St., Burlington, VT, 802-540-0534