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Bearded Frog in Shelburne VT

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The new restaurant run by the same guy who established the Black Sheep Bistro in Vergennes is called "The Bearded Frog", located 20 miles north in Shelburne VT (just south of Burlington). It's been open a couple months, and tonite was our first visit. We've heard that this place has good food and that service was a little rough, and our experience confirmed exactly that. We had hoped that waiting a couple months for the restaurant to work out the "kinks", but apparently there's still some training issues that need to be addressed, judging from our experience.

It was a pretty mixed bag: mostly very good food, very mediocre, sometimes amateurish service, nice atmosphere with lots of hard wood flooring, bench style hardwood seating...

...and all of it ruined by a waitress who wasn't smart enough to do something about a sub-standard main entree (overcooked Delmonico steak), and the coup de grace, a SHRIEKING 2 year old seated next to us at the very-close-quarters next table. About halfway thru our dinner, we heard that little monster shrieking in the bar....THE BAR, no less!...and when the waitstaff brought out the high chair and put it at the end of the table next to us, literally 3 feet away from our table, I told my wife, let's get the heck out of here. And we did.

The menu is the same reasonably priced offering of $6 soups/salads, $8 apps, $12 small entrees, $16 larger entrees, and $22 steaks.

The wine list was good and reasonably priced (pricing tiers $20, $30, $40 and $50), I ordered one from the $50 list, a very good Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Cote de Beaune.

Unfortunately, even though it was early (6PM on a Sunday nite), the restaurant was not crowded and there was lots of help standing around with little to do, the bottle of wine arrived rather late, almost simultaneously with the apps. I guess I'll never understand why a customer who orders an upscale bottle of wine doesn't get it prioritized over the meal. Obviously the waitress was a rookie.

My wife ordered a grilled asparagus and white bean salad, it was very tasty. I had a summer tomato salad, which arrived with fresh baby mozzarella and basil, again very tasty, though the menu obviously made the assumption that every patron will automatically assume that a "summer tomato salad" will come with mozz and basil...even though the menu makes no mention of the mozz and basil.

My wife's main dish was fennel-dusted grilled salmon with pureed cauliflower and ginger-flavored plums. My wife passed on the plums because of the added sugar (she's diabetic), and they gave her a bok choy veggie substitute. She really liked her dish, cooked perfectly.

I ordered a wild-mushroom demi-glace Delmonico steak, medium rare, with horseradish potatos au gratin, and baby grilled asparagus. The au gratin was wonderful, the asparagus was surprisingly tasteless. But the real problem was the Delmonico. It came out medium and tougher than I expected, and it had also been allowed to sit a little too long, it wasn't especially hot.

About 5 minutes after serving it, the waitress asked how everything was. Clue number 2 that the waitress was a rookie came when I showed her the overcooked steak, and she said "I'm sorry. I'll inform the kitchen." And that's the last time she said or did anything about the steak. There was no offer to have another one prepared, there was no adjustment to the bill, there was no one from the kitchen who cared enough to come out and talk with the customer. There was simply no further response.

So when the shrieking little 2 year old was seated next to me, I asked for the bill. I normally tip 20%, but when service is bad, I generally view it as a learning lesson for the waitstaff. So a $113 tab merited the rookie waitress a $5 tip, with a note expressing my disappointment written on the top of the bill. And I am not the least bit apologetic about leaving such a miserable tip, so save your breath if you want to scold me. I don't want to hear it. I never blame the waitstaff for overcooked food, and I never leave a bad tip when the kitchen screws up a meal.

I DO hold the waitstaff directly accountable when they ask "how was your meal" and don't really intend to do ANYTHING to address a customer with a problematic meal. Train that waitress properly to serve customers, and the tip tonite would have been $22, not $5.

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  1. Yes it's only been open for a few months and their working out the kinks?
    So why is it their fault that the screaming kid was there?
    Did you complain about anything? Ask to speak to management?

    2 Replies
    1. re: RichK

      Did I complain about anything to the waitress, you ask?

      Perhaps if you go back to paragraph 10, you'll note:

      <<I showed her the overcooked steak, and she said "I'm sorry. I'll inform the kitchen." And that's the last time she said or did anything about the steak. There was no offer to have another one prepared, there was no adjustment to the bill, there was no one from the kitchen who cared enough to come out and talk with the customer. There was simply no further response.>>

      Perhaps it's okay in your book that a waitress and a restaurant fails to do ANYTHING about a meal and a customer complaint. It's not okay where I come from. So yes, that waitress paid a financial price for failing to do her job properly.

      As for the shrieking kid, I did indeed ask the hostess if the high chair she was setting out next to me was intended for the child who could be heard all the way across the restaurant screaming his lungs out in the bar. She was very embarrassed and admitted that was exactly the case. And _that's_ when I decided we'd had quite enough.

      1. re: signothetimes53

        I'll ask again, did you ask to speak to the management?
        It's obvious you did not.

    2. Perhaps the rookie server did notify the autjorities and they failed to act accordingly. Then the server did not warrant a $5 tip after all.

      1 Reply
      1. re: trufflehound

        That's certainly possible.

        However, any experienced waitstaff who knows a customer has a problem will find a way to reconcile it one way or another. A rookie encounters a problem and often hopes that by ignoring it the problem will simply go away.

        This waitress noted my complaint and never said another word to me. At minimum, upon presentation of the bill, some sort of words to the effect of "I'm sorry your experience here wasn't perfect, I want you to know I indeed passed your concerns on to the manager" were in order. With diplomatic words like that, she would in effect be telling me that the manager did nothing, and that she did her job. I would have appreciated that sort of acknowledgement, and she would have received a better tip.

        Experienced waitstaff understand how to communicate to the customer in diplomatic ways that they did their job, and that somebody else dropped the ball. Garner enough $5 tips, and that waitress last nite will figure out she's being ineffective at customer service, and will attempt to improve her skills if the management doesn't intervene first. I simply don't buy the argument that waitstaff must always be paid 15 to 20% tip regardless of the quality of service they offer.

      2. I don't buy that argument either, but I think you should have asked to speak to the manager to air your very legitimate complaint about your steak. Sure, the waitress was pretty inept, but you don't know what kind of training she got.

        Regarding the kid, I would've asked to be seated elsewhere. . . ironically, we ate at The Bearded Frog early this summer and were informed somewhat apologetically by the host that there was a loud party going on in the bar (quite audible at the table to which we were being assigned). So I just asked if we could be seated out on the porch instead, and the problem was solved!

        3 Replies
        1. re: phoebek

          ...and how was the food?

          1. re: erin mom

            The food was good - not knock your socks off caliber, but tasty and well presented, except for (IIRC) some weird pancakey things they served with the duck I had. I don't remember how they were described on the menu, but they certainly weren't what I expected. I think the highlight of the meal was the corn chowder. My recollection was also that the service was amateur, at best. Both people who waited on our table were friendly and earnest, but neither seemed to have a clue about professional service. I think management is at fault here.

          2. re: phoebek

            in this case it wouldn't have worked, they were already seated and the child was being brought to where they were.

          3. Inept service is a Vermont standard. I would advise the vast majority of so called "professionals" to spend some time in a marketplace such as NYC where waitstaff depend on tips for survival not just to put gas in the Volvo their parents bought them. I managed restaurants in both markets and can attest to the sad state of service in Vermont. There are exceptions: The Kitchen Table, Trattoria Delia, L'Amante to name a few. This is a reflection on the owners (all three establishments are truly owner operated, not absentee run). It amazes me how may restaurants serve $75 and up bottles of wine in .99 Libbey glassware. Tell the waitress form the Bearded Frog that Applebee's is hiring................

            5 Replies
            1. re: TonyO

              My experience has been completely the opposite. Maybe at the ski resorts and the more touristy places it's like that, but the wait staff I've met and interacted with over the last 2 years has been anything but. Most are career waiters/waitresses and very professional. Granted I don't eat at the chain restaurants or the ski resort/tourist places, so my experience has been directly with the owner-operated establishments, which like you said, have more of a hands-on approach.

              On the other hand, I would be a lot more vocal and demanding of better service if I was spending a lot of money. There's really no excuse for bad service, but especially not bad service that you've just paid over $100 for.

              1. re: TonyO

                There are some other excellent restaurants in southern VT that have very good waitstaffs, i.e. Inn at the Sawmill Farm, Deerhill Inn both in West Dover and Pangea in North Bennington.
                These are not chains but owner-operated, on the premises.
                I suggest you try these and your opinion of VT restaurants (and waitstaffs) will change.

                1. re: RichK

                  I think my post was a little rambly and unclear. I've had very good service (with the exception of Oona's in Bellows Falls), especially in the higher priced restaurants. And I surmised that the reason why was because I stayed away from the ski resorts/tourist spots.

                  1. re: RichK

                    Brill Williams runs a tight ship at the Inn at Sawmill! The chef at Taste of Burlington told me that he appenticed there in his early carreer- I haven't been there (The Inn) in several years but it was always stellar! The service is indeed wonderful.

                  2. re: TonyO

                    I have been in VT 4 years and previously lived in NYC for 4 years and before that Chicago for 7. Waitstaff in VT, in general is a lot nicer, more accomodating and goes the extra distance far more often than my experiences in NYC. In NYC my experience was more often, "Are you really going to bother me again?" No waitstaff in VT is not impeccable but it rarely was in Chicago and with the exception of one restaurant wasn't in NYC either. For impeccable, I go to Europe. Tips regardless of how much you depend on them do not make for good service.

                    As for the OP, I would have asked to be moved from the screaming baby rather than being passive agressive about it. And then I would have handed her the plate to take it back to the kitchen rather than just showing her. While you have legitimate complaints, you seem to have recognized early on she was novice waitstaff so rather than expecting her to have esp you should have just been a little more direct.

                  3. I agree about the nicer part, but as far as the Steps of Service, there is a vast difference. In defense of Vermont, this is a much more casual environment but sometimes the Bohemian lifestyle is better suited for selling bongs and hemp sweaters rather than working in restaurants. I guess it makes you appreciate attentive service more when it is the exception rather than the norm. You can usually tell if your waitperson is either from another area or has worked elsewhere as they will have a better sense of proper service. I'm not talking about over the top attitude and snobbishness which is not my choice but simple things like proper glassware, wine presentation, menu knowledge, flatware replacement between courses, etc. some of which are more of the owner/management's responsibility than that of the servers.

                    1. We are from Vergennes and have eaten at the Black Sheep Bistro on a number of occasions, so we tried Bearded Frog to celebrate a couple of birthdays on November 18th. The first irritating thing was we were placed at a table where everyone had to walk by us to whereever hey were going. We asked to be moved but could not be accomodated. We ordered cocktails after we were seated and the waitress delivered them one at a time to the table even though we were less than a couple of feet from the bar window where she picked up the drinks. Our waitress never introduced herself and was not familar with the menu or ingredients of dishes. Never asked once thru our stay how the food was or if everything was o.k. My husbands delmonico was over done and luke warm at best. The restaurant was so loud you could not enjoy your dinner or conversation with friends, we might as well have eaten in a bar. We will not go back, and will not revisit the Bistro as well. We figured that one or both restaurants would suffer, and perhaps they have.

                      1. There are some of the examples of poor service that seem somewhat common in VT. No reflection on the personality of the server but just an absence of proper service in general.

                        1. For anyone who is interested I dined at The Bearded Frog this evening, about a year later. It appears, at least from my experience, that they have worked out the kinks. The atmosphere was great, the service was solid, the wine was delicious, and the food almost could not have been done more perfect. I would definitly recommend it to anyone looking to dine a little outside the Burlington area!

                          1. We finally got out for one night on our anniversary as we have 2 little kids and I was pregnant with our 3rd---made a reservation for the Bearded Frog many nights before---and when we got there they didn't have our reservation--So after waiting for 10 or so minutes they seated us---in the bar section in a booth. Well I suppose it was okay but we would have liked to go to the nice area where we were supposed to. They did nothing to apologize for that. Then we had many problems also--as with you my husbands steak was overcooked and we informed the waiter---he said he was sorry--that's all--did nothing to correct it. It took the waiter forever to return to us always---I had no drink refills etc. Then we overheard the women next to us have a problem with their cheap hamburger and the same waiter came back to them apologizing and he told them that both their meals were on the house! Well we were annoyed to---the whole time there was annoying--impolite waitstaff and really nobody that new much in the ways of proper service. We were both very disappointed --we called to complain. When we finally got a call back the person told us to come again and something about calling him if we wanted to make another reservation---Well as I said we get out very little--once a year or so and if they really wanted to have any bit of good customer service he would have quickly just sent us a gift certificate to lure us to come back. Now it is our anniversary again and my husband wants to try it again but I have a bitter taste in my mouth after the experience. So I understand the $5 tip---we should have been so strong!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: zakliane

                              Don't waste a night out on a "hit or miss" establishment (with 5 children, our nights out are limited so it is extrememly annoying to have your time/money taken for granted). My experiences point towards the following for nearly never fail execution of food preparation and service:

                              Trattoria Delia - Burlington
                              Kitchen Table Bistro - Richmond
                              L'Amante - Burlington
                              Christophe's - Vergennes

                              All four are owned and OPERATED by husband and wife teams that sincerely care about their reputation. Granted, things can go wrong, but I would be shocked if any of these places dropped the ball the way the Bearded Frog did.

                              1. re: TonyO

                                Alas, as noted elsewhere, Christophe's has closed permanently. It was a great restaurant.

                                1. re: signothetimes53

                                  That is a shame. As long as there are lines out the door of Chili's (who are these people ????) this type of culinary loss will continue. It is a nice spot, hopefully someone else will give it a shot (preferably not Applebee's and their $12.99 three course mess).........

                                2. re: TonyO

                                  I agree with Tony O's burlington area pics, in addition I would also choose Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, which is superb. If you are going to spend the $$ and want something truly unique... try the culinary theater at the inn at essex.. an intimate opportunity to have a fabulous night out and meet some new people. This month there is a great new england themed dinner with a chef guided snowshoe expedition after dinner. How romantic!