The Cider House - Waterbury, VT My experience
I read about The Cider House (http://www.ciderhousevt.com/) here on Thursday last. I looked over their web site and decided to get some take out for dinner that night to give it a go as we're very fond of smoked and grilled food.
I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with hushpuppies and macaroni and cheese as the sides ($8.95) and a brisket sandwich with hushpuppies and cheese grits as the sides (also $8.95). I called in the order early, and asked them to have it ready by about twenty minutes after I'd called.
When I arrived they'd only just brought it out of the kitchen, ready to go, which was very nice. It wasn't even five PM yet, so the place was mostly empty. I took a look around and liked what I saw an awful lot. There are two dining rooms, and a game room with a pool table and darts. There's a nice bar and seating area next to a fireplace, but there was some sort of heater or something stuck in the fireplace, so I don't know if it is functional during the winter months. They also have a very nice deck with great views. Everything was clean, neat, and set up for the dinner service, and the decor had sort of an upscale rustic feel. I'm looking forward to going back there for dinner at some point. In fact, I'm trying to get the woman who does trivia a couple times a month at local establishments to approach them to do trivia there (since she just lost one of her clients due to a change in management). That would be SUCH a better place for trivia compared to the place she lost and I'd drive the extra miles. :) Anyway, to the food.
The hushpuppies were too big, maybe the size of a small plum or pluot (my husband and the other foodie couple we know all agreed that was too big for a hushpuppy), which gives a poor ratio of outside crunch to inside yum, but for all that, they were well-cooked all the way through and not dry. The batter had a very nice spice to it, not too hot but not bland (too many restaurants in Vermont tend to do bland hushpuppies, WHY won't they just put onion in their hushpuppies? Oh the humanities...). The odd thing about them was that there was a light shake of powdered sugar on the outside of them. They -so- do not need that and I've never ever heard of sugared hushpuppies. Next time I order them I'll be very specific about no sugar on top please.
The macaroni and cheese was the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had, and I've had some great mac and cheese. It is even better than my own, better than my -Mom's- homemade mac and cheese. They make it with local Grafton cheddar and rotelli, it was creamy, cheesy, and delicious. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
The cheese grits were good but would benefit from some sort of kick added to them. I usually put a touch of chipotle powder in mine, and I think that adds a nice smokey touch without being too hot. Still they were good and I wouldn't hesitate in ordering them again.
The pulled pork had a luscious mouth feel, it was tender, tasty, and well-cooked. However, I could not detect any hint of smokey flavor. IF they smoked it before pulling it, I have to say they may as well not have because it didn't add anything. I smoke meats myself at home, and I don't see how they could possibly have smoked the pork I had and have it come out of the pit with so little smokey taste. I don't know what to make of this and I was thinking of calling them to ask about it, but I wasn't sure what I'd say. They serve it with some BBQ sauce that had an initial sweet taste on the first bite, but a slow heat the built up as you worked through the sandwich, and it was less sweet towards the end. I'm not a big fan of sweet sauces, but this still had a nice flavor and I wouldn't refuse it in the future. The bun was nothing spectacular but that's fine with me, I'm looking for good meat and sauce, the bun is almost unnecessary for me (in fact, I often eschew it entirely).
The brisket also had a luscious mouth feel and was well-cooked/tender. The beef had a good flavor, but, like the pulled pork, I couldn't detect any smokey taste. There was no smoke ring on the slices of meat. It had the same sauce and bun as the pulled pork.
Both sandwiches were good, but they didn't taste smoked. I could possibly see that maybe the pork we got was from the center of the butt or shoulder or whatever it was they smoked, and maybe didn't have a lot of rich smokey flavor, but with brisket, there's no such a thing as that. The lack of any hint of a smoke ring on the brisket was worrisome. I'm hoping this was just a one-off, or there was some other thing that happened that caused this lack of smokey taste. I'm willing to cut them some slack on it. :)
All the portions were adequate, though I'd have wanted larger portions of mac and cheese just 'cos it's so nummy. For $8.95, it'd make a good lunch. If you'd had starters with it at dinner time, the portions would have been plenty, as well. As it was, I only ate about half of mine for dinner that night, then took the rest in for lunch the next day (sans the soggy bun) and it reheated very nicely, but that was because I'd had a late and filling lunch and we had an early dinner.
Overall I think this place is absolutely worth the money spent there and I will be going back to sample more of their menu, maybe even for a dinner service. I truly hope we can get our friend to start doing a question derby/trivia night there on a Weds night once a month. THAT would rock. :)
Oh, forgot to make one point, the menu does -not- say that the meats on the sandwiches are smoked. I had just assumed they would be based on the other items on the menu, so it could be they never intended them to be smoked.
Asked a couple of friends who grew up and went to college in Louisiana and neither of them had ever heard of sugar on hushpuppies. In my mind, if it's a sweet "hushpuppy" it's not a hushpuppy, it's a donut or a fritter, but it could totally be a regional thing. What do *I* know? I grew up in the midwest. :)
I have eaten at the Cider House a few times and agree with your points. I do not believe they use a smoker (based on the same observations as Morganna and the fact that I did not detect any smokey aroma in the building). That being said, I think the food is well done. However, I seems like the meat is microwaved before serving as it was so hot it was steaming (other then a microwave, I have never seen sliced meat this hot). Their BBQ sauce is tasty, the sides (commercial but very good fries, greens, and potato salad) were all good. They were experimenting with changing from a roll (homemade and very good) to bread (homemade, similar to a good quality thick sliced white bread, a step in the wrong direction I thought). My initial stop was right after the opened and I told the owners about Chowhound and they seemed interested in feedback. I think if their business becomes steadier, the food will further improve. I did not have any hush puppies but can say that adding sugar is not a Vermont/New England thing as you rarely see hush puppies here !
I got a very nice reply from one of the owners to my email, and he didn't say a flat out "no" to the trivia suggestion, so I hooked him up with our trivia goddess to see if they'd be able to work things out. Dunno what'll come of that.
His response about the meat was that they smoke all their meats, and he was very surprised I couldn't see a smoke ring, and invited me to speak with their chef next time I'm in so she can talk to me about how their foods are prepared.
So I'm reserving judgment on the whole "smoked/not smoked" thing until I can do a broader sampling of the menu. The sacrifices I make for the scientific method. ;)