Misery Loves Co. (Winooski, VT)

Well, after a foray to South Burlington for beer and food trucks, we still found ourselves hungry for a little dinner, so we ended up heading up to Winooski. There’s a lot to like about Winooski: despite being a fairly small town (around 1.5 square miles), it has a surprisingly good restaurant scene. In particularly, Sneakers has been reliable for us for years, and quite a few Asian places have sprung up, including Pho Dong and Dharsan Namaste (neither of which I’ve reviewed yet, but keep tuning in…). But this time, we opted to try another place that’s reliably been getting some good word of mouth: Misery Loves Co.

Stepping inside of Misery, it’s immediately one of those places that I really love: one side of the restaurant is dedicated to a fairly vibrant bar scene, with a rather nice list of custom cocktails and some great beers (including some of the excellent beers from nearby Four Quarters Brewing). The other side of the restaurant focuses on an open kitchen, with several bar stools seated looking right at the main kitchen stations. Luckily, two of those seats were available, so we got to sit down and start perusing the menu while watching the kitchen staff work.

Misery is the brainchild of chefs Nathaniel Wade and Aaron Josinsky (formerly from Shelburne Farms and Bluebird Tavern, respectively), who have opened a modest bistro focusing on American food made with fresh, local ingredients. And they do it with a combination of approaches: half of their menu is small plates, so you can get a variety of items… but they also have a series of “meat and threes” (meat with three sides, one of the thing I loved about many places when I lived in the South). After a bit of discussion with the staff, we ended up getting the fried chicken (which has gotten several rave reviews from the local papers), with sides of pappardelle, malted beet salad, and some roasted cauliflower.

While we watched the kitchen start on our chicken (fired to order), we relaxed with a round of cocktails. I opted for the Quinella (Bourbon, Cynar, basil lemonade, and cava), which was a particularly pleasing combination of tart and bitter (and I have to love a place that used Cynar, it’s one of my favorite Italian aperitifs). Carol opted for the MLC Margarita, a nice variation on a standard margarita with tequila, lime, egg white, smoked agave and salt, giving a cocktail with a surprisingly nice texture and a smoky tinge. We thought this was a great start to things.

Then, the sides started to arrive. Despite actually liking many forms of beets, I’m starting to feel that beets are getting a bit too trendy and overdone, but here, the resulting dish was a pleasant combination of lightly pickled beets in a soft dressing that really focused on the beets while adding a light acid tang. The result was pleasing.

The roasted cauliflower was also a nice side dish, with a very nice combination of roasted cauliflower heads and fresh greens in a light vinaigrette that made for a nice counterpoint of the chicken. Nothing terribly unusual, but a good overall rendition of grilled greens.

But the real star of the sides was the Pappardelle. It’s a regular item on their menu, although they regularly mix up the seasonal ingredients used to finish the dish. We arrived during the tail end of corn season, so it had fresh corn, house made ricotta, and a pleasant white sauce, all folded nicely between layers of perfectly al dente pappardelle pasta. Pappardelle usually disappoints me (the wide, broad sheets make it a lot more sensitive to over- and under-cooking than most pasta), but here it was a solid winner: nice texture, a pleasant combination of flavors, and it was quite filling without being too heavy.

The fried chicken then arrived, and it was no slouch, either. While not that long ago, good fried chicken was starting to become a thing of the past, several places have done a great job rediscovering this classic (like the excellent product down the road at Farm House). And I have to say, their fried chicken is amongst my favorites in the area (oh, please, please don’t make me choose between this and the wonderful chicken of Worthy Kitchen!). Everything was working well here: the chicken is freshly made to order from some excellent local birds. The breading complements the chicken instead of hiding it, with a light and crispy coating that also seals in all the juiciness. And just enough herbs and spices in the breading to give it a bit of kick, this is some seriously good fried chicken, and I’m glad it’s a standard menu item for them (although I wasn’t enamored with the honey mustard sauce it was served with, which was a bit overpowering).

Dessert was chocolate pudding. It’s usually one of those sorts of dishes I avoid getting (from a childhood of too many Snack Packs[tm] and Jello pudding cooked up with a thick skin on it), but after seeing an order go out to another table, we had to order one: a very pleasant thick, rich and creamy chocolate pudding, with a crumb topping and a nice dollop of freshly whipped cream, this was exactly what most of the pudding of my youth wasn’t: a rich but not overpowering chocolate experience.

Overall, Misery Loves Co. turned out to be a most excellent choice for dinner: the food was excellent, the portions reasonable, the prices good, and the service excellent. From straight up fare (fried chicken), to some bold cocktails, and some great desserts, there are more than a few reasons for us to come back.

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