Fox and Harrow (Royalton, VT)

(Note: As noted below, Fox and Harrow has been closed for exactly a year, and is now Roma’s Butchery)

Well, as I’m writing this, we’ve hit a bit of a sad milestone… Exactly a year ago, the whole pandemic was looming large on the horizon, and recent case rates both nationally and regionally were starting to skyrocket, and events were getting canceled or postponed left and right. With some trepidation, a group of friends had decided that while we were a bit concerned, we had planned for a Friday night outing for dinner in Vermont. With a stop at Upper Pass for a pre-dinner beer, we then met up with friends at for a late dinner at Fox and Harrow. We didn’t know it at the time, but that dinner, where the topic of Covid-19 came up several times in the conversation, was going to be our last “normal” restaurant outing with friends for over a year. When we left that night, little did we know that, within days, indoor dining in both VT and NH would be closed, and that several of the restaurants we know and like, would never reopen. Indeed, our group was one of very last covers at Fox and Harrow; their temporary Covid closure that weekend became permanent in early June when chef Eric Hartling announced that he was stepping away.

It’s always a bit weird that when the various delays involved in writing up my restaurant reviews result in my having a review written for a place that, after my visit but before the review posts, ends up closing… With a usual delay of 2 months or so between a visit and a review, this isn’t the first time it has happened, indeed, you end up with these odd sorts of reviews that are like flies trapped in amber, referring to a place that my readers could never go. Indeed, in a bit of irony, my review of the previous restaurant to inhabit this space, Wild Roots, fell to exactly this fate, closing two weeks after a rather pleasant dinner I had. My usual policy is to forego these reviews in favor of working on my backlog, but in this case, I thought I’d share the review in a bit of an ode to what pre-pandemic dining was, and what we hope it will soon be again… So without further ado…

We generally like the occasional dinner outing to central Vermont, especially around the Royalton and Randolph areas. The area includes several of our favorite restaurants, both ones I’ve reviewed (such as Worthy Burger and Black Krim), and ones I haven’t yet (I particularly like Randolph’s Cockadoodle Pizza), and usually make it a good excuse for a nice evening with friends. In this case, a Friday night dinner at Fox and Harrow, that had opened a little less than a year before. The location, North Royalton’s old Fox Stand Inn, has always been a pleasant enough location for dinner, with an old converted Vermont roadside inn, but it seems to have always had a bit of hard luck, with the last two incarnations, the Fox Stand Tavern and Wild Roots, generally being well-received by diners but having financial difficulties. The dining room is split into a cozy dining room and a combined bar/second dining room, but it’s well lit, airy, and quite a pleasant space.

One of the attractions of Fox and Harrow is that they were working on having a good cocktail program; one place where rural VT and NH have seemed to lag behind is having good craft cocktails, and Fox and Harrows’ offerings were a refreshing addition. I particularly liked my cocktail, the Spring Break, with Hendrick’s Gin, Campari, Raspberry-rosemary shrub, St Germain, and lemon. The rosemary shrub was the star here, adding a soft but tangy rosemary note to the drink. The resulting cocktail was a nice combination of subtle herbal and fruit notes, and encourages me to work on some more shrubs.

Moving into the appetizers, we started with a few orders of apps for the table (post-pandemic editorial comment: remember “sharing appetizers”?). The first standout items was the bacon and mushroom toast: grilled sourdough, topped with bacon jam, mushrooms, and Jasper Hill blue cheese. A simple dish, but the execution was flawless: a nice, crusty and toothsome sourdough, perfectly grilled. The bacon jam and blue cheese accented the mushroom woodiness without overwhelming it, and the result was a nice appetizer where every bite had both perfect flavor and texture. I’d love to have this again.

Next up was a roasted beet appetizer: roasted Golden and red Beets with quinoa candy, pistachios, radish, and balsamic vinegar. Although still a bit in recovery from the mid ’00s fascination with beet and goat cheese salads, I’m starting to encounter quite a few pleasant beet dishes that are well composed, and this was a particularly good example: the beets were roasted perfectly and tender, the quinoa and pistachios adding some nuttiness that complemented the roasted flavor of the beers, and the radish and balsamic adding some bite. This dish encourages me to play around with golden beets some more.

Moving into our main course, I opted for the hanger steak. This is another of those dishes that’s conceptually simple, relying entirely on good execution, and the result here was flawless: a perfectly-cooked piece of hanger steak, with a crispy char on the outside and a tender, just-barely-medium rare on the inside, the stead itself was solid. The scape chimichurri added a nice herbal tang without covering up the steak itself, and both the fingerling potatoes and carrots served up with it rounded out the plate nicely.

Carol opted for what had been my second choice on the menu, the bucatini and bolognese. Bucatini is always one of my favorite pastas, albeit one that’s surprisingly difficult to get to the perfect al dente state. Fox and Harrow delivered, along with a rich and meaty bolognese that perfectly coated the pasta. This was probably the best pasta dish I sampled in 2020.

Rounding out the meal was a dessert of chocolate ice cream, garnished with more of the quinoa candy used in the earlier beat dish, and some fresh blackberries, and I really enjoyed this combination as a way to round out the dinner: a not-too-sweet chocolate ice cream complemented by the crunch of the quinoa and the slightly astringent blackberries, this was a nice, lighter dessert.

Overall, I really enjoyed our visit to Fox and Harrow, and it remains a pleasant but bittersweet memory of our last good dinner outing to an actual restaurant with friends, enjoying shared food and cocktails with friends. I’m greatly saddened that Fox and Harrow wasn’t able to reopen, and hope that chef Eric Hartling is doing well and can eventually return to fine dining once things return to the “new normal”. As I’m writing this, vaccinations are starting to roll out, and dining and travel restrictions are starting to lessen again, so hopefully we’ll all soon be able to enjoy a dinner such as this.

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