Bent Hill (Braintree, VT)

One of the bigger pieces of news I had gotten on the local dining scene last summer was that Bent Hill Brewery was now serving food. I’ve always liked that brewery, and was actually a bit surprised by the announcement: the last time I had visited Bent Hill in person (in 2014), they had recently expanded to all of approximately 24′ square. Well, apparently they’ve kept expanding; I regularly encounter their beer all over Vermont, and now they’ve got not only a larger brewery, but a full tap room that this summer started serving food. All summer it was on our hit list, and finally, in early September, we were able to meet up with our friends Rick and Sarah for a nice dinner as we enjoyed the fall foliage.

Arriving at the brewery, it was neat to see all of the expansion work; the older brewery site is practically buried under all the other buildings now, the brewery is now a ~700 barrel a year operation. And the real attraction is the new tap room and kitchen: inside, there’s a small indoor dining area and the taproom itself, while two side of the building are an expansive outdoor covered deck with a combination of tables and couches.

It’s first-come-first-served, which during foliage season meant a short wait at 4pm for a table, but we were soon seated and enjoying our first round of beers while figuring out what to eat. The beers remain one of the attractions here; my visit back in 2014 involved watching owner Michael Czok toast coconut bits for a batch of their coconut porter. They still occasionally make that porter, but on our visit, the attractions were their Cat Sunflower double IPA, 10th Planet (a sour IPA), and A Light in Dark Places (a bourbon-barrel-aged version of their coconut porter with sea salt and caramel). Our first few beers came served up by a familiar face: front-of-house manager Chelsie, who we knew from her several years of working at Worthy Burger.

In an notable change from Worthy Burger, the menu at Bent Hill is all vegetarian, and I’ll have to say, they bring their A game to the table, with a very good array of seasonable dishes focusing on local ingredient. Our meal started off with a handful of appetizers for the family, starting with a very generous plate of Brussels sprout tossed with fried shallots and a light lemon-and-garlic aioli. This was how sprouts are supposed to be: tender but still toothy, a bit of crisping from the cooking, and nicely complemented by the crunch of the shallots and the tang of the aioli.

Next up: the “Grit Sticks”, which were basically breaded and fried polenta served up with some marinara for dipping. I love deep-fried polenta, but getting it right requires some skill to get the polenta itself soft and warm while having a good, crisp breading, and Bent Hill nails these. Perfect little crispy sticks filled with soft polenta.

Our final appetizer was one of the most impressive ones: ricotta dumplings. Served up as cornmeal-breaded dumplings over a bed of spaghetti squash and kale with a butternut puree and a cranberry-orange-ginger chutney, these were a fairly involved dish, but it all worked really well. The dumplings were light and crisp, the spaghetti squash and kale mix a nice almost-sauce complement, and the chutney tied it all together. I enjoyed this, and that surprised me since “ricotta” and “spaghetti squash” are usually a solid “meh” for me.

For my main course, I stayed fairly mainstream, with the mac and cheese. This is one of those cases where perfect execution makes a relatively simple dish shine: nominally just rotini in a beer cheese sauce, between the rotini being perfectly crisped, the beer cheese sauce having the perfect consistency (neither runny nor congealed), and the panko crust perfectly toasted, this teased a level of mac and cheese quality that I rarely experience (probably the last I had this good was from Worthy Kitchen, with their green chile mac and cheese that’s long been off the menu).

Carol, meanwhile, opted for the ratatouille, served up as breaded and ricotta-stuffed eggplant and summer squash over a bed of the same delicious marinara from the grit sticks. This showed that they’ve got a solid capability with both saucing and proper deep-frying, and again accomplishing the rare feat of making me enjoy an eggplant dish.

Our dining companions Rick and Sarah both went for the same dinner item, the falafel burger. Served up with whipped feta and tahini on a toasted bun with their fries, this looked quite good, and while I didn’t try it, was well-received by both Rick and Sarah. I’d actually consider this in the future as well.

Rounding out our meal, we went with their seasonal special blood orange trifle. Aside from “toasted coconut”, if there’s another flavor I generally associate with Bent Hill’s beer, it is “blood orange” (it has featured in several of their beers), and this dessert showed they can bake with it as well: a nice crumble, a nice custard heavy with blood orange flavors, and a perfect layer of rich whipped cream.

Overall, I loved our outing to Bent Hill. The food was great, and I’m delighted that we’ve got another good vegetarian option for the area. The beers remain delicious, and the location, while a bit remote, is quite a pleasant location to enjoy the Vermont scenery. We’ll definitely be back.

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