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October 20, 2009

Best Bites: Two Brothers Tavern

86 Main Street, Middlebury 388-0002

Fall 2009 089 As many readers already know, I don't drink alcohol. In fact, it's a very rare delicacy that can woo me away from my all-day, every day pounding of tap water. But the Italian sodas at Two Brothers Tavern provide one such siren song — on my last trip, I ordered the hazelnut flavor. Like the idea of carbonated Nutella? Give it a try.

And that's not the only reason I drive 40 minutes out of my way to Middlebury. The real draw is exquisite pub food, which I can enjoy without actually being in a pub. If you want to get wild, go downstairs to the Two Brothers Lounge and Stage. I prefer to entrench myself with a bread basket (with pesto oil for dipping) in the white tablecloth dining room.

I like to order from the tapas or small plates menus, so I can test a variety of offerings. All tapas are $1.50 or three for $4. I recommend the Roasted Garlic Meatball, a moist wad of aromatic Wood Creek beef drenched in tangy tomato sauce.

The "Small Plates" wouldn't get such a title at most restaurants. The Mac n' Cheese ($7.95, pictured) I tried on my last visit was enough for two. The extremely satisfying blend of cheeses with a sharp hit of cheddar was the perfect dish for a cold autumn night. The filling tureen of Shepard's Pie was unique, with subtle notes of sage mixed with the creamy mashed potatoes.

Fall 2009 086 It won't be available again until next month, but if you go, get ready for the chicken and biscuits. The thick, garlicky sauce isn't your grandma's recipe. The complex but deeply comforting braised chicken with veggies is my boyfriend's favorite restaurant dish in Vermont. Quite an accomplishment, given the fact that he shares my food writer lifestyle.

Save room for the Homemade Ice Cream Creation of the day. Last time, I enjoyed an ice cream cake with a base of the restaurant's signature Chocolate Porter cake — made from Otter Creek's Stovepipe Porter — for a densely chocolaty, slightly bitter pastry, completed by a thick layer of sour cream ice cream topped with raspberries. That's creativity I can certainly appreciate.

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