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July 02, 2010

Alice Eats: Jackson's on the River

7 Bakery Lane, Middlebury, 388-4182

001 I dig controversy. As soon as it was added to 7 Nights, Jackson's caused a minor stir with three comments in the space of about an hour. Two were positive, one very negative. I knew I had to see for myself.

I had never been to Tully and Marie's or Woody's, the restaurants that filled the Bakery Lane location in Middlebury for as long as I've been in the state. The location can't be beat, with waterfront views from every table. Diners can choose to look at Otter Creek from outside, or from one of three indoor levels. The interior is painted bright yellow and decorated with black and white photos of farm animals. You can't help but feel happy in there.

002 A matching chowder of the day helped, too. The corn and bacon potage got its extra-vivid color from the addition of carrots. Though the soup was creamy, the flavor was unmitigated corn. The vegetable was present both blended into the broth and in floating chunks. The taste was so intense, bacon was — gasp — an afterthought. That said, the soup would have been even better with a bit more salt.

  Appetizers and entrées are evenly split between vegetarian and meat dishes. My party tried one of each. A pair of smoky poblano peppers were each stuffed with a different filling. One held a Southwestern-style Thanksgiving stuffing — bread based, but filled with savory black beans; the other had chèvre, jack cheese and toasted pine nuts. Both sizable peppers were topped with fresh salsa and placed on a sea of black beans. Once again, the beans would have benefited from a heavier hand with the seasonings.

003 I never turn down schnitzel. I had no choice but to order the pork one at Jackson's. A gigantic, thinly pounded tenderloin arrived on my plate pan-fried and lightly drizzled with creamy wild mushroom sauce. The fungi themselves were finely chopped but flavorful. The meat lay on a bed of mashed potatoes, which were subtly creamy. The vegetable of the day was a collection of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots. Though they added satisfying color to the plate, the under-seasoned veggies would have been improved by more of the brandy-spiked mushroom sauce for dipping.

  Despite any minor shortcomings, the food at Jackson's was filling enough that I didn't spring for dessert. If I had, I would have chosen banana tres leches cake, for sure. Instead, I distracted my sweet tooth with a trip to the bathroom before leaving. A pot of piña colada-scented potpourri made it a pleasure. Points to Jackson's for winning the title of best-smelling bathroom in Vermont from me.

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