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December 14, 2010

Alice Eats: Sunset Grille & Tap Room

140 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, 802-253-9281

I am in constant search of good barbecue in Northern Vermont. Sure, the two-hour drive to Curtis' All American Restaurant in Chester is worth it, especially on weekend buffet nights. I love the Tuesday barbecue nights at The Belted Cow Bistro in Essex. Still, I am on the hunt for nearby smoked meats that I can enjoy anytime.

Sunset Grille & Tap Room seemed like the perfect solution. Not only has the pit crew won several awards at the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue — including the 2006 Overall Summer Sizzler championship — they serve food until midnight.

Breadstix I arrived just before ten on Saturday night to a mostly empty dining room. A large-screen TV played an Eric Clapton concert. Our server was supremely eager and friendly, though she made a few mistakes in taking our order. She admitted it was only the fourth day and we were her first table to request the massive combo platter for two.

As if a sampling of nearly every kind of meat on the menu weren't enough, the $25 meal starts with a bread basket (right) and choice of soup or salad. The buttery bread sticks tasted a tad stale, but the mini corn muffins were truly excellent. The muffins were only slightly sweet, but even more buttery than the bread sticks. They were moist and held together far better than the crumbly corn bread most restaurants serve.

Though there was nothing special about the iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot and tomato salad, I liked the novelty with which it was served. A rotating platter held metal cups filled with raw onions, croutons and bacon bits. The latter two appeared to be of the store-bought variety, but the make-you-own aspect reminded me of the relish wheel at the late Dog Team Tavern.

Ribs And then, there was meat. Lots of meat. One in our party had a shellfish allergy, so we replaced the BBQ shrimp with extra beef ribs. With four of the meaty bones, the platter resembled Fred Flintstone's favorite dino-rack. There were also three baby backs, a chicken leg-and-thigh and a grilled bar steak, all presented atop a large lettuce leaf and a long, skinny tongue of sliced carrot.

I ordered the steak medium-rare. When the sliver of meat arrived, I figured there was no way the middle would be pink. Somehow, it was. The slim-cut steak was a perfect medium-rare. It was wonderfully juicy and very nicely seasoned, too.

I was most excited for the beef ribs. I don't know why more restaurants don't serve the extra-large bones. Nine out of ten times, I prefer them to pork ribs for the luscious, almost pastry-level sweetness of the fat that renders and combines with rugged beefiness. There were hints of that in these ribs, but the slightly rank flavor of overcooked meat made the experience less pleasant. The crisp-on-the-outside, melting-inside texture and sweet tangy barbecue sauce were a pleasure, but I was still disappointed.

Sides The same unpleasant taste was present, but less so, in the pork ribs. The meat was just the right, competition-style texture. Far from falling off the bone, it retained its muscular integrity but yielded tenderly when bitten. The chicken absorbed the flavor of smoke the best and benefited from a slightly spicy sauce. It also didn't taste like it had been reheated.

The sides I tried (right) simply weren't for me. The baked beans tasted of canned tomato sauce and molasses. They were so sweet, it genuinely hurt to eat them. Rice was studded with soft chunks of jalapeño. The seasoning was pleasant, but I just couldn't get over the presence of spice in a usually cooling dish.

Nothing was truly awful at Sunset Grille. Still, there weren't any dishes about which I'm dreaming a few days later. My aimless trek through northern Vermont's barbecue wilderness will have to continue.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected].

Alice Alice Alice. The Bar B Barn Montreal you gots to do it.

Alice, how about some real food once in a while? How many chemicals and preservatives do you eat?

Cienna, which dish that was mentioned can you be sure had any chemicals or preservatives in it?

Get a grip.

Jimmy, the chemicals you're eating are clouding your judgement.

I'd be curious to know the area restaurants that Cienna recommends based on their lack of chemicals and preservatives. Cienna, care to share with us?

I'll take your lack of a response to mean "sorry, I have no idea what I'm talking about."

The food and the restaurants Alice reviews are unhealthy and crap. They may be cheap, but cheap food is killing americans, making kids fat, and ruining people. Keep on promoting it Alice, you just make yourself look more and more unintelligent. And you guys eating it, Jimmy and Benchly, go for it. Enjoy it. But don't ask the rest of us to pay your health care costs through single payer or obamacare when you get fat, diabetic, or your kidneys fail due to eating all that crappy food. Eating healthy and staying healthy is the easiest thing a person can do in their life to stay healthy, yet the prevalence of cheap food continues to erode our country. Thanks Alice and 7days for contributing to this mess.

Cienna, I'll ask again: what restaurants do you patronize? I'd like to try them if I haven't already.

It sounds like this place is a pretty straight up bbq joint. Meat and vegetables. So are you saying she should only be reviewing veg/vegan restaurants?

I think your obvious anger issues are probably doing you a lot more harm than the occasional bbq is doing me, Cienna.


No "Alice Eats" thread would be complete without someone whining that she doesn't eat such as humanely raised carrots.

I think Cienna is mistaking this restaurant review column with a food activist column. I'd be surprised if there is a restaurant in the state that is worthy of her notice.

I've been thinking about opening a restaurant called "dirt 'n' twigs." We would only serve food made with ingredients that we find in the woods out back, and all patrons get to punch a mannequin holding a hamburger in the face. If it's as successful as I suspect it would be, I'll use the profits to open a series of cheesecake factory franchises up and down the state.

The sunset Grille is the gnarliest BBQ join in VT. And there is a chef who works there, who is extremely handsome, I should like to get his number, and have him come home and make me dinner. I think his name is eric.

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