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March 22, 2011

Alice Eats: The Shed Restaurant and Brewery

1859 Mountain Road, Stowe, 802-253-4765

IMG_2073Everyone knows that the Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Stowe is the place to go for a growler or a flight of house-brewed beer. What I wanted to know is if it's still worth the trip if you don't drink. Does the food stand up to the famous brews?

When I arrived at the Shed, I was surprised at how enormous the place is — it includes a pub, along with three large themed rooms. We were led past the dark "Vermont" room to a bright, plant filled "greenhouse."

We were under a skylight which lit the antler chandelier and tree near our table. Even at nearly six, the room felt like, well, a garden party.

I sat in a mighty wicker throne, like the queen lady-who-lunches. Though the seat was comfortable inside, protruding nails on the outside of the chair cut my finger and pulled a loop out of my sweater before the meal was over.

The first order of business was to order the "Shed sampler." It seemed a logical way to judge appetizers.

IMG_2069 An overflowing plate arrived at the table, filled with three each of Buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, potato skins and ribs. On top sat plastic cups filled with ranch dressing, chunky tomato sauce and scallion-bedecked sour cream.

It's probably been five years since I last ate potato skins. I dove right in as soon as I saw the running, browned cheese on top. Maybe it was my potato skin drought, but I think these were the best I've ever had. The thin skins were fried, not baked, and extra-crispy. Big chunks of crispy bacon lay under the layer of blistery mozzarella and thick slices of scallion provided some welcome greenery.

I was less impressed with the Buffalo wings, which were fine, just not unique; and the square, doughy mozzarella sticks, which had clearly come from a bag. The acidic sauce on the side, however, enticed me to finish a whole stick.

IMG_2072 I was also a fan of the ribs. Three meaty bones were lightly smoky and stripped easily from the bone but did not fall off it. The tangy, slightly spicy sauce with a hint of cider vinegar was addictive. I wished there were more. Luckily, ribs are also offered by the half or whole rack at the Shed. Next time, I might need an entrée's worth.

Ordering the burger (right) was a good compromise for a non-drinker who likes the taste of beer in her food. The patty is marinated in spices and brew. Cooked to medium-rare unless otherwise specified and served on an English muffin, the burger's boozy taste reminded me of beer-battered fish and chips. But a juicy burger. Not a bad thing. For an even more intense effect, the skin-on fries appeared to be beer-battered, too.

IMG_2071 I'm a real stickler about shepherd's pie (right). I want braised meat in it — the ground stuff feels like a cop-out. It also bugs me when it's made with beef. Strictly speaking, that's cottage pie. Shepherd's pie means there are sheep in there.

Despite breaking two of my cardinal shepherd's pie rules, this one won me over. I could not get enough. The flower-pot-sized tureen held loads of ground beef, corn and creamy mashed potatoes. Whereas most pies of this kind are on the dry side, this one was saucy, salty and optimally flavorful. The layer of broiled cheese on top didn't hurt either.

Though I was very curious about a puff-pastry and ice cream dessert called "the Puff," I had nary a bite's worth of space. I'll have to try it next time. And there will be a next time. The verdict is in: Whether you drink or not, the Shed is well worth the drive to Stowe.

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].

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