Hen of the Wood

[RESTAURANT REVIEW] Hen of the Wood, Vermont

[review] There’s nothing better than a truly farm to table restaurant with a chef who understands the importance of incredibly fresh ingredients. It’s not a gimmick, and it’s not a trend. It’s the way we’ve been appreciating our land and food for centuries, and we are finally getting back to our roots (so to speak). There’s a little restaurant in Vermont that encompasses that entire attitude and takes it to the next level.

Hen of the Wood is a down to earth restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont where everything is fresh, there is no foam on your micro-greens and everything is over the top delicious. Fairly uncomplicated and local as can be while being interesting and innovative, Chef Eric’s tasting menu is one that you will never forget. Foodies travel for miles and miles to find this obscurely located restaurant for dishes like the Duck Sausage & Local Cornmeal Polenta with a Sunny-Side-Up Farm Egg and Pickled Cucumbers to start. You never knew a cucumber could taste so good.

Cocktail at Hen of the Wood
One of the delicious and innovative cocktails at Hen of the Wood, Photography by Kelsey Floyd

That seems to be Chef Eric’s gift—coaxing flavors from simple fresh ingredients and elevating them to a level you’ve never experienced before. The restaurant was opened in 2005 by Executive Chef Eric Warnstedt and Wine Specialist William McNeil. It was all about putting together a restaurant that would be the culmination of everything they had casually discussed for several years; a warm inviting atmosphere, a historic and visually appealing setting, seamless service and most importantly outstanding wine and beautiful food. “We imagined a casual yet professional staff and food cooked from as close to the source as possible. For our team it would be the beginning of a commitment to the amazing farmers, cheese makers, and others who make Vermont so special.” – Chef Eric

Chefs hard at work at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont
Chefs hard at work at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont. Photography by Kelsey Floyd

The daily changing menu is based on the wealth of premium ingredients found only miles from the restaurant in the lush Green Mountains and Champlain Valley and makes for a pretty spectacular evening. Whether you’re in town to go mountain biking at the Trapp Family Lodge or on business in Burlington, it’s worth the drive. The creamy polenta explodes with flavor in your mouth, the rabbit is perfectly cooked, goat’s milk dumplings are an innovative twist on traditional gnocchi—whatever season you visit in, the ingredients will have just been plucked from the garden and it will make a difference in every bite.

Save room for desert—whether you order the chocolate fondue or simple and sweet deconstructed strawberry shortcake not a bite will disappoint. Ask if there’s anything off-menu as well – sometimes that’s where you find the best dish of the meal.

Dessert at Hen of the Wood
An off the menu maple tiramisu that is to die for at Hen of the Wood, Photography by Kelsey Floyd

The wine list is also an experience in itself—not too many mass produced over rated brands here, just lots of great boutique vineyards with high quality grapes and excellent servers who know the wine list and menu inside out. The service here is truly extraordinary. A lot of big  city restaurants can have great food but the service is lacking—lack of interest, lack of dedication and a lack of really having to try very hard. None of that here. Servers go home with ‘homework’, read up on the local farmers and cheesemakers on the menu that week, taste new wines with William, and genuinely love what they do.

Hen of the Wood is a true Vermont dining experience and showcase the region’s most vibrant foods. Don’t miss a visit to this soon to be iconic restaurant.