Hen of the Wood Remains a Sturdy, Stellar Icon in Vermont’s Dining Landscape
Here’s why the famed farm-to-table’s first, Waterbury restaurant still earns every accolade.
It’s a cool and drizzly day in mid-June, par for the course during a rainy spring season that’s made the Green Mountains seem even greener. But unlike most vacationers in Vermont this time of year, my husband and I aren’t here to hike and bike our way through the backwoods: We’re making a nearly 200-mile, three-hour-plus pilgrimage to the original Hen of the Wood, a rural legend since chef/co-owner Eric Warnstedt opened it in Waterbury 14 years ago. Just off the road that tourists take north to Stowe, we see it: a quaint but inconspicuous brick mill building painted with the words “Waterbury Feed Co.”
The heavy door creaks loudly upon opening to an inconspicuous seating area, and I wonder what all the fuss is about. But as we head down a flight of stairs, I begin to understand. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the cavernous lower-level dining room, where slate walls twinkle by votive candlelight. Once they do, however, the main attraction comes into focus through the windows: the peaceful brook and cascading waterfall just outside. The word “magical” comes to mind.
But Hen of the Wood is as much about nurture as it is nature. This is, after all, the kind of place where they leave handwritten birthday wishes on the table—and serve up locally sourced, unfussy food that is both divine and soulful. On this late-spring evening, we start with feathery dry-cured coppa drizzled with EVOO, perfectly complemented by a plate of Vermont-made raw-Jersey-milk cheese and the house sparkling wine. The second course delivers handmade goat-cheese-stuffed scarpinocc with bright rhubarb mostarda and earthy asparagus, plus the signature toast featuring (what else?) hen-of-the-wood mushrooms and a poached duck egg. A hanger steak resting in a pool of sweet-pea crème fraîche and funky blue, meanwhile, is a marvelous main event.
For dessert, we tuck into a rich butterscotch pot de crème before ducking out the back door and onto the restaurant’s patio, where there’s no need to go chasing the area’s many waterfalls—at Hen of the Wood, a beautiful one comes with the meal.
Hen of the Wood
Miles from Boston: 189
Stowe’s Topnotch Resort (starting at $279 per night) isn’t just for ski season: The summer and fall months are ideal for making a splash in the all-season pool, unwinding with a couples’ massage at the sprawling spa, or perfecting your swing on the tennis courts, all while enjoying picture-perfect mountain vistas.
Looking to burn off last night’s epic meal? Hop onto the Stowe Recreation Path, a paved 5.3-mile greenway you can pick up right at Topnotch, for scenic views and maybe even a few sips at Idletyme brewery, which sits along the route and features a sprawling outdoor patio with cornhole and standout double IPAs made on-site.