So if you know Chris & I, you know we love good food and by the time the bitter cold of winter in Vermont rolls around, we tend to want some comfort food après being too busy to ever actually ski. About 10 minutes prior to departure, Chris always makes sure to take advantage of that sweet, sweet, autostart feature on the Tig. I love to slip into a cozy sweater, with your favorite pair of jeggings & a pair of chic shoes that won’t cause you to take a tumble in the parking lot while Chris usually puts on a fresh shirt. Now all you need is a cute pair of earrings to complete the look, I found similar pair of Mink earrings to my favorite wintery poms by Cece Dupraz that aren’t made anymore you guys always want a link to! Requirements for a great winter date night usually include a good fireplace and hearty fare, but we’ll settle for a warm seat & a hot cup of something. Here are some of our favorite spots to enjoy a romantic, but cozy night out! If you happen to be visiting Manchester & The Mountains this winter – Make sure to take some time to slow down and appreciate the one you love over a great meal at one of these local favorites!
Ye Olde Tavern Possibly our favorite restaurant in Manchester, there’s a reason this place is the oldest continually operated tavern in America* – the food is real GOOD. Our favorite thing about wintertime at Ye Olde Tavern is every 2nd Tuesday of the month, they turn off all electric lights for Candlelight Dinners. But seriously – the historic details of this place are super interesting and I’m endlessly noticing new things I love. I can officially say I have finally checked all dining rooms off my list which was a fun game for a long time to see where we got seated. Most of the rooms have fire places so there isn’t really a bad place to get sat – however Chris has been known to request a fireside table when he makes reservations. Which by the way, are a MUST here pretty much always and like, well in advance.
* I can’t find any citation or proof of this statement, but I’m pretty sure it’s true – maybe. In any case, the entire building is like stepping into history!
Our most recent visit was November’s special second Candlelight Night, a fundraiser for the Manchester Dog Park (a great cause you can donate to here). I could go on forever about all the things I love on the menu here, but let’s start with the first course (and really the reason we come here). The cranberry fritters with maple butter! These little fried puffs of cranberry goodness are amazing on their own – but add their homemade maple butter** and you’ll feel like you died and went to heaven. We love them so much when we double date with one of our couple friends we get a double order!
**which P.S. is available to take home BY THE JAR! Hot local tip: you can buy it from the the back kitchen door most days after noon, but the best way to get some is to go and eat dinner because um, hello – cranberry fritters!
They also serve you a choice of two great salads (I love the Garden & Chris loves the Caesar, extra anchovies please!) AND homemade rosemary bread which seems unnecessary but we always manage to happily eat. Their entire appetizer offering is drool-worthy but we are usually so well fed with the pre-meal goodies they serve we usually skip one. We will occasionally indulge with the Brown Sugar Crusted Brie or their famous Macaroni & Cheese in it’s appetizer size (which is quite generous). Chris loves it with the Lobster but loves me and knows how much I hate creatures of the sea so he usually goes without to share.
Their entree offering is one where it really is hard to make a bad choice, every meal a classic, american favorite sure to bring feelings of nostalgia. There’s the chicken pot pie, made traditionally with mashed potatoes that reminds me of my of my study abroad in England. The Roast Tom Turkey, a classic Thanksgiving spread sure to bring back memories of Grandma’s table. Chris’s favorites include the Friday night special Prime Rib, the Venison, and the Mac and Cheese with Lobster (when he’s not sharing!). I get the exact same thing pretty much every single time, the Cidered Chicken Breast with Wild Rice – It’s just a great balance of flavors, not too heavy after all those introductory courses, and always perfectly cooked. I like it so much I’ve stopped looking at the menu, I ordered something heartier on a cold day last winter and it was good, but the whole time I was wishing I’d gone with the cidered chicken!
And, we have never had room for dessert after all of that, but I’m sure the desserts are delicious if you can manage to save room! They also have a pretty robust drink menu, as well as after dinner drinks. I love the classic Champagne Cocktail they do, not something you see often! Another key thing to mention is that the service is always excellent here, the waitstaff really knows their stuff and has the courses down to a fine science. The way they stagger their first courses is really smart, even at their busiest, once you order you’re basically eating until your food comes so there’s never a moment where you’re sitting there wondering where your food is. There’s nothing I appreciate more than a really well run restaurant and the owners here really do knock it out of the park.
Chantecleer While the fireside seating is a little more competitive here with since it’s just one fireplace, we love coming for date night here for a cozy winter meal. The restaurant has been the scene for just about every special occasion we celebrate in our family. We’ve spent most of our anniversaries here, celebrated new jobs, starting our own business, and even family gatherings – all at these tables! Located just outside Manchester up Rt. 7A in East Dorset, this tops my list for all time favorite area restaurant. I actually don’t have an “I get this every time” meal like I tend to develop with most places, I have a couple menu items I like to repeat but they occasionally switch the menu up and have pretty amazing specials. Another busy spot in town year round, reservations are a must, though you can always sit at the bar. Tuesday nights they have a burger special at the bar Chris’s Dad swears by – but we have yet to make it out there for that!
I love the European option for the salad, it gives you a lightly dressed spring salad with a sampler of three little coleslaw salad-like creations that always change and are full of distinctly different flavors. This salad is a rollercoaster for your tastebuds, and surprisingly, I really do like that. There are little yummy fresh dinner rolls too! The butternut squash ravioli appetizer is also a favorite, it’s only 2 or 3 raviolis so it’s a great starter that isn’t too heavy (especially if you’re splitting with your sweetheart!)
For dinner, I tend to rotate between the Veal Schnitzel, the Long Island Duckling, & the Statler Chicken Breast. But there is usually a special or two that catches my eye. Chris loves the Australian Roasted Rack of Lamb & likes to get Fish there a lot because it’s always good. We also love Chantecleer for their excellent service – Some of the servers here have been here most of Chris’s life and it’s clear they care about creating a great dining experience.
But do you want to know the real reason we come here? It’s the creme brulee! Creme Brulee just so happens to be my favorite dessert in the entire world & Chantecleer so far tops the list for “best I ever had.” I’m not sure what they do differently – but it’s worlds away from any other I’ve tasted. Something they do makes it feel lighter & not overly rich – so it would be easy to eat an entire plate of it! (Chris actually had them make an extra big one for my birthday a while back, it was the sweetest!) So far my best guess at the secret is lemon juice but I’ve yet to play with it in the Kitchen to test my theory.
Johnny Seesaws We decided to add this one to the list before even trying it out ourselves cause we knew from their cozy mountainside lodge vibe, they were definitely going to make the list! Hello – they have a floating copper fireplace in the middle of the building that was salvaged from the original lodge! How cool is that?
We’ve been talking about how we can’t wait to eat here the entire build as we drove past on the way to job sites, we can’t believe it’s taken us this long! But as true right-in-town Manchester dwellers, driving up the mountain for dinner can feel like a bit of a chore, especially when the weather’s like it’s been! But right before Christmas we finally got a chance to try it out and it really is amazing what they accomplished in keeping elements of the original building.
All the logs were salvaged from the original Seesaw’s, but the most impressive piece of history is the hand painted murals on wooden paneling that were carefully restored by local artist Kim Ray. However, the original floating fireplace certainly does not disappoint and it gives a classic & unique chalet vibe to the lodge as the centerpiece of the main dining space. Lots of decor was brought over from the original building, my favorite were the cute plaques reading “Home of the _______ Family Christmas” for all the special occasions families celebrated with them year after year. We were seated on the front side of the building, right next to a giant fireplace with a beautiful hand-carved mantlepiece that I am assuming was from the old building but can’t confirm. Unfortunately this fireplace was not lit so they lost some cozy points for dining, since you can only really sit near the center fireplace for drinks as it’s couches around it.
They got right into the history of the building with a beautifully designed timeline on the placemat, but shockingly it didn’t mention the one thing that we in the Conte family know Johnny Seesaw’s for! The idea for Chris’s military division, the 10th Mountain, was conceived at the Seesaw’s bar by a bunch of local skiers who thought the Military needed a mountain trained unit to help win in the mountains of Northern Italy at the beginning the second world war. The division has since gone on the be a key player in many conflicts, from the Battle of Mogadishu (or “Black Hawk Down”) to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, skilled on ski’s, snowshoes, and of course hiking boots. Something tells me his Vermont upbringing played just a bit of a role in that assignment! There is just a great vibe here that is so quintessential Vermont, and you can feel in that there have been thousands great ideas like that born over evenings of good food, drink, & conversation. Overall, the design of this space feels like a wonderful ode to the original iteration of the establishment, I especially love their logo & lettering (someone tell me that font!) and my favorite touch was the log logo etched onto the hand blown candleholders on every table. It was such a subtle but wonderful detail!
As for the food, we both had the Hangar Steak, Chris got the Entree & I got the Garden Salad and added Steak. The steaks were really good & tender, there was a mixup with our orders but they fixed it quickly and we both enjoyed our meals a lot. The salads are not really entree sized, but I actually really liked that because I really don’t like to eat a mountain of lettuce and tend not to finish salads – though in hindsight I would get a side order of something in addition. Unfortunately that’s all I can say about the food! We ordered the same thing and have only been once – I’ll be sure to be a better food blogger next time, but it was a crazy busy day and we were both tired and just wanted steak. Next time I’m dying to try the risotto or butternut squash soup! But really the atmosphere here is the real magic, the bar was full with a good mix of locals & visitors alike just coming off the mountain, ready to reminisce about their years on the slopes and refuel for the trek home. The porch outside looked like a great place to hang out and had a killer view so we’ll look forward to coming back when the weather gets warmer to check that out! We’ll update you with more menu favorites then 🙂
Best Nightcap in Town: Union Underground! Though the food here is also excellent, Union Underground’s been serving up my favorite way to end a night out recently… A Hot Cider with your choice of Whiskey or Rum. I always go for the Bulleit, it blends so well with the cider. They don’t muck it up like everyone else on this earth by adding mulling spices and a whole bunch of extra, it’s just hot cider fresh from Dutton’s up the hill and a little bit of booze. A cup of this and I’m ready for bed!
And… as a final note on this winter date night post, I’d like to let you in on a little Chris & Niki secret to a good date night! As you walk into the restaurant, put your phone on airplane mode or silent, tuck it away in your purse or your pocket, sit down, and enjoy each others company. You don’t even have to talk, you can just sit there and hold hands and smile at each other. (We actually do this a lot, when you see each other all day every day there’s not that much small talk to make!) But be present, and enjoy the moment. If you have to take your phone out, do so only to quickly google a foreign menu items or snap a picture of a particularly instagrammable dish (NOT every dish!). Ye Olde Tavern actually is a no cell phones allowed zone and thats one of the reasons we like it there!
So get out there & enjoy your winter in the wilds of Vermont, and end the night with a cozy night with your sweetheart! Comment below if you have any other local favorites we’ve got to try or with your winter date night experiences!