My desire to eat comfort food increases in direct proportion to the falling temperature outside. By mid-winter, all I want to do is to wear flannel pajamas and eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes or homemade macaroni and cheese. This winter, though, I'll be tempted out of my cozy kitchen by the promise of southern BBQ made to order at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury.
My family and I ventured there on a recent frosty night. That it was a Tuesday meant we didn't have to wait to be seated; we got a choice table in the big front window of the historic Main Street building that once housed the Alchemist Pub and Brewery.
The interior is spare with wood floors, brick walls and vintage light fixtures. The only decorations are large chalk drawings of farm animals on reclaimed slate. The long, narrow dining room and bar parallel each other, separated by a half wall: hipster bar crowd on one side; dining couples and families on the other.
The menu, including hush puppies, Brunswick stew and Vermont "cheese-n-mac," made me glad I had left my flannels at home to come sample central Vermont's most celebrated comfort-food fare.
Sipping her "really good" cane-sugar root beer, my daughter asked, "What are hush puppies?"
"Balls of fried dough," I told her.
"Can we get some?" she wanted to know.
I directed both the kids to the meals on the adult menu, all of which are accompanied by two sides and hush puppies. While my pocketbook appreciates kids menus — at Prohibition Pig, $6.50 buys a choice of a small burger, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, buttered noodles or Misty Knoll chicken fingers — I would rather spring for "real" meals instead of chicken fingers, especially when the options are so appealing.
Counting on good-sized meals, we ended up skipping appetizers. My husband and I both ordered salads featuring locally grown ingredients. My spinach salad was overdressed but otherwise great, topped with lightly candied beets and tart and creamy Vermont chèvre and house-pickled red onions — spicy, sweet, crunchy and all-around delicious.
Once the server cleared our salad plates, we began a long wait for our entrées. Twenty-plus minutes in, I regretted not ordering some smoked wings to nosh on. My 10-year-old twins are pretty patient, but they were definitely getting antsy. In the end, though, the food was worth waiting for.
After the first bite of her smoked white-meat chicken plate — it came with a breast and a wing — my daughter declared, "I am so glad I got this instead of the chicken fingers."
I ordered the same dish. Both the chicken and my son's pork were meltingly tender and imbued with a complex spice profile that was smoky and hot with sweet undertones. My husband's quarter-pound, grass-fed beef burger was reportedly good: I was still putting BBQ sauce on my chicken when I noticed his plate was clean.
The kids and I chose baked beans to accompany our entrées; they were thick, meaty and a little sweet — with a spicy kick. The French fries were hot from the fryer, crisp on the outside and soft inside, liberally coated with salt and pepper and served with housemade ketchup. We ate every last one. The dense and dry hush puppies were the only disappointment. They were unappealingly textured and sadly lacking in flavor.
Heated up from the inside by the BBQ feast, I didn't even notice the cold as we left. On the way home, we discussed what to try next time we need some Southern comfort. Macaroni and cheese? Sweet potato fries? Lucky for us, there are plenty of winter nights ahead.