When planning our western Vermont run-out, I posted to facebook asking for don't miss recommendations in the area. A friend named this diner and called it a national treasure; I second his opinion. We stopped for lunch on our way to Middlebury, and liked it so much we planned a lunch again on our return trip.
The diner itself looks grubby outside, but inside it's a gorgeous diner built in the early 20th-century. They're quite proud of their heritage here and the menu provides a detailed history. So while the outside looks a bit ratty, the interior is, though worn in places, a masterpiece of a diner-car style room. There's blue tile, lots of brushed gleaming metal work, a counter with stools for 17, and 7 booths each seating maybe four if you're all slender.
They mess up the decor, though, in one major way. The management seems to enjoy printing menu items on colored paper, laminating, and taping them behind the counter on the lovely metal trim up near the domed ceiling. The metalwork is thus entirely obscured by all of this paper, none of which is particularly worth reading since, after all, they have a menu where the information is better organized. Can anyone convince them to tear that trash down and let patrons enjoy the decor?
OK, that's my only rant. Service was fine, prompt and full of the grace that we found everywhere in west Vermont. They maintain an old-style juke box with remote stations in each booth, and the selections seem eclectic. Visit their rest rooms and you pass by the kitchen door, which is left open--they have nothing to hide, the place is kept clean.
My wife settled, both times, on their grilled cheese sandwiches--the first time with tomato, the second with ham. She declared them exellent. My first lunch was from the all-day breakfast menu; the Sir Benn omelette--I thought, what better to try than the one they named after themselves? Well, it was worthy of the title "Sir"--a noble thickly rolled French-style omelette embracing a skinless chicken breast, cheese, and perfect broccoli florets. The potatoes on the side were also terrific. On the second stop, I went for the veggie chili--they have a large vegetarian menu--and a side of onion rings. The chili was as good as any veggie variety I've ever tasted, a perfectly spiced blend of beans, summer squash, corn kernels, tomato base, topped with a good melting of queso. It was joined by a flaky jalapeno corn muffin, the peppers just present enough to notice but not to burn. Obviously the onion rings were hand-cut and battered in-house, and they were deep fried in fresh oil at the right temperature to give a crispy exterior and soft center.
So here we've got a place that has some honestly competent cooks with a flair for turning out some not-entirely-traditional diner fare, an interesting and well preserved historic facility, and Vermont charm. Note that their dinner hours are over early--I think 5:00 on weekdays and 4:00 on Sunday--so unless you're an early dinner person, think breakfast or lunch. Frankly, I don't know how the Subway shop across the highway from them makes a living--why would any local want to get a carry-out from anyone but the Blue Benn?
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