A Steak and a Brew
A Steak and a Brew
Certified Executive Chef Ed St. Onge swore he’d never own his own restaurant, but Manchester changed his mind. Today, together with wife Nancy, he owns and runs Raven’s Den, a funky fast casual steakhouse and taproom at 1844 Depot Street.
At sixteen, Chef Ed got a job washing dishes in a hotel kitchen in northern Connecticut. Two years later, he was in charge. “I’ve always been driven. If I do something, I want to do my best.” Through college, he worked full-time as a cook. In the summer of 1980, he picked up a seasonal gig on Nantucket, working back of the house for Captain Toby’s.
“One summer turned into six, and I guess somewhere along the way, I decided I was going to be a chef.”
“After Nantucket, I considered entering culinary school. I had years of experience of running kitchens and was training some interns from Johnson and Whales, so when I inquired about getting a degree, they suggested I get certified through the ACF.” Established in 1929, the American Culinary Federation is the largest professional chef’s organization in the country. Among the various certifications they offer, Executive or Master Chef is among them and was in St. Onge’s sights. “I took several classes directly through the ACF as well as classes on campus at NECI and at CIA in Hyde Park. It was a rigorous process of proving myself as a working chef capable of running a kitchen and directing a staff. And I was lucky to have caught the eye of Vermont’s only Master Chef at the time, Tony Flory, who became my mentor.”
The Resort Biz.
Tony Flory’s kitchen at Stowe’s Top Notch Resort & Spa was a perfect fit. St. Onge completed his ACF certification and eventually succeeded Flory as the executive there. During his time at Top Notch, he was named ACF’s Vermont Chef of the Year. “Then Nancy got a great sales gig in southern Vermont for a Fortune 500 company and we relocated. I was lucky to get in touch with an old friend who offered me an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” St. Onge joined the team at Stratton Resort, opening their prestigious Stratton Mountain Club as exec. Eventually, he managed the mountain’s full F&B program.
“After Stratton, I took a break. Nancy and I both had big jobs. We decided to adopt our daughter, Lanie, and I became Mr. Mom for a couple of years. We always vowed we’d never own a restaurant! But here we are…” he laughed. “We always liked this building, and it had been empty for a few years, so we decided to look at it. Nancy and I both wanted to do something different. We talked about it as a family, did we really want to pursue this? Change of school, change of scene, an arduous renovation and huge risk…”
Making a Steakhouse.
“As soon as we walked in, we liked the high ceilings, the big windows, and stone fireplace. In the top kitchen, I saw the 5-foot charbroiler and knew it had to be a steakhouse.” Renovations began in late June of 2014. Nancy helmed the restaurant redesign while Ed crafted dinner and bar menus to showcase his high-quality, house-made dishes. A seasonal selection of custom cocktails and an affordable wine list are also available to guests. Nancy tells us that they won a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” just eight months after opening, with an added “green” designation for below average pricing in the region.
“We wanted to create an easy going atmosphere, without restrictions, but with the same quality that you’d get at a fine dining restaurant. Less pretentious, family friendly, and most of all, fun.”
As you’d expect the menu features–first and foremost—steaks. Hand-cut certified Back Angus Western Beef. “They’re the breed of cattle with the most marbling and the most flavor. I pick top tier beef, and then I age it for at least three to four weeks in-house, so it is tender and juicy.” The dinner menu is all-inclusive which means each entrée includes a starch, plated veggies, and a trip to the awesome salad bar. The bar menu covers the standards; giant nachos, classic wings, and an organic, grass fed VT beef burger. In peak season, the restaurant serves lunch, too. If you hit it right, try the Shepherd’s Pie (everyone’s fave, and gluten free!) or the stacked Club Sandwich or the Green Curry Noodle Bowl, also GF and Dairy-Free.
Chef’s Special Sauce.
If there’s one thing you’ll always find in St. Onge’s kitchen, it’s demi-glace. “I roast veal bones and make it from scratch the traditional way. It’s a must here at The Den, and in my kitchen at home.” Chef also makes his own stocks; chicken, seafood, duck, lobster. And if you order a steak, you can choose from the Raven’s Den trio — au poivre, béarnaise, and wild mushroom. Each house-made and each delicious.
A Signature Dish?
“It’s hard to say… the steaks, of course, including the Au Poivre. Maybe the duck. It’s a medium to medium rare Muscovy breast and leg confit. Also, my ribs. When we bought the place, we inherited Laney’s old smoker. It’s great! I fit about 75 racks on there to mesquite smoke for about four hours. The ribs are about the best you can buy. Prime pork, about “this thick,” tons of meat on them, and soaked in our maple barbecue sauce. In fact, I sent some down to my brother-in-law in Tennessee, and he called me right up and said, “I live in the rib world, brother, and yours just blew us away. Seasonally, one of our signatures might be my Beef Wellington. That’s a special experience. I make individual portions, with Foie Gras and mushroom duxelles, and I use a small branding iron to drop a Ravens Den logo on top. That’ll be back for the winter season.” Vegetarians take heart. They’ve recently added a Wellington filled with herbed goat cheese and grilled veggies just for you.
Raven’s Den is the only place in Southern Vermont to offer wine on tap. We got the lowdown from Chef Ed… “As soon as you pull the cork on a bottle of wine, white or red, it starts to oxidize. This tap system is a state of the art solution that stores the wine in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and delivers it to the bar through stainless steel lines. It’s incredibly efficient, environmentally friendly, and every glass you get is perfect!”
“There are two whites and three reds on tap. An Acrobat Pinot Noir, which you can pair with fish or duck. A Merlot blend, Vol de Nuit, which is sort of our flagship wine. Nice and heavy, and pairs well with steaks and prime rib. The third is a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Hook & Ladder called The Tillermann, and I’d drink that with any steak we have. It’s a terrific match with the sauces and the demi-glace.”
Cocktails & Brews.
“Nancy and I love to brainstorm for the bar, too. She develops things like herb-infused fruit purées and house-made brandied cherries; things that can take classic cocktails up a notch. Right now we’ve got raspberry and rosemary going, a cilantro and blood orange, and a cranberry and basil. We use them in flavored martinis and margaritas, and even our Moscow Mule. For fall, a perfect purée for a pumpkin martini!” If hops are your thing, the ten handpicked VT microbrews (and an unfiltered cider) will make you smile.
This was a tough question for Ed as he and Nancy have had meals in almost every major city, cooked by the world’s most talented chefs. When we pressed him to choose the most epic of all, he picked Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa. “It’s been in business since 1956. It’s world-renowned and showmanship-oriented. We had a terrific meal and got a great tour of the kitchen and their huge wine cellar. Bern’s can boast of North America’s largest wine list; over a million bottles in inventory. In 1982, they won Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, and they’ve held it ever since.”
A question we love, boosted from Tony Bourdain. Chef Ed thinks for a second. “Probably a Porterhouse because it has a New York Strip and a Filet. It would have to have some nice demi-glace. And fresh Vermont corn on the cob. I’m a corn snob, and I want it picked that day,” he laughs. “And I know it if it isn’t.”
Given that winter is in full swing, the Den is upping their “apres” game. Across the state, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, or VAST, maintains and grooms over 5,000 miles of snowmobiling trails. They’re a non-profit, private group that includes 128 clubs statewide. Riders coming down VAST Corridor 4 can take the quick run down Trail 7F4 to Rootville Road. And, then cruise across the short length to the Raven’s Den lot. Best burgers around! While folks are riding now, always check trail conditions before heading out.
Come on out!
Specials include midweek Game Day with 50-cent wings and $4 Long Trail Ales. Taproom Tuesday for a 1/2-pound cheeseburger, fries, and a draught beer or Three Amigo Thursday for a fish taco, nachos, and a margarita — just twelve bucks. Click through for restaurant info, a link to their website with menus, and a map!Raven's Den Steakhouse and Taproom
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