Hazel's Southbound Rose a welcome travel companion

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BRATTLEBORO — You can figure out a lot about a place by checking out its restaurant scene and discovering what people like to eat and drink.

It's true, some places cater to tourists. But even among those, restaurants stay in business — in an industry notorious for its high failure rate — because they've drawn regular local patrons who like the food, the atmosphere, and the people. Regular cash flow keeps the doors open, and positive experiences drive repeat business.

That seems to be working for Hazel, at 75 Elliot St. in downtown Brattleboro, where a mix of comfort food, family fare, Vermont craft brews and some clever cocktails await diners of all ages. Hazel has been in business for five years, and front end manager Adrienne Ginter is proud of the fact that it's grown such a diverse base of regular customers who order pizza or barbecue to take out, or come in for a burger and a drink. Much of the menu is gluten free, she adds.

"The thing that's the most Brattleboro is we're very all-encompassing," said Ginter. "We're great place for families, we have a great bar crowd, we have a whole older folks crew."

First and foremost, Hazel is a restaurant, featuring applewood-smoked barbecue, handcrafted pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, salads, a solid selection of craft beers, and specialty cocktails. The restaurant, named for co-owner

Nathan Rupard's daughter, opened five years ago with the goal of providing a comfortable, affordable eatery people of all ages could enjoy.

"It depends on the time of day and day of the week," Ginter said. "Come in on Friday at 4:30 p.m., it's a lot of families with young children. Mondays, late night it's our older professional crowd. That's what I like about it the most."

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Our visit came on "Margarita Monday," during which the cocktail sells for $5. It's also Ginter's favorite day on the job, because it brings in a steady mix of families out for dinner and regulars who visit after work for a bite and a drink.

Seated at the counter are Ilene Sweeney and Marshall Banas of Guilford, who are sharing a pizza and enjoying side salads and cocktails; their twin daughters Daphne and Chloe, 8, who are feasting on chicken wings; and Tom Thrasher of Thrasher Graphics, who is waiting on a friend joining him for drinks and wings.

"Everything's good here. I come in regularly," Thrasher says. "It's a good local, but it's not a down and out place."

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Since it was National Chicken Wing Day, and since alcohol is best paired with food as a matter of common sense as well as hospitality, Ginter brought a small order of sesame ginger wings (the day's special) to go with the liquid refreshment.

Hazel smokes its wings before they go in the fryer, and that adds a subtle, positive difference in flavor. They checked all the chicken wing boxes: crispy skin that holds sauce well, and plenty of plump, juicy meat.

While one of the twins was quite happily sipping a Shirley Temple between wing bites, Hazel features a roster of specialty cocktails for grownups, reasonably priced at $9 each. Selections include Tuscan Lemonade, a Smoked Peach Margarita (with a cayenne sugar rim), and several others.

But today's mission is the Southbound Rose, a concoction of gin, Aperol liqueur, and citrus juices served in a rocks glass over ice. It's one of Ginter's favorite drinks on the menu, and one she'd like to see more folks give a try.

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Aperol is an Italian liqueur relatively low in alcohol content and most often served as an aperitif. It's essential to a classic European summer cocktail: the Aperol Spritz, in which the orange-colored liqueur is mixed with Prosecco and a dash of soda. Aside from the sweet and bitter oranges that give Aperol its trademark hue, the ingredients include gentian flower and cinchona bark, both of which are used to aid digestion, and rhubarb, which is used to make strawberry-rhubarb pie. Those flavors and the liqueur's distinct orange hue play a big role in the Southbound Rose.

Behind the bar, Ginter starts with a respectable middle-of-the-road gin — Gordon's, which, despite its low price point, is hardly the stuff of nightmare hangovers (though any gin, if disrespected, will repay you with hours of misery). You can use fancier gin, but here's our two cents: Save the

top-shelf stuff for cocktails in which its flavor matters most, and pick a quality gin at a lower price point for drinks in which it's playing backup. Besides, what you saved on premium gin, you can spend on Aperol, which retails around $28 per fifth, and is essential to the recipe.

Grapefruit juice and gin are a fine match. An online search reveals they're paired in numerous cocktail recipes, and the pairing works wonders for the Southbound Rose. Despite its bright hue and the presence of fruit and sugar sweetness, the bitter ingredients skew to the "dry" side of the palate — the rhubarb and bitter orange in the Aperol, as well as the grapefruit, lemon and gin. Much like the hops in your favorite beer, those bitter flavors result in a refreshing dry finish on the tongue.

On a hot and humid day, it hits the spot.

Hazel, at 75 Elliot St. in Brattleboro, is open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. For more information and a menu, see hazelpizza.com.

Greg Sukiennik is editor of Southern Vermont Landscapes.


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