Listen, in the restaurant business it is really hard to succeed. It is fiercely competitive. Especially so in Vermont. So often the most popular restaurant in town aren’t the ones working the hardest in the kitchen to prepare the best food possible, or the place with the friendliest waitstaff. When visiting small towns in Vermont from other places it can be difficult to sift through reviews from locals and find the quality services and places we’re sure are there. Somewhere. You’ve been there before, the place has amazing yelp reviews and when you get their, that highly reviewed dish on the yelp menu looks like a microwave slab of spam. Hey, I’m guilty, I love a greasy Coney Island style smash burger. That doesn’t mean the place I get it at should get a 5 star review though.
I have met the folks who own and the folks who work at the Cornerstone. I have sold a few of them bicycles. I want to be transparent with that info and also offer that my review is intended to be completely honest and informative. Their patronage to me did not affect my opinions expressed here. Recommended Places and VTBADV.com take these reviews very seriously. As we want to be a trusted source for visiting Barre on your bicycle adventures and work hard at maintaining that integrity.
We visited on a very busy night for the Cornerstone. Parents Weekend at a nearby university meant the place was full. The House Manager was clearly working up a sweat as evident by his soaked shirt. I felt bad for him, he looked like he had his fingers in every piece of the place that night. Somehow we didn’t have to wait long for a table.
The Cornerstone Restaurant is one of those places that hits a lot of marks for me. It’s not terribly expensive, it’s clean and the decor is updated without an annoying hip presence. The menu is varied, and not over packed. It’s a pub with what I’m told is an incredible beer selection (I don’t drink) and the right amount of variety on the menu to keep it interesting while concentrating on what they can do best.
The servers are fantastic, they’re bright, friendly, they walk a fine line of being unpretentious, knowledgeable and professional. Most of all they are accommodating. My wife is vegetarian, and usually has some small change requests for most of her meals to fit her diet. I am amazed at the response from some restaurants to what seem like simple things. While there are people that do make ludicrous requests from restaurants, my wife is not one of those people. Her requests are usually simple things like leave the bacon off a dish or to not include a certain side with the meal and she’s OK still paying full price. During our visit the Cornerstone the staff were certainly eager to please.
After ordering we really got a picture of how full the place was. That’s the thing about the Cornerstone on a weekday, it’s always pretty busy. They seemed to manage the flow of customers well while we were there. I didn’t see any parties waiting very long for seats. Yet later at the end of our meal we didn’t feel rushed at all, more on that later.
One aspect of the restaurant that could use a little attention, is the quality control from the Expeditor or the Executive Chef. We saw a few orders go out that had some issues including ours. A cheese sauce dish that was watered down. It looked like someone had not fully drained pasta before adding the cheese sauce in her dish. An easy mistake to make on a very busy night. A fast check from the Expeditor would have caught it. That being said, after mentioning it to the server, the dish was corrected.
I order burgers cooked medium and served plain and dry. Meaning no veggies, no sauces. Just meat, cheese, and bun, that’s it. I often get them with the veggies any way, including pickles and tomatoes. Their villainous juices soaking into everything. Ruining the simple taste combinations of my sandwich. Sometimes they come out with everything. I mean the kind of everything that seems like a retaliation from the kitchen for ordering a burger plain. I feel like the way I order a burger lends me a little extra insight to how well a restaurant is managed as well as a clearer picture of the quality of food they serve. You can hide some pretty bullshit quality meat behind condiments. I never understood restaurant reviewers that order burgers with all the stuff. Anyone can get fresh veggies at a moments notice of a reviewer coming. You can’t fake bullshit core ingredients though. If you don’t know how to cook a steak it shows, if you source poor quality beef and call it local grass-fed, a plain burger will make it obvious. Two places in town do an exceptional job with my burger order, one place sends my to go burger with a pickle, but the pickle is separated from the burger by tinfoil and is also wrapped in foil. No hazardous pickle juice contamination! It’s exceptionally thoughtful. The other is the Cornerstone. My burger came out exactly as I’d asked for. It has always come out exactly as I have asked. Including cooked correctly. My friend Dave and I often talk about being asked how we like our burger cooked only to get it medium well. Someone at Cornerstone knows how to cook to temperature and does it consistently.
Our meal is pleasant, the restaurant noise is minimal. There is no annoying music playing, or if there is, I can’t hear it. Good. I can not stand music playing at restaurants. I don’t understand it. When I go out to eat I want to talk with the people I’m with, I want to talk with the server. I am engaging in a social activity. Music playing, and worse loud music, is the antithesis. It’s usually the first strike when I walk in to a restaurant and also a bit of a poker tell to the quality. I often, not always but often, find the louder the music there are less people most likely because of the directly proportional lower quality experience.
Our tables are cleared while we eat. My wife asks for a box. I’ve been to Cornerstone a few times, the night we went for this review the server offered and boxed her meal for her. Other times they have not. If I were forced to offer another critic it’s the only I would offer. Restaurants should always offer to box the meal up for the customer. They did that night, so I assume this has become a policy at Cornerstone since my last visit.
I do not drink alcohol and neither does my wife. I bring this up because my expectation around when the check comes might be different from other folks. I’ve always been slightly annoyed when the table has been cleared after the meal that the server at most restaurants tend to disappear. It’s exceptional when this happens at a restaurant with a desert menu. The fastest way to not sell a desert is to not be there to take the order. I’ve sat at tables for almost 30 minutes waiting to see if the server is going to bring a bill. Who doesn’t want to turn tables faster? It makes more tips, the restaurant makes more money. Who are these people that can leave a non paying table for 30 minutes? Asking if the table wants to see a desert menu is a great way to ask the table if they are ready for a bill without making the table feel rushed. It’s subtle sign of an experienced server. That’s exactly what our server did just after the plates were clear. Fantastic. Of course we ordered desert. I ordered a peanut butter chocolate cake. I love this kind of desert, you could pull it out of a plastic wrapper and serve it on a napkin and I won’t care. It’s great. The cornerstone has a reasonable selection of deserts. Soon after clearing our desert plates the bill was on our table. All of this attentive and quick service on one of the restaurants busier nights make the visit even more impressive. This is the kind of place I will always recommend to friends and visitors from out of town. It’s the level of service and quality I would expect and regularly get in much large cities.
This is important, these are much larger cities people come from to visit Barre. They pack up their $9800 mountain bike on an $800 bike rack attached to a $40,000 SUV they bought specifically to make bike trips easier.
I love that we have something like the Cornerstone to recommend. I love that restaurants like the Cornerstone make Barre, VT an easier choice for a bicycle destination.