BACK OF THE HOUSE
THE PERFECT WIFE
Like its namesake, this restaurant and tavern
blends comfort with spicy innovation
By Frederica Templeton | Photography by Caleb Kenna
“Eat Out and Stay Out” is the motto at the Perfect Wife Restaurant and Tavern in Manchester, and chef owner Amy Chamberlain makes that a very attractive offer. I invited my 20-something daughter to be my guide, since she and her friends are faithful customers. The upstairs tavern, aptly named the Other Woman, has a long comfortable bar, booths and small tables where customers can choose from relaxed pub-style menu.
Looking around the tavern, as my daughter chatted with friends having dinner at the bar, it struck me that Norman Rockwell would find this a very congenial atmosphere. There were half a dozen young families with children all intently engaged with the foosball machine in the front room. Young professionals were relaxing at the bar with end-of-day beers, and couples of all ages were keeping up a steady murmur of conversation in the booths that line one wall. A recently added three-season covered patio off the bar gives diners the option to sit outside and enjoy the Vermont weather.
The bar menu features comfort-food favorites like Hot Indian Curry and Goat Cheese Dip with Eggplant Fries, Salad Like Mom’s, Couch Potatoes with Cheddar cheese, bacon, scallions and horseradish sauce, and Chicken Pot Pie. The Bistro Sandwich is a big favorite and after one bite I knew why: a surprising mix of chicken, bacon, crispy fried onions and pesto aioli layered into a soft roll. My daughter went for Ali’s Meatless Quinoa Balls after we had quickly polished off that curry dip.
On Friday nights the tables in the tavern are moved aside at 10pm and the small stage comes alive with music by local bands. Dancing is encouraged. “We are very proud to support local musicians,” Amy says. This has not gone unnoticed as the Perfect Wife was voted the number one live music venue in Manchester in a Rutland Business Journal Readers Poll.
After 18 years cooking things her way in her own kitchen, Amy Chamberlain has perfected the art of presenting very good, uncomplicated but interesting food in a laid-back atmosphere of comfort and good cheer. When asked to describe her cuisine, she readily answers “freestyle” and this freewheeling ethos is the pervasive mood of this popular gathering place that is within easy driving distance of three southwestern Vermont ski areas.
Downstairs there is the quieter, more formal restaurant complete with a glass-enclosed Garden Room. The menu is more extensive, with a variety of small plates that change with the season and a selection of large plates that “have stood the test of time,” according to the menu. These include the Sesame-Crusted Yellowfin Tuna made with Amy’s special oriental sauce (which has been the house favorite since she opened) and a vegetarian’s delight, The Howling Wolf, which is “dairy-, wheat- and animal-free.”
From an early age Amy was drawn to the chef’s life, starting with her successful cookie-baking business. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, she began her career in small kitchens in Manchester; Aspen, Colorado; and on a private yacht. After a few years she knew she wanted her own place … and she wanted to come back to Vermont. As luck would have it her stepfather had his eye on the perfect building for her and so the Perfect Wife made its debut in 1996, quickly becoming the place to be for its down-to-earth cooking and high-energy night life.
Amy was an early supporter of local farmers and she is today a proud promoter of Vermont Fresh Network and Vermont Farm to Plate, both dedicated to building partnerships between chefs and local growers as well as with customers. From the beginning, her menus included as many local foods as she could find. Today many of her ingredients are seasonal and locally grown, including organic vegetables from the Ruocco Family Farm; cheeses from Maplebrook Farm, Taylor Farm and nearby Hildene; ground beef from Boyden Farm; and Misty Knoll’s best chickens. Amy feels it’s important to get to know her suppliers. Every year she gathers the staff together for road trips, not only to educate themselves about the products, but to create strong relationships as well.
“It’s nice to know the stories behind the products we sell so we can share them with our customers,” she says. Traveling around the state and the country to check out what is going on is also part of what keeps her menu selections changing and current.
In the years since she opened, Amy has garnered wide appreciation for her skills, including the 2010 Chef of the Year Award from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. In 2009 she traveled to Dijon, France, to represent Vermont and the US at the 4-14 Festival of Music and Food.
Supporting Vermont products from the beginning included beer. “I started supporting local microbreweries as soon as I opened,” says Amy. “Today we have a solid variety of Vermont craft beers and liquors.” She regularly rotates the four taps to include different beers but always available is the Long Trail blend made especially for the Perfect Wife, a crisp citrusy light ale named That’sWhatSheSaid.
On the cocktail menu are a tempting array of Vermont liquors including WhistlePig straight rye whiskey, Smuggler’s Notch Distillery Vodka and Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin. The bartenders are encouraged to come up with their own ideas: the beet martini made with Pickering Farm pickled beet juice sounded so tempting.
In addition to contributing to the appreciation of fresh local food in her restaurant, Amy also supervises a catering business and is the exclusive non-wedding event caterer at Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home in Manchester. As if this were not enough, the very photogenic Amy produces her own cooking show on the local public access channel called “Life of the Party,” on which invited guests cook their favorite recipes before a live audience.
Her involvement in the community also includes being a sponsor for numerous charitable events in Manchester and donating her time to increasing awareness of the importance of eating locally grown foods.
“Vermont has so much to offer,” she says, “and I feel it is important to support our neighbors and cultivate a strong economy so that living in this gorgeous land is profitable and enjoyable for all of us.”
To find out more visit PerfectWife.com
Frederica Templeton is a Manchester-based writer. She’s definitely going back for that beet martini and some curry dip.