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MANCHESTER — Dining at Crooked Ram is like enjoying an evening in Europe. This is a restaurant that is much more than about the food. Rather, it brings together, in the best possible way, a confluence of fine and delicious culinary delights with extraordinary wines and beers in a setting that is both stylish and comfortable.

Led by innovative and sophisticated owner Peter Campbell and star chef Nevin Taylor, the Ram brings to us a dining experience like no other in Southern Vermont. Peter, raised in Georgia and North Carolina, studied Fine Arts at Boston University before landing in the art mecca of Brooklyn where he developed numerous creative projects while learning the art gallery world. Peter went on to expand his skills in finance, trading and commercial real estate. In 2015, after traveling in Europe, Asia and the States learning about hospitality, food and drink, Peter, his wife Courtney and their two sons headed to Manchester. The Ram was born in 2017 and is referred to by Peter as his third child.

Already widely recognized as an extraordinarily gifted chef by his peers, Nevin Taylor, previously at Copper Grouse in Manchester, was born and raised on the shores of Cape Cod. As a second-generation professional cook, Nevin has been working in kitchens since the age of 16, in addition to formal training from the School of Culinary Arts at the highly regarded Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. With travels to France, Spain, Mexico and Israel, Nevin has learned how to uniquely blend foods from different cultures. He is also an avid forager, fermenter and a respected culinary podcaster.

The physical environment created by Peter and team sets the tone for the Ram. There are two dining venues, inside and out, both of which are comfortable and enjoyable. The inside dining room is beautifully designed and laid out, with a beamed ceiling, wood floors, an expansive view of the open kitchen and windows overlooking the outside. The outdoor seating, known as the Yard, is fun and relaxed with a lit trellis, large friendly bar and an abundant number of tables spread generously apart. The entire design of steel, wood and stone gives off a classic yet contemporary feeling. Kudos to Dan Scarlotta of Wells for the general contracting and Terry Findeisen of Manchester for the architecture.

The interesting and engaging beverage menu includes many beers and wines we had not previously had the opportunity to try. So thanks to Peter’s graciousness, we made sure to taste as many as we could. The draft list, which may vary from time to time, included a very easy to like Vienna lager from Weird Window Brewery in South Burlington; a fruity French pale called Lost Lands Saison from Oxbow in Maine; a rare double aged, very flavorful IPA called Pink Cloud from Green Empire Brewery in Colchester, as well as others including Landbier from New Hampshire’s Schilling Brewery and Trapdoor to the Sun IPA from Four Quarters Brewery in Winooski. These were all new to us and all terrific. It’s amazing how many outstanding breweries we now have in Vermont.

Similarly, the wine selection is thoughtful and intelligent, demonstrating a desire to think beyond the usual wine list to bring new and different sensations to our palate. Wines including white, orange, pink and red, can be enjoyed by the glass. We especially liked the pink La Boutanche from France and the Cote du Rhone, from the always reliable Domaine Richard, also from France. The Ram cares about the agricultural process utilized in producing these natural wines striving to avoid pesticides, chemicals and mechanization. The result is an especially clear, crisp wine that pairs exceedingly well with the menu created by Nevin to coordinate both beverage and food. These are the attributes which undoubtedly led to the Ram being named as one of America’s best bars in 2021 by Esquire magazine.

As the food choices may vary depending upon season and locally sourced availability, we can only report to you what was available for our two visits, although we would expect most of what we had to be staples on the menu year-round. Locally sourced when feasible, the Ram offers bread from Rupert Rising, fish from Boston through Earth sand Sea in Manchester, meat from Higley Fram in Wilmington and fresh produce from Mighty Food Farm and Clearbrook Farms, both in Shaftsbury.

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One of the entertaining aspects of the Ram is that you can make your meal whatever you want it to be by using your appetite and imagination to compose a menu to your liking. On both of our visits, we shared as many plates as we could, which made for more fun and great conversation at the table. We sat inside on our first visit sharing plates with friends Scott and Allison Rogge. Our second visit was at a table outside, by the bar with friends George and Jackie Keady and Jim and Cheryl O’Connor.

We recommend that if you are four or more, consider starting with a board of cheese and charcuterie served with toasts, garlic honey and accompaniments. You can designate the size portion you want between $24 and $48. Oysters from Prince Edward Island and chilled shrimp are $3 each. A plate of tender and refined culatello, a cured meat from Parma, was perfect at $19. Much like prosciutto, culatello is leaner, made using nothing but the thigh muscle whereas prosciutto maintains small portions of fat and rind. Culatello is cured with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic and dry white wine. This is a dish rarely seen in our neck of the woods.

A plate of aged goat cheese from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont, is served with garlic honey and grissini at $20. A soft and melt-in-your-mouth burrata coupled with toasted semolina is also $20. An Italian tuna sashimi with purple daikon, a taste of citrus pomelo and elegant olive oil is priced at $20, as is a scallop ceviche with lemon, lime and a hint of chili. A very tasty crab toast with shallot, jalapeno and brioche at $19 was a favorite at our table.

There are so many more options, including boquerones at $12, a Spanish tapa consisting of anchovies marinated in olive oil, garlic and parsley; whipped ricotta with semolina crisps at $17; a simple but exquisite halibut with tomato, olives and lemon at $32; and a hearty beef ribeye with oyster aioli and maitake mushroom at $38. There is also a selection of five scrumptious pizzas ranging from $19 to $24. The Ram uses DOP San Marzano tomatoes that add a wonderfully earthy garden flavor rarely found in most pizzas. The difficult-to-obtain DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) certification almost always guarantees the superior quality of this Italian grown tomato. The fungi pizza with forage mushrooms, ricotta and mozzarella was pure joy.

Dessert selection is limited but all good. Chocolate mousse, assorted cookies or pistachio cake, each priced at $13.

At 4026 Main St. in Manchester, the Ram is open 2 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursday and is closed Monday through Wednesday. Best to call 802-417-5049 to confirm hours and make reservations. For parking, it’s advised that you pull into the driveway and park in the back.

David Meiselman and Myra Packman are food and restaurant columnists for Vermont News & Media. They can be reached at davidandmyravt@gmail.com.