You can say this about Rooster’s Roadhouse: The restaurant has personality. A bit of a split personality, but still, the place exudes character.

The exterior of the two-story, light-yellow clapboard house in Bethel suggests New England charm, as does the flower and shrub garden at the side entrance. But then there is, incongruously, this license-plate-sized sign hitched to the fence post above the nodding tulips: “Bikes, Babes, Beer.”

It was the first restaurant of any size as we approached Bethel from the north, en route home from Montreal. What might we find for food here? We were encouraged by several vehicles parked in the lot despite the early hour — 3 p.m. Too soon for dinner, but time enough for a late lunch.

We had also surveyed the menu online a few days prior. The offerings were diverse and many, with comfort food a highlight. We were primed for checking out the meatloaf, the chicken pot pie, maybe some pasta — items that appear on both the lunch and dinner menus.

We had the choice of sitting upstairs in the pub area or downstairs in the dining room, which was painted bright yellow and trimmed with brown. It was furnished with booths, tables, a gas fireplace with mantle, and dozens of rooster artifacts. All kinds and sizes of roosters — two and three-dimensional, roosting on shelves and walls and in every corner. Quirky. Fun. We got a welcoming feel.

We also noticed that both upstairs and down were furnished with several large tables intended for groups. Our friendly and no-nonsense waitress told us that May was the slowest month, and that in the other seasons, particularly winter (which is ski season; the area is home to Sunday River), the restaurant is jammed. It hosts many special-occasion parties for locals and visitors. I could envision lots of merriment here — families, lift workers, groups of hungry skiers and snowmobilers.

If only the food lived up to the carefree, country atmosphere. Much of it seemed to rely on processed products, which usually means that salt or sugar got too much emphasis.

A starter of New England clam chowder didn’t fall too short, though. It was chunky, rich, flavored with tarragon and salt pork, and held only a few clams, but was pretty good overall ($4.95). Side salads came straight from the refrigerator, with mixed greens, thickly sliced cucumbers, grape tomatoes and dressings from a bottle. Supermarket salad-bar fare.

Chicken pot pie, the dish we had craved for a good part of the drive, was a big bowl of white meat chunks with peas and carrots in a sauce topped with floating golden crust ($9.95). While attractive, it tasted manufactured, and thus was a disappointment.

Two half-inch-thick slices of meatloaf ($8.99) covered in gravy had a texture that resembled liverwurst, which was off-putting; it was like pressed meat. The accompanying skin-on and quartered red roasted potatoes were very tasty — just right, in fact — and we consumed them with relish.

White Heat quesadillas ($8.99) were a standard compilation of chicken, blended cheese, tomato and jalapenos between crispy tortillas. (White Heat is the name of an expert trail at the ski resort.)

Stuffed mushroom caps, an appetizer, were covered with the same cheese mixture found in the quesadillas, melted over the top of five plump mushrooms bursting with a Thanksgiving-style breading ($8.95). This filling appetizer had as much refinement as a Mack truck. But sophistication is not why you come to Rooster’s. You come to kick back.

We circled back to try the split pea soup ($3.99), the day’s selection and a soup I particularly favor. I couldn’t put my finger on what made it taste odd — perhaps it was the brand of chopped ham? A misplaced herb? Anyway, I didn’t finish it. The restaurant’s three-bean chili ($4.79), which included minced meat, started off sweet, went to spicy, and finished with all salt.

Rooster’s menu is broad, and includes pastas, pizzas, seafood and steaks.

Desserts were good-looking, rich affairs. Homemade brownie bottom cheesecake ($4.89) held an inch of chewy brownie topped with a creamy cheesecake. The combination worked. Homemade peanut butter pie — a sweet and gooey wedge topped with crunchy peanuts and miniature chocolate chips ($3.99) — tasted like a product from the candy bar aisle. Both were swimming in a chocolate sauce that tasted like Hershey’s, which did nothing to enhance them.

(Call me a food snob, but if I could convey one thing to restaurateurs and coffee shops, it would be this: Use a high-quality chocolate.)

Rooster’s Roadhouse appears to have many happy customers, and far be it from me to dissuade them from continuing to enjoy the ambience and fare at this friendly spot on Route 2 just outside of town. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and is ripe for partying.

But if you care about spending your hard-earned money on cuisine that makes you beam with gratitude at the effort, thought and carefully chosen ingredients that go into it, you might just give this roadhouse a wave and a drive-by.

 

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at:

nancyheiser.com