WINDSOR, Vt. — Last winter, the restaurant where Josh Martin and Nate Rose worked together was short staffed. The head chef had just been let go, and there were other gaps. Martin had just been promoted to head chef; Rose, a graduate of Essex Tech Center, looked over at his friend and asked, “Why are we running around like crazy for somebody else? Why not do it for ourselves?”
Martin related, “Later that night when we closed down he said, ‘Seriously. Do you want to find a spot and go into business with me? And I said, ‘Sure.’ Three days later he came into work and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go look at this place.’”
This place turned out to be 131 Main St. in Windsor. It seemed promising: there’s foot traffic, an elder living facility down the road, a hospital nearby that might provide some business.
There followed three months of renovation. “It was pretty much raw sheetrock and mud throughout most of it, we had to remud some of it,” said Martin. They repainted the walls scarlet and added black accents, a warm atmosphere for evening dining.
The menu is contemporary American Bistro: from beer battered cheese curds and chili cheese fries, to mac and cheese, portabella burgers, crispy skin duck and the Au Jus burger. They have their own smoker out back. Surprisingly for a restaurant named for a meat-cooking process, there are solid vegetarian options: Veggie stir fry, penne alfredo with broccoli and others.
“That was one of the things we discussed,” said Martin. “Because if a party of six is coming out and two are vegetarians, if you don’t have options you lose them.”
“Looking at the location we looked around the area and saw what was missing,” said Martin. “I have experience with smoking — we smoke all of our own meats. Not every meat, but everything that’s smoked.
“We knew we couldn’t just barbecue; that doesn’t appeal to everyone,” said Rose. “We made our menu in a way that caters to everyone’s needs.”
Martin and Rose work to get locally sourced, fresh products as much as they can, with Vermont raised beef and Vermont cheese. “Every aspect we can, we make in house,” said Rose. “We get our seafood from Black River, they go to Boston daily for the market.”
Au Jus has been open less than two weeks, but so far the big seller has been the Au Jus burger. Au jus is a cooking technique in which the chef saves the juices from a cut of meat and adds them back.
Since they started (and even before) Rose’s prediction has come true: they’re not running around like crazy for someone else, but they are still moving all the time. Until they get a read on when the customers prefer to come, they’re open seven days a week, and the two of them are working from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. In the future they’ll think about taking time off, but for now “this is how it goes,” said Rose with a shrug.
While Rose has the professional training, Martin has been in restaurant work all his life. “I love to cook; I love to create things,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to touch somebody through food.”
The kitchen is partly open, so the two partners can see some of the diners while they’re working. “You always get the head nod—you know, when somebody takes the first bite, and they nod their head,” said Martin, nodding.
“If you get the head nod, you did something right,” he said.