STOWE — After a day on the slopes, you need something warm and filling. A salad just isn’t going to cut it. No wonder the burger is a staple on ski-town menus. We figured that Stowe — a town with only 4, 700 people but 45 restaurants — would come up aces in the burger department because basically everything is locally sourced: the meat, the cheese, the buns. We even found a burger with house-made ketchup at The Crop (1859 Mountain Road, 802-253-4765, www.cropvt.com, Crop Burger $13), which the beef lover in our party declared was the best he had ever tasted. The fried pickles — big slabs of pickle, not puny chips — won high marks, too. So, with the bar set high, we set out to find more. (Note: Nearly every place sells a veggie version.)
The Sunset Grille & Tap Room (140 Cottage Club Road, 802-253-9281, www.sunsetgrillevt.com) is the closest thing you will come to a local hangout in Stowe. This is where everybody goes to watch the game or shoot some pool, and the prices aren’t tourist-inflated. The Taproom Burger, a quarter-pound patty on a bulky roll, is just $7.49. We opted for the Cowboy Burger ($9.95), and it came out perfectly cooked, as ordered. “This is good, manly stuff,’’ our tester said. “Burger, bacon, cheese, and a little lettuce to make Mom happy.’’ It comes with fries, or you can pay a little extra to substitute onion rings or a tossed salad. “I give it three ‘yee-haws,’ ’’ our tester said. We also tried the ground sirloin sliders ($8.95) and found them simple (just a smidge of cheese and “special sauce’’) and delicious, a good call for daintier eaters.
The first time we hit the Rusty Nail Bar & Grille (1190 Mountain Road, 802-253-6245) we thought everybody was way overdressed for Vermont, until we realized we had crashed a bar mitzvah. On a normal night this is the place to go if you want your burger served with a side order of rowdy: There’s a big dance floor in the center of the room, live music or DJ tunes, and a lot of fleece-clad socializing. The food is more gastro-pub than bar grub — bhan mi, pork belly BLTs, chicken tikka — but we had come for a burger. We decided to skip the one topped with pastrami, and the double Dreadnaught Burger topped with brisket (a budget-buster at $21) in favor of the Classic Burger ($13), and pay a little extra for duck fat fries. We would give the fries an A plus, the burger a B plus. The challah-ish bun was good, too.
If you would rather eat your après-ski burger in a classier joint, there’s Hourglass, the lounge at the Stowe Mountain Lodge (7412 Mountain Road, 802-253-3560, www.stowemountainlodge.com). Theirs is a $16 burger, beautifully presented, with grass-fed, local beef, Cabot cheddar, bacon, and caramelized onions. The side salad is a lovely medley of shredded veggies, tossed with tasty maple-balsamic vinaigrette (you can also get black pepper fries on the side). This burger was slightly charred on the edges, just the way we like it.
We didn’t really mean to sample more burgers, but we ended up in The Whip (18 Main St., 802-253-7302, www.greenmountaininn .com), where we discovered a delicious, moist burger, made with hormone-free beef from Wood Creek Farm in Bridport. This one was topped with the usual cheddar, lettuce, and tomato and an unexpected dollop of mango chutney ($12.) Who knew this would be so good? Chips or salad comes with this, no fries, but we fell hard for the petite parsnip-vanilla milkshake, served on the side.