Rough Cut ditches bull; Marquis Theater gets a scrubbing

MIDDLEBURY — Owners of The Rough Cut restaurant and the Marquis Theater are making changes this month they hope will enhance the dining and entertainment experiences for customers at those two downtown Middlebury businesses.
One of the owners, Ben Wells, outlined the changes during a recent interview.
Roughly two weeks from now, The Rough Cut at 51 Main St. will sport a new look that will include some new tables and the conspicuous absence of the restaurant’s mechanical bull. In its place will be a stage that will speak to The Rough Cut’s increasing commitment to musical performances delivered by local talent.
The changes, according to Wells, are being driven by customers’ comments and suggestions. That feedback came through loud and clear that the bull should be put out to pasture and the restaurant’s collection of high-top tables were too tall and didn’t possess enough surface area to comfortably accommodate the barbecue food platters.
Wells knows some folks will miss “Ferdinand” the bull, who during The Rough Cut’s 10-month run has given riders a chance to publicly test their balance, while giving spectators a compelling side show. The restaurant’s main attractions have been its low-and-slow-smoked barbecue dinners and its wide variety of beers, wines, whiskeys and bourbons.
Ferdinand has made some friends, but he’s lately spent more time in the stall than in the arena, in a manner of speaking.
“The bull — unfortunately from a technical and mechanical side — has under-performed for what we had expected,” Wells said.
Folks were getting frustrated with Ferdinand being out of commission, and Wells was getting weary of troubleshooting the device’s problems. Turns out the machine had a defective electronic console, according to Wells.
The bull is also taking up a fairly large chunk of restaurant space that is segregated by a railing, he noted. The machine is understandably surrounded by some safety padding to cushion riders who fall.
That will soon change. Ferdinand will make his final appearance on Sept. 15, assuming his electronic sensors are firing. After that, workers will install a small wooden stage. Seats and tables will be positioned closer to the stage area.
“(The space) will be more versatile and comfortable, and our seating will be better for groups,” Wells said.
Operators of The Rough Cut weren’t initially sold on music as a complement to the food and beverages. But they’re firm believers now. Wells and his colleagues have gradually ramped up the number of gigs at the restaurant to three per week, including a “blues jam” every third Wednesday of the month. The blues jam is a holdover event from the former occupant of the space, the “51 Main” restaurant managed for several years by Middlebury College students.
“We’re excited to be a home for all musicians in the area,” Wells said. “We want to be a place where musicians are excited to play, and where people can hear a variety of music.”
He added the venue would host individuals and groups using acoustic and/or electric instruments. The Rough Cut will clear a spot on the floor for dancing, depending on the type of musical performance.
Wells and Chef/Co-owner Sara Giard also promised some menu changes for this fall.
“Our kitchen crew is working hard on coming up with some new stuff,” Wells said.
Specifically, Giard said the restaurant will offer smoked salmon, as well as sandwiches built on croissants, among other tweaks.
“This fall we will focus significantly on comfort food and family recipes,” said Giard, whose mother-in-law, Susan Angier, makes all the restaurant’s desserts.
Giard noted The Rough Cut will no longer use any frozen product in its smoking process.
“We will be smoking everything fresh, daily,” Giard said. “Instead of smoking as much meat as we think we might need, we’re going to smoke fresh every single day. So wewill be running out. The name of the game is to sell through every night, and start completely fresh every day.”
She hopes customers will benefit from the culinary research she’s being doing this summer.
“I’ve been spending some time really delving into the barbecue world,” Giard said. “I’ve been exploring those flavors and cooking techniques, which you don’t see a lot around (the Northeast). It’s really blown my mind as a lifelong restaurateur.”
Meanwhile, the Marquis Theater at 65 Main St. is already boasting some new improvements. Among them are the new front doors, made from Douglas Fir wood, according to Wells.
The new doors are more utilitarian and visually appealing than the former aluminum doors, he noted.
“It sets the tone for the (movie going) experience,” Wells said. “We’ve been wanting to do it for a few years.”
The Marquis Theater was one of four screening venues for the recently concluded Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival. As was the case last year, the Marquis closed when the festival concluded on August 27, and reopened Sept. 6. Wells used that hiatus to do some basic maintenance on the theater. Workers painted the floors of both screening halls and did a deep cleansing of other surfaces, according to Wells.
Looking ahead, Wells wants the Marquis to host more unique films and special events. For example, the theater recently hosted three screenings of the documentary “RBG” — about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — on a single day. All three showings sold out, giving Wells confidence that specialty films can do well at a community theater during short runs. On Sept. 19, the Marquis will screen the documentary “A Man of His Word” about Pope Francis.
“We have a lot in the works,” Wells said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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