Beau (Montpelier, VT)

Montpelier is another one of those towns around here that seems to punch above their weight when it comes to the culinary front. Sporting a good Asian fusion place (Kismet), a Southern cooking place (Downhome), several good Italian places, a taco shop (one of the Mad Taco outposts), two Pho joints, a whole range of other dining options, and even a culinary school, I’m never far from some good eats in Montpelier. But there are always new things showing up, and a bit over a year ago we were taking the back way to Hunger Mountain Co-op via Barre Street when we happened across Beau. Beau had an interesting business model: it was basically a combination of a butcher shop with house-cut meat and house-made charcuterie and a cocktail bar, with custom-crafted cocktail served out of a rolling bar out front. They also do a light menu of charcuterie and soups (and, in nicer weather, set up an outdoor patio and have a food truck or portable pizza oven come by). It was pretty much custom-adapted to my particular tastes… all in a 300 square foot store.

Well, a few changes have occurred since they opened. Alas, the cocktail program has ended (realistically, that was a lot to cram into such a small space), but they’ve expanded the meat area and their menu as well, so overall, it’s probably been a bit of an improvement, since I can still get all the same great meats and a better set of dining options (and if I want a cocktail, head to one of several other nice spots around the area).

Realistically, however, this is almost two reviews, since there’s both the butchery part of the business, and the light meals. I’ll start with their butcher case: Beau is a full-service butcher and charcuterie service: they’ve got a wide variety of both fresh and smoked steaks, roasts, chops, filets, hand-tied roasts, and other bits of quality local Vermont meat available for purchase, including custom cutting and French butchering (mmm, a proper bavette is a thing of beauty). It’s one of the few real butcher shops still going in the area (the Village Butcher being another good example of one of the few remaining), and the staff really know both their butchery skills and how to give good cooking advice.

Next over is the charcuterie case, where they offer a variety of prepared meats, including some sublime corned beef and pastrami (both house made), sausages, smoked chops and fish. Add into that an impressive array of the soft, potted cold cuts, Beau is one of the few places where I’ve seen pretty much a complete lineup ranging from the finely ground pate, to the heavily spiced and traditional Quebecois Cretons (aka “Gorton” in some parts), terrine, rillettes, and head cheese. I’ve only sampled about half of this lineup (being particularly impressed by the Cretons and the head cheese), but both of these were excellent, well spiced, and perfectly blended with the exact right fat content. They also do a good job over in the freezer case with making various meat broths for sales (that, even when thawed, are so full of delicious collagen that you have to scoop the broth from the the container; it won’t pour).

These broths are the cornerstone of their light lunch menu. Most days, they’ve got a selection of two or three “broth bowls” (back in the day, we called those “soups”), and this time we were looking for lunch, so we decided to each get a different soup: Carol opting for their posole (Mexican pork and hominy stew), while I opted for their pork belly ramen bowl.

I’ll start with Carol’s posole. A good posole starts with a rich pork broth and adds hominy (ideally, the hominy soaking up some of the flavor of the broth without breaking down from being overheated), roasted peppers, tomato, cilantro, and lime, and this posole didn’t disappoint: the foundational broth was a perfect, rich, bone-laden pork broth (to which some shredded pork was added). Add in some veggies, some cooked-just-to-the-point-of-softness hominy, and top with some pickled radish, and this was a delightful bowl of soup (better than any of the Mexican options around here that I’m aware of).

Like the posole, the ramen bowl was based on the same, rich pork broth, but this time with some ginger and Asian spices, some ramen noodles, some pickled radish, and several generous chunks of a soy-marinated pork belly. Each bite was a bit of pork, a bit of the rich broth, and some vegetables and noodles, making for a nice soup blend reminiscent of some of the better ramen shops I’ve done recently. If there was a weakness here, the noodles weren’t much beyond your typical ramen, but I’ll give them a break since the broth and pork belly were soooo good.

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