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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).

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Smoke Shack BBQ (Daytona Beach, FL)

I’ve always been a big fan of barbecue (heck, it is one of my top categories), but one of the drawbacks of living far in the Northeast is that almost nobody up here understands good BBQ. For every rare place up here that can make a decent barbecue with some tender texture, good moisture, and a nice smoke flavor, there are dozens that serve up truly mediocre barbecue, usually some sort of overcooked, tough meat (or even worse, boiled meat) served up with a cloying sauce. It’s happened to me enough that I treat any sentence containing both “New England” and “BBQ” in the same sentence with extreme skepticism. But when I’m traveling, it often gives me a chance to actually score some decent BBQ, since I can get down South where folks actually understand that “barbecue” means “smoked” and not “grilled” or “sauced”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also important to do some research: the various BBQ regions of the US all have their specialties (Brisket and sausage in Texas, pork in the Southeast, and ribs in Memphis and St Louis), and that’s usually what they do best. So with that in mind, a recent trip to Daytona Beach had our group searching out lunch, and we decided to try out the Smoke Shack, across from the Daytona Speedway.

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Dharshan Namaste Asian Deli (Winooski, VT)

On our recent trip to Pho Dang in Winooski, we immediately noticed that not only did North Main Street have a phở joint, it also seemed to have it’s own little Southeast Asian neighbor, with several Asian-related businesses nearby. One of them, Dharshan Namaste Asian Deli, is directly across the street from Pho Dang, and proudly sports “Bánh Mì” sandwiches in their window. I love a good bánh mì, so, a few weeks later when we were back in the Winooski area, we decided that we’d duck in and try Dharshan Namaste and see how they did.

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The Randolph Depot (Randolph, Vermont)

Time for a quick mini-review… A recent trip to Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, VT, left us looking for some late breakfast opportunities in Randolph. Probably due to the town itself being a fair bit off of I-89, we haven’t done a lot of exploring there, but several places in have started to show up on my radar, like One Main Tap and Grill and The Black Krim Tavern. But neither of those is really a lunch place, so we instead were drawn to a fairly central spot in Randolph, the Randolph Depot. Located in a nicely renovated railroad depot building (hence the name), Randolph Depot is serving up breakfast and lunch with a variety of soups, sandwiches, pancakes, and eggs. It looked like a particularly nice place to have a meal, so I ordered up some pancakes and corned-beef hash…

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Pi Brick Oven Trattoria (Woodstock, VT)

After a day of hiking around Woodstock, we were hungry, and decided that while our usual haunts (The Village Butcher Shop being one of the main ones, or the ever-wonderful Worthy Kitchen being almost a perennial haunt of ours), we’d mix it up a bit and get some pizza. Pi Brick Oven Trattoria had opened a few years ago, and despite the schticky name, we decided to duck in and give it a try.

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Butter My Biscuit (Manchester, NH)

I’ve always liked Manchester, the Queen City of New Hampshire. For such a modestly-sized city of ~100,000, it actually has a pretty good dining scene (you can see my other reviews here), and “ManchVegas” still holds a lot of surprises for me, especially in the culinary scene. One of these was over on the West Side of town across the Merrimack River, which I call “Little Quebec”, since the area has a very strong French Canadian heritage. It also has a number of Quebecois restaurants, such as the fairly well known Chez Vachon which has been serving up giant plates of poutine for years. But looking over the various dining options in West Manchester, I saw an interesting one called “Butter My Biscuit”, and we decided to check it out.

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San Jorge Tortilleria & Market (Murrieta, CA)

An important agenda item for me any time I’m visiting an area with a substantial Hispanic population is scoring a good Mexican breakfast. While my home turf in New Hampshire has a few decent Mexican places, none of them currently offer breakfast, so when I’m in an area with some good Mexican breakfast options, I have a hard time resisting a trip for a good huevos ranchero or a well-performing breakfast burrito. But while visiting Carol’s relatives in Murrieta, CA last month, we had a free morning and a strong appetite, and ended up finding San Jorge Tortilleria and Market. Nestled in a strip mall behind a tire shop off of Madison Ave in a quieter part of Murriet, San Jorge is one of those quiet, un-assuming places. Walking inside, it’s also immediately obvious that San Jorge is putting most of the emphasis on the “Market” side of the operations (although they do a very impressive job with the “Tortilleria” part of things, with some rather impressive piles of fresh corn and flour tortillas all bagged up and ready to go). But amongst the various foods and sundries, San Jorge also has a nice food service counter, serving up Mexican breakfasts and lunches.

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Guild Fine Meats (Burlington, VT)

Coming back from my quick trip to Canada, my return itinerary also brought me back through Burlington, so I decided to check out another newcomer to the Burlington scene: Guild Fine Meats. Guild Fine Meats is the latest storefront operation from the folks that brought you Farm House Tap and Grill and El Cortijo. Back about a year ago, their opened their fine dining steakhouse, Guild and Company, on Williston Road in South Burlington. More importantly, they also took over the Winooski warehouse that was being run by SamosaMan (who seems to have disappeared from the Vermont dining scene), and turned that into their meat commissary, where they do their own butchering, aging, and other charcuterie supporting their several businesses. Well, earlier this summer they decided to open up a retail operation selling their meats, as well as sandwiches made from them.

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Church and Main (Burlington, VT)

The corner of Church and Main in Burlington is one of those spots that frustrated me. At the very bottom of the Church Street Marketplace, it’s a nice location, and for quite a few years it was the home of one of my favorite Burlington restaurants, Smokejack’s. However, like a lot of restaurants (good and bad), Smokejack’s closed in 2008, and the place sat empty for a few years before finally reopening as Church and Main. We’d walked by it several times since it opened, and people always seemed to be enjoying themselves in there (particularly with cocktails), so when I had to find a place in Burlington to celebrate Carol’s birthday, I decided to give Church and Main a try.

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Himitsu Sushi (Montpelier, VT)

I knew that eventually the concept of the “pop-up restaurant” was going to hit the area. For those that aren’t familiar with the pop-up concept, it’s basically a temporary restaurant, where a chef or kitchen team opens up in a temporary space or borrows another restaurant’s space for a night, serving their food and menu instead of the normal fare. It’s a good way for chefs to test out concepts or run limited restaurants, and they’ve been all the buzz the last few years. Indeed, one place I’ve reviewed here, Dock Kitchen in London, started as a pop-up. And like most any culinary fad, eventually it finds its way here to northern New England. In this case, the pop-up restaurant is a sushi place, Himitsu Sushi.

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