When it comes to “Offbeat Eating”, one of my delights is finding particularly good food in places where you wouldn’t normally expect it. But sometimes there are little hidden gems hiding away in quiet neighborhoods outside of the normal shopping or dining districts. One of these is hiding in plain sight in Burlington, Vermont’s Old North End (not to be confused with the New North End about a mile away to the Northeast): on a fairly quiet cross-street halfway between the Battery St and Winooski Ave thoroughfares, is a quiet little building that looks like it’s a neighborhood convenience store. That’s because it is a neighborhood convenience store. The Shopping Bag is mostly a convenience store, with a selection of snack foods, beverages, light groceries, and even a small meat counter. But nestled into the front right corner of the store is a grilling station and a large menu board, and it’s actually one of the better places in Burlington to score a burger.
One of our occasional favorites on the local dining scene is a tapas place: Candela Tapas Lounge in Hanover (you can read my review of them here), but it’s not the only place in the area doing “Pan-Latin inspired tapas”. Melaza Bistro over in Woodstock, Vermont, serves up “Caribbean tapas & entrees”, and has been a perennial item on our “places in the Upper Valley to check out” (early in its history, there was some involvement from the current owner of Candela, but the businesses are completely separate now). So when we recently had to celebrate a birthday, we decided to finally check out Melaza.
Every time we head out to visit the extended family in Michigan, one of our traditions is to take a morning and go out to lunch with Carol’s father, which usually means a chance to explore a different breakfast place in the western suburbs (for example, this is why we visited Bode’s a few years ago. Over the last several visits, I had noticed that one place in Plymouth was routinely getting fairly busy, including occasional lines out the door, and I decided that on my next visit, we’d take Carol’s father there: the Omelette and Waffle Cafe.
As I mentioned in the previous review, over our various trips driving through Buffalo, we’ve hit most of the major “benchmark” restaurants. We’ve been to multiple places for both beef-on-weck and wings. But there was still one classic Buffalo joint that I haven’t reviewed, and hadn’t visited for several years. And that’s the birthplace of the Buffalo wing: the Anchor Bar.
One of the things I enjoy about our (somewhat rare) driving trips to the Detroit area is that, whether we are opting for the US or Canada routes, both take us right through the Buffalo area. Buffalo’s a bit of a run-down metro area, but it’s got quite a good set of culinary traditions, so every time we visit I try to hit up one of the classic spots. For this trip, that was Schwabl’s, so we could get some beef-on-weck.
One of the more unusual recurring destinations I have with my day job is National Technical Systems (NTS) in Boxborough, MA. It’s an engineering service place that does all sorts of engineering testing: shaker tables (exactly that: they shake something really hard to see if it breaks), temperature testing, etc. But the Boxborough area is surprisingly rural for being relatively close to Boston, and basically I can count the number of places to eat during the relatively short lunch break on one hand (and that’s including the Massachusetts-mandatory mini-Dunkin Donuts at the gas station). But during a recent visit, an equipment change gave me and my coworker Eric a larger-than-expected lunch window, so I was finally able to drive just a bit further for lunch and check out a quirky nearby place: Nancy’s Airfield Cafe.
In addition to the places we visit on each “Death March”, we traditionally try to have a nice dinner outing the evening beforehand. Like finding a place to have breakfast the day of the March, it’s always a bit of a challenge, since it usually involves finding a spot that can handle a reservation for a large group (usually all of the hikers, plus a few spouses, so it’s usually around 20 people), that’s not terribly crowded, and can handle the ephemeral nature of large groups always needing to adjust their exact arrival time and number in their party. However, a check of the usual online resources had indicated that one place in Seattle was particularly good for this: Orfeo.
Well, sometimes one of my “Death March” hikes goes according to plan. And sometimes, you’ve got to adjust the plan. In the case of Seattle, our initial plan was to hike through the SoDo neighborhood and cross over to Alki Beach, potentially ending at Sunfish. But like a lot of plans (especially those put together by folks not completely familiar with a metropolitan area), a few hitches arose: first, we got behind schedule. Looking at our watches, it was obvious that even if we hustled, we’d probably get to Alki beach right as most places were closing up shop. Second, most of the Marchers were getting tired, enough so that “hustle” wasn’t really in the vocabulary anymore. Third, the SoDo neighborhood, aside from having the rather cool ORB (Old Rainier Brewery) isn’t the most exciting neighbor. So, as we started to thread our way over to the bridge to Alki (which also isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly), a short stop at Burger King to use the restroom turned into more-or-less of an insurrection. A quick check of the map and Yelp indicated that SoDo isn’t exactly a food mecca, either. But then we noticed one place on the list that had a lot of good reviews: Schooner Exact Brewing. And the single mention of “beer” made it official, Schooner Exact, at approximately 21 miles into the route, became our new, official destination.
Starting with one of my trips to Seattle more than 20 years ago, I had noticed that the Seattle area has a distinct love of fish and chips, with the region having more fish and chips joints that I’m accustomed to, even for a fairly large area. Indeed, I’ve remembered more than a few trips out for fish and chips at Spud Fish N’ Chips after having beers with college friends in Kirkland, and even having more than one person in Alki get in an argument over which of the two Alki establishment (another of the Spud locations, or Sunfish just down the way) was the One and True[tm] place for fish and chips. Seeing that our Death March route had us looping around Green Lake in northern Seattle, it seemed almost mandatory that we at least stop by for a quick mid-day snack (at this point, we were right about the nominal halfway point). (And, confession time: we had originally planned to finish at Sunfish for comparison, but we got behind schedule and didn’t make it out there).
One of the challenges of planning one of my “Death March” 20+ mile hikes through is city is figuring out a route of the right length. Some cities (like New York) this is pretty easy, but for the more compact cities (like Boston) this often means taking some interesting loops through the city. In the case of Seattle, I wanted to do a basic “S” curve, starting near the center of Seattle, looping up through University of Washington to Phinney Heights, down through Downtown to Georgetown, and over to Alki Beach (we didn’t quite make it that far…). The map had a nice, fairly intuitive route if I started from Volunteer Park, but looking over the map, Volunteer Park and the surrounding part of Capitol Hill is still strongly residential. But I did notice one place that had fairly consistently good reviews: Volunteer Park Cafe.