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Cornerstone Burger Co. (Northfield, VT)

Way back when we moved to Northern New England, the town of Northfield was one of those little Vermont towns that was easy to miss; the routing of Interstate 89 somewhat bypasses it, and at the time it didn’t have much other than Norwich University and the Cabot Hosiery Mill (now “Darn Tough”) annual sock sale that would draw people into town. Well, a lot has happened in Northfield; it’s still a “quaint New England college town”, but it’s started to become a good local center for food, beer, and coffee. Downtown Northfield has had some fits and starts, but several developments on East St now have lead to a trio of businesses all in a row: Carrier Coffee Roasting, Good Measure Brewing (shared owners with Carrier, and during most operating hours, sharing the seating area), and Cornerstone Burger Co (an offshoot of the larger Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen in nearby Barre, another perennial entry on my “hit list”). After a recent visit in which we stocked up on Guatemalan coffee beans at Carrier and then had a nice pint of cream ale at Good Measure, we decided to finally stop in and try Cornerstone.

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Lao’De Café (Lowell, MA)

A regular feature of my enjoyment of both cooking and Asian cuisine in general means that occasionally we’ve got to head down to Massachusetts on a run for ingredients. This time, it was a trip down to Penzey’s Spices (my favorite for getting high quality spices), then a trip over to the surprisingly affordable and expansive selection of Indian ingredients at Patel Bros in Waltham, followed by the inevitable trip to H-Mart in Burlington, MA for our Japanese and Korean groceries. After a rather successful trip to all three, we headed back home to New Hampshire, passing through Lowell, MA around dinner time. As you can see from my other reviews around Lowell, it’s a neat little town, with one of the more rich and diverse histories. Named after industrial pioneer Francis Cabot Lowell, Lowell was originally founded as a mill town, replacing farmers’ field in Chelmsford MA with a combination of textile mills, factories, and canals as one of the nation’s earliest industrial centers. After a lull in the mid-20th century as, like almost every other mill town in New England, things moved to the South and overseas, Lowell hit a second wave of development in the late 20th century with a combination of education (Umass-Lowell), computers (Wang was founded in Lowell), and then and interesting demographic change as it became a major center for Southeastern Asian immigrants, forming substantial Cambodian, Laos, Vietnamese, and Indian communities. This gives it a very interesting mix of everything from old school blue-collar diners (like The Owl), Portuguese food (Cavaleiros), over a dozen good Cambodian places , and even a handful of Laos places. Which brings us to Lao’De Café.

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Sichuan Garden (Brookline, MA)

A few weekends ago, Carol and I went down to Brookline, MA on an expedition to meet up with some of my fellow Fraternal Order of Moai colleagues for some exploration of some of Boston’s cocktail bars new and old. One place we were looking to explore was a relatively new addition to Brookline: Blossom Bar. Nominally replacing the previous Sichuan Garden restaurant, it sounded like a nice place to start our wandering, since they opened at 11am. Well, it appears our intel was wrong; Sichuan Garden is still alive and well in restaurant form, their cocktail bar distinctly doesn’t open until 5pm; at 11 am they are still just a restaurant without cocktails. While slightly disappointing, I was quickly soothed by the fact that the food menu looked good. Really good. So once our posse arrived, we ordered up a bunch of appetizers and food to sustain us on the rest of our trip through Boston.

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First Branch Coffee (South Royalton, VT)

This fall, a new coffee shop opened up on Chelsea Street (the west side of the South Royalton Square): First Branch Coffee. Focusing on small 30-pound batch roasted coffee, they’ve been focusing on quality coffee drinks and pastries, and have been a nice addition to the Royalton-area restaurant scene. Interestingly, I’m not going to be writing about their coffee or pastries, although I’ve actually had, and enjoyed, both. The real culinary attraction at First Branch is what’s going on in the back half of the house, since First Branch is also the home of the tasting room of Upper Pass Beer Company. From 4 to 9 pm on Tuesday and Friday, and noon to 4 on weekends, Upper Pass (owned by the same folks that run First Branch Coffee) runs a tasting room for their rather nice selection of beers brewed by Chris Perry and Andrew Puchalik, who I’ve known for several years through the local homebrewing community (and for years, Chris was one of the bartenders at nearby Worthy Burger, another of my Royalton favorites, and I particularly like their Cloud Drop and Modern Pants IPAs. But on most weeks, their weeknight openings are themed and have light food service; Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, and Fridays are Flatbread Fridays

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Firebox (Hartford, CT)

Last month, after a day spent with friends in Connecticut, since we were already in the Hartford area, we decided it was a good opportunity to stop and check out the local food scene. Our destination was the old Billings Forge complex, a rather large red brick Romanesque Revival industrial complex that originally held the Billings and Spenser company (inventors of the modern drop forge process, and the Spencer Repeating Rifle). Since the mid-20th century, most of the complex has been housing, original a housing project, and then more recently redeveloped as a mixed income complex. But parts of the complex retained their industrial nature for decades, only recently getting converted to other uses, in this case, two restaurants: The Kitchen which provides a light cafe and job training, and Firebox, a local restaurant focusing on farm-to-table cuisine showcasing central Connecticut farms. We decided after reviewing menus to catch a late lunch at Firebox

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Florence Pie Bar (Florence, MA)

A rather lot of our travel has us passing through Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, and as I mentioned a year ago in my review of The Copperline in Chicopee, MA, the area has a quite an interesting combination of rural towns, college towns, and mill towns, and that’s led to a rather nice selection of quirky little restaurants. In this case, we wanted a light breakfast on our way down to Connecticut, so we stopped off in Florence MA (just west of Northampton) to check out Florence Pie Bar.

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J. J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery (Peru, VT)

There are a lot of little corners of Vermont that I haven’t done much culinary exploration in, simply due to the fact that I seem to pass through those parts during the wrong time of day. Peru, VT is one of those little towns that I’ve driven through probably a hundred times (it’s on Route 11, one of my preferred east-west routes through Vermont), but it wasn’t until I had my parents visiting in September that I finally had a reason to stop and check out downtown Peru, which is just off of Route 11 (the highway diverts about a 1/10th of a mile around the downtown), and, arriving right before noon, we found ourselves at J.J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery in downtown Peru.

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2nd & High (Cleveland, OH)

While my Death March trip to Cleveland mostly involved revisiting (and taking friends to) old favorite hangouts, we did get to explore a bit. And we discovered a few little hidden gems. Like just two blocks away from Cleveland’s Public Square, tucked in just behind a parking garage around the corner from Quicken Loans Arena, there’s a small bar with some not-too-obvious signage: 2nd & High (which is also it’s location). But behind the subtle signage on a quiet back alley that many have probably walked right by, lies a bit of a secret: a surprisingly good Poke Bar.

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Health Check: Black Pig (Cleveland, OH)

Way back in 2013, I did a review of a relatively new addition to the Ohio City dining scene: Black Pig, which had been newly opened by chef Mike Nowak (who had previously been executive chef at several other Ohio City hot spots, including Bar Cento and Market Garden. Since that visit, a lot has changed with Black Pig. For starters, they’ve moved, from their relatively cozy location on W 25th to a substantially larger location on Bridge Ave that used to hold the revered Parker’s restaurant (meanwhile, their old location was taken over by neighbor Nano Brew, providing them a much-needed increase in space). With the move, they ended up retooling the menu a little bit; the focus is still definitely on “New American Cuisine” using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, particularly focusing on Ohio’s beef and pork products, but shifting a bit more towards a more regular menu; my two previous Black Pig visits had custom chef’s tastings, and while they’ve still got an impressive “Tasting Menu”, it’s generally now just a prix fixe menu with periodic seasonal updates. And with the substantially enlarged space, Black Pig does a lot more “Private Dining” events than they used to as well. But I continue to hear some really good word of mouth about Black Pig, so I figured that ending this year’s Death March there would be a great opportunity to check in on how they are doing.

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Health Check: Wonton Gourmet (Cleveland, OH)

I’ve got a number of reviews here that are, in the grand scale of the internet and blogging, well, ancient. For example, way, way back in 2009 I did a review of Wonton Gourmet in Cleveland, and while I’ve had many, many trips back to the Cleveland area, I haven’t actually been back to Wonton Gourmet in almost a decade. But with this year’s Cleveland “Death March”, not only was I revisiting Cleveland, but we were literally walking right by Wonton Gourmet at lunch time, so I decided it would be a good place to stop, take a break, and see if Wonton Gourmet was still as good as I remembered.

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