In the 13+ years we’ve lived in Northern New England, there have been quite a few changes to the food and drink world in the area. On the food front, Vermont has had a substantial improvement in the dining scene, with additions such as The Farm House (which was a McDonalds when we moved here), Worthy Burger, Kismet, and Tuckerbox being notable new additions over the last decade (and the first of these are also great examples of the substantial improvement in Vermont’s beer scene as well). And a few places that unfortunately are no longer with us, such as Five Spice Bistro in Burlington. But a recent trip through the Green Mountains led us to Waitsfield, where we happened across one of our old favorites that’s still with us, mostly unchanged, since one of our first visits to Vermont in 2001: American Flatbread Waitsfield Hearth.
After we returned from Hawaii, our next weekend was spent up in Montreal. While the main purpose of our trip was to go to the annual Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon (more on this later), it also gave us another trip through Vermont, this time over lunch. I’ve had one place on my hit list for a while: The Mad Taco. I originally discovered The Mad Taco at the 2011 Vermont Brewers Festival: they were one of the food vendors at the event, and two things stood out about them: (1) they served tacos which did not suck (this is not trivial in Vermont!), and (2) they had some seriously good hot sauce. Since then, I’d been making a note to stop by and try their location in Waitsfield, VT, but it never seems to work out. But a while ago they opened up a second location in Montpelier (in what used to be the retail location of SamosaMan before they imploded in scandal), and our late morning arrival finally gave us an opportunity to try them out.
Well, it was just a few weeks ago that I did my review of Worthy Kitchen, but already I’ve got a good reason to do a re-review. In short, Worthy Kitchen does brunch on weekends, and I thought a quick re-review was in order. Last weekend, Carol and I were feeling a bit too lazy to make breakfast, and wanted to head over in the vague direction of Norwich, and we decided that a minor detour to check out Worthy Kitchen’s brunch menu was in order. On weekends, they open at 10am, and in addition to their normal bar, they also serve up Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and all sorts of other breakfast cocktails, and have a pretty decent brunch menu ranging from the basics (eggs), to the inventive (house-made hash), to the lunch-end of the spectrum (they still offer up their fried chicken, although with a biscuit and cream gravy).
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.
Back in April, Seven Days, the alternative paper for the Burlington area, ran an interesting piece about the extensive Handy Family and the positive effect this group of Lebanese immigrants has had on Vermont (see Handyland). One of the places featured prominently in the article is one of Burlington’s older and more iconic breakfast establishments, Handy’s Lunch, which has been on my hit list for rather a long time as a breakfast joint (quite frankly, I don’t often have the opportunity to have breakfast in Burlington that often, I’m mostly a dinner diner in that city). But my recent trip up to the Canadian border had me spending the night in Burlington, so I got to finally check the place out. Located in a modest little building on the corner of Maple and South Champlain in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood near the waterfront. Walking in the door, it’s like walking into another era. Specifically, 1958, since that’s when Handy’s installed their current dining area, with a horseshoe shaped Formica counter.
Sometimes one door close and another one opens… So recently, I decided to apply for a Nexus card, the trusted traveler program between the US and Canada, giving you fast access through customs and immigration. While I do go to Montreal fairly often, that’s only one reason I got the card: it also gives you (for no additional cost or paperwork) access to Global Entry (expedited immigration at US airports), Sentri (the Mexican-US program), and TSA Precheck (which is like a time machine whisking you back to 2001, where you no longer need to remove your shoes, and can leave liquids and the like in your bag). But it required me to do a Canada Border Services Agency interview as well, which meant driving up to Champlain, NY for an interview. I decided to take a day off of work and make a fun trip out of it. Ideally, there was one spot I wanted to visit in Burlington, VT, called Sadie Katz, that several people told me produced a seriously good NY-style pastrami sandwich. Unfortunately, our one attempted trip to Sadie Katz found the place intractably busy, and we vowed to come back a different day. Well, about two months after that, in late 2011, Sadie Katz closed, so we never got to try it out. But that bad news turned out to have a bright side: the location (which is actually a diner, long ago it was opened as the Oasis Diner), was then leased by the Farmhouse Group (the folks that run the Farmhouse Tap and Grill down the street), who opened it on New Years Eve 2011 as El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina
As I’ve often complained here, my little corner of VT and NH suffers from a lack of good ethnic cuisine. One of the more obviously lacking cuisines is Thai. Our area basically doesn’t have many Thai restaurants, and the few we have are generally pretty dismal, so Thai food is one of those things we generally reserve for our trips to other places. But luckily, we don’t have to go all that far (in the grand scale of things) to find some good Thai. Siam Orchid in Concord is pretty decent (sadly, they used to have a location in Manchester as well). But another discovery of ours a few years ago was that a few blocks outside of Montpelier, VT likes another good Thai place, Royal Orchid.
It seems that most of the restaurant openings around here happen when I’m out of town. In this case, while we were in Belgium, Worthy Kitchen, the sister restaurant to Worthy Burger, opened up in Woodstock. While Worthy Burger had some startup issues like most any restaurant, they hid their stride and have been wildly successful (sometimes to the point of being a victim of that success, with my personally experiencing 20 minute lines just to check out, and having them stop taking orders long before closing because the kitchen was backed up. Oh well, there are worse problems a starting business can have). So I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months ago that the Worthy Burger were looking at opening new locations, and then hearing that they had a specific spot picked out in Woodstock. Located on the east side of town, Worthy Kitchen is in a slightly odd spot sharing a building with a physical therapist (who must be thrilled with the arrangement) in a restaurant location I had previously considered cursed since it’s had several failed restaurants in it in my 13 years of living in the area (remember the EastEnder or the Lemongrass Cafe? Apparently nobody did.). But basically, they’ve done up a similar concept: the interior is focused upon the bar, with an impressive list of taps, and then they’ve got a chalkboard menu (like Worthy Burger, some of the items are constant, and others rotate in and out).
On our way back from our recent trip to Montreal, we were fairly hungry as we passed through Southern Quebec and Northern Vermont, which don’t have a lot of options (although Chez Ti Polo in Henryville, QC looks quite promising, I think I will have to check them out next time). One of the first towns encountered crossing back in Vermont is Swanton, so we decided to check out the area. Swanton isn’t a particularly large town. In fact, it’s quite a small town. But it has two prominent places to eat coming into town off of the Interstate: McDonalds, and Shaggy’s Snack Bar. Obviously, we opted for the latter.
After a very pleasant and successful visit to Burlington, it was time to head back down I-89 to New Hampshire, which gave us a good excuse to stop by and check out Prohibition Pig. Like my previous review of Church and Main, Prohibition Pig is a joint that rose of out the ashes of another well-regarded restaurant. In this case, Prohibition Pig replaced the well-loved Alchemist Brewpub, which after the damages of Hurricane Irene, decided to close the brewpub and focus on their nearby brewery/cannery (which produces the well-regarded Heady Topper). The Brewpub was sold, and thus Prohibition Pig was born. Prohibition Pig keeps much of the same focus on beer that The Alchemist did, instead bringing in beers primarily from nearby breweries… and doing a good job at it. Choices during our visit included beers from Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, both top-notch VT brewers, and even some Peche Mortel from one of my favorite Quebec brewers, Dieu du Ciel. But the motto of Prohibition Pig is “Smoked Meat and Libations”, and they pair their excellent bar with a menu focusing on local meats, primarily with smoking and curing. The result is that the restaurant’s new incarnation still packs people in, and we even found the place fully busy during what I call the “lupper” period (the doldrums between lunch and supper service).