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).
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.
As those that have been to this site a lot have noticed, I have a weakness for hot dogs. Indeed, a coworker claiming that “hot dogs are just hot dogs” was one of my inspirations for starting this blog, since there are really quite a few varieties of hot dogs in existence (indeed, I’ve got as far as the Iceland Pylsur in my reviews). One of the more intriguing things I like is when essentially the same concept, like the “Chili dog”, gets some regional variations. When I was growing up (in the Southwest), a chili dog was simply a “chili dog” (albeit with the caveat that the sort of chili that makes a good condiment isn’t the same sort that tastes good in a bowl). The “Coney Island” dog is a variant of this with “Coney sauce”, a meaty, near-chili spicy meat sauce, and can be spotted by that name ranging from Michigan all the way over to Massachusetts. However, nearly the exact same dog as a “Coney Dog”, with a slightly drier and less spicy sauce, goes by the name “Texas Hot” or a “Michigan” (likely in homage to the Coney Island variety primarily coming from Michigan) in Upstate New York and Vermont (and as far north as northern Quebec, my friend Ben has a great story about buying a “Michigan” hot dog at a food cart at a Hydro Quebec station in far, far, northern Quebec). And a particularly good example of the “Michigan” hot dog can be found at Beansie’s Bus in Burlington, VT.
For a modestly-sized city in one of the nation’s smallest statea, Burlington, Vermont has a surprisingly good selection of restaurants, enough that we always have a bit of trouble figuring out which place to go. One of the perennial contenders for a dinner in Burlington is a smallish place on Bank Street a bit away from the hustle of the Church Street Marketplace: A Single Pebble. A Single Pebble is one of those places that inhabits a semi-funky space, in what used to be a strip of houses in a block now surrounded by the Burlington Center Mall, Church Street, and a parking garage. If you didn’t know the place was here, you might never stumble upon it, but it’s a reasonably sized restaurant that occupies what used to be two houses and the yard between then (since built over), and most of the seating areas still vaguely resemble their old purpose (indeed, this visit’s seating was in what was obviously the original dining room of one of the houses).
Back in February, we came to Kismet to check out a pop-up restaurant they host on Wednesday nights (you can read my review of Himitsu Sushi here). In addition to introducing us to the rather good sushi of Himitsu’s traveling restaurant, this gave us a decent introduction to Kismet as well. While waiting for our Himitsu sushi, we looked over the Kismet menu, and decided to come back and check them out sometime. Well, this Friday we were headed up to Burlington for an extended weekend, and it had us passing through Montpelier during the “late breakfast” period of the day. While we almost ended up going to our standard Montpelier breakfast destination, Coffee Corner, we decided that going over to Kismet and checking out their brunch menu would be a good idea.