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.
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.
This Christmas, we decided to visit Carol’s extended family in the Detroit area again, which meant for a long drive through Vermont (picturesque as Vermont is, it’s a terribly slow state to cross East-West. I’d be in favor of building an interstate crossing it), New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. To cross Vermont, we decided to cross along the southern part of the state at Highway 9, going through Bennington, for another try at The Blue Benn Diner.
You see, the Blue Benn has been on our hit list for, well, over a decade. It’s not that we’ve never tried to come her before, it has just never worked out. At least once we arrived just after they stopped serving. Another time, a kitchen fire had caused them to be closed. And yet another time, a power outage had them closed… and at that. this visit was a close call on that front, since several power lines were down in the area and detoured us around in our efforts to get there.
But this time we finally made it. Pulling into the Blue Benn around 12:30, we got there in time for a late breakfast with only a short wait in line in the cramped vestibule. Moving inside the restaurant, it’s a cozy diner (I originally thought it was a Worcester diner, but more careful research indicates it’s actually a Silk City diner) with the classic long counters and two sets of booths. Settling into a booth near the end of the diner, we selected our items and enjoyed our coffee while waiting and listening to the crowd, a nice mix of tourists and locals.
Twice in the last few years we’ve celebrated my birthday with a trip to the same place: Trattoria Delia in Burlington, VT. Nestled into a basement a block south of City Hall park, Trattoria Delia is the sort of place you can easily walk by without checking out… but behind the fairly subtle frontage is a fairly elaborate Italian restaurant with a slightly funky vibe that’s best described as “Sugar house meets Alps”. But despite the quirky decor, Trattoria Delia remains one of Vermonts best Italian restaurants, and this trip was no exception.
On December 9th, we traveled up to Burlington, VT to celebrate my birthday. En route, we took a short detour to Plainfield, VT, to check out Maple Valley Cafe, which had been strongly recommended by one of Carol’s coworkers.
Located on Route 2 just east of downtown Plainfield, Maple Valley is a slightly quirky place. It’s a café, take-out place and gift shop, all under one roof. But the back of the gift shop holds a surprisingly large dining area, and they’ve got a rather extensive menu of omelets, pancakes, fruit smoothies, and other breakfast treats.
Back in August (while Carol and I were in Iceland), one of the greater Upper Valley area’s most anticipated restaurants, Worthy Burger, opened for business. The location itself has been the source of a bit of drama in recent years; originally it was supposed to be a bar run by Freighthouse Brewing, but then as the plans for the brewery got scaled back, plans adjusted, and several folks including local chef Jason Merrill, Dave Brodrick (known for the well-respected Blind Tiger in New York), and Kurt Lessard decided that the South Royalton region was ripe for a gourmet burger bar.
So after several months of extensive renovations while locals kept peering in and spreading rumors about the impending opening (some accurate, some not), Worthy Burger finally opening in August.
In what appears to be turning into a tradition, after this year’s Saturday afternoon session of the Vermont Brewers Festival, we went to The Farm House Tap and Grill with our friends Rick, Sarah, Scott, Eve, and friends. We did this last year, and had a great time (I would have written it up then, but I had left the camera in the truck with our dog Buster).
What is Farm House Tap and Grill? Owned by a group of local restauranteurs including two of the owners of Zero Gravity Brewpub and a few other Vermonters, Farm House is a “gastropub” featuring a combination of good wine and beer lists with food focusing local ingredients. While I’ve never really been a great fan of the term “gastropub” (really, what’s wrong with the old-fashioned word “restaurant”?), it’s actually not a bad description of Farm House. First of all, they’ve got a phenomenal beer list; on this visit, they had an outstanding selection of both local Vermont gems (Rock Art’s Jasmine IPA, Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Chinooker’d, and Otter Creek’s 20th Anniversary, as a start), and regional favorites (Founders’ Devil Dancer, Dieu du Ciel’s Mea Culpa, and some brews from Brooklyn). Some of these (like the Lawson’s) are rather hard to find as well. So they’ve got the selection down pat.
But they’ve also got a decent menu. While they only have a limited tasting menu before 6pm, Farm House was quite happy to let us quietly drink beer and nosh on lighter appetizer fare until 6pm rolled around (we arrived at 5pm)…
We started day 2 of this year’s Burlington visit with a trip to Penny Cluse Cafe for breakfast. Looking over my notes, I was shocked that I haven’t written up Penny Cluse yet; I’ve been coming here pretty routinely since sometime in 2006, and have flickr photos of a half dozen breakfasts we’ve had here. So it’s not because of a lack of experience, or a lack of photos. I don’t know, sometimes these places just find a way to fall through the cracks. But this time I’ll address it.
Penny Cluse (named after the owner’s late beloved dog Penny, if you were wondering about the name) is on the relatively short list of places that seem to be go-to spots for the Burlington crowd. The regular places seem to be Sneakers (which I have reviewed), Magnolia Bistro (which I have yet to try), and Penny Cluse. Located at the corner of Cherry St and Winooski Ave, it’s just around the corner from Church Street, so getting in here for breakfast on a Saturday can be a bit of a wait. An hour, in our case, until I managed to sweet-talk the hostess into letting us squeeze in at the counter (we did, after all, have another beer festival to get to!).