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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Churrasqueira Kinay (Porto, Portugal)

Well, I’ve talked about most of Porto’s distinctive food and drink: the port wine, the ubiquitous Francesinha, the sande de pernil, and the tripe. But that leaves at least one distinctive treat that’s readily apparent throughout Porto and much of Portugal, and that’s their love of going to a local churrasqueira and getting some “grelhado” action (grilling). There are dozens of nice cafés throughout Porto offering a selection of grilled steaks, chicken, turkey, and fish, usually featuring a large grill in the window. On our last night in Porto, we were unable to resist the wonderful smells coming from the ground floor of our Airbnb’s building, so with that, we decided to try out Churrasqueira Kinay for some Frango Piri Piri (grilled chicken with hot pepper sauce).

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Flor dos Congregados (Porto, Portugal)

On one day of our trip to Porto, we did an outstanding “Vintage Food Tour” from Taste Porto, and our host for that tour, Andre, not only showed us over a half dozen great little culinary spots around Porto, he also made sure to stop and point out some of his favorite gems around the city as we passed by. One place was not on our tour, but on another of Taste Porto’s walking tours, and our host loved it enough that even though we weren’t stopping there, he recommended we make time to get a reservation and come back on our own: Flor dos Congregados.

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Café Majestic (Porto, Portugal)

Porto as a city has certainly had a lot of ups and downs in its history, but much of the actual downtown area is a product of the 1920s, when the inter-war period was actually quite good for Portugal. The city had some major redevelopment, including the city hall and the Avenida dos Aliados grand boulevard lined with all sorts of great Art Deco and Streamline Modern interiors, nicely blended with some traditional architecture. And that’s also the era when the café became one of the great parts of city life, with all sorts of politicians, writers, artists, communists, students, and the like all gathers over cups of coffee topped with tall piles of whipped cream; at one point there were literally dozens of these throughout Porto, and a handful survive more-or-less intact; one of these is The Majestic Café.

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Casa Guedes (Porto, Portugal)

As I mentioned in my review of Café Santiago, Porto loves its sandwiches, and pretty much any Porto tourism or dining guide will recommend that you find one of several joints and try out a Francesinha. But Porto doesn’t just limit itself to the Francesinha; the pork products (both fresh and cured) of Portugal, and their love of fresh Portuguese-style rools (papo secos) make for a lot of great sandwich possibilities, so all sorts of other cafés around Porto offer up their take on the “sande” (sandwich). And if there’s any place that’s almost guaranteed to be on most any recommendation list alongside a Francesinha, that’s going to Casa Guedes for a Sande de Pernil.

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Café Piolho (Porto, Portugal)

After a morning of wandering around Porto, including some spectacular sightseeing from the Torre dos Clérigos, we were ready for a light lunch. This lead us to the nearby Universidade do Porto district, which has a nice selection of small cafés and bars that cater to the students of the University. It’s an interesting part of town to hang around, since Portuguese universities have a strong set of traditions (called “Praxe”), part of which is still maintaining an academic wardrobe. So several of the places by the University have a lot of students roaming about in their distinctive black cloaks and dresses. In a jokingly referential manner, one of the cafés in the neighborhood, Café Piolho, is named after these students (the name mean “louse”, so they literally are saying the café is infested).

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Café Santiago (Porto, Portugal)

After closing out our stay in the Douro Wine region with a pleasant breakfast, winery tour, and a tasting session at Quinta de la Rosa, it was time to head back to Portugal. Unlike our trip out from Porto, this time the trains were indeed running and strike-free, so we had a very scenic train ride down the Douro river valley until we arrived back in Porto at São Bento station in the early evening. After hauling our luggage back to our hotel room and exploring more of the town, we needed a light dinner, and decided this was a good time to try one of the local well-regarded cafés, Café Santiago.

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Quinta do Bomfim (Pinhão, Portugal)

Back when we first arrived in Pinhão, one of the main attractions in the town itself is visiting one of the several Quintas that are located right in town. Quinta do Bomfim is run by the Symington Family Estates, who produce several of the well-regarded Port wine labels (Graham’s, Warre’s, and Dow’s), and over the last several years, they’ve converted the Quinta into a pleasant visitor center. It’s still a working winery (indeed, they were processing grapes on our visit), but it’s also got a nice museum and a great tasting room (note: reservations are strongly, strongly recommended). After a pleasant tour through the Quinta and a nice tasting session in the room (complete with 40 year old Port), we then realized we had made a tactical error: most of the rest of our tour then took prepared picnic baskets and headed off to the vineyards to have a picnic dinner. Lacking a reserved basket, we missed out, but when our itinerary brought us back through Pinhão, we decided that on our second pass we’d actually reserve a picnic basket and head up to the hills.

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