I just recently returned from a trip to the most wonderful Isle of Réunion, a French Island in the Indian Ocean. We’ll get back to that in a bit, but one of the neater things about our decision to travel to Réunion is that it involved stopovers in Paris on both the outgoing and return trips. So a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Paris, walking along the Seine, having just dropped off our bags, and decided that the perfect afternoon activity would be to wander by the Louvre, through Les Tuileries, and go give the chocolate shop of Jean-Paul Hévin a visit.
Each Spring and Summer, there are a lot of area events that I’m interested in going to, like restaurant weeks (as I write this, Vermont Restaurant Week is in full swing, and unfortunately I had to miss it due to travel). But one of the ones that’s been on my radar for the last few years is the Manchester NH “Hippo De Mayo Taco Challenge”. This year, it’s coming up quick: May 7th, from 4 to 9 pm. Basically, Hippo De Mayo is a Cinco De Mayo celebration held around the Manchester, NH area, where several area restaurants all come up with a unique taco, and sell them to the public, usually for $2 each, and often have other interesting side dishes and cocktails along the same theme. The great part is, these aren’t just Mexican restaurants getting involved… pretty much every major restaurant in the Manchester area (and virtually every restaurant that Offbeat Eats has reviewed in Manchester) gets involved, putting there own spin on it. So you’ll see everything from the classics, to dessert tacos, to Italian sausage tacos, to, well, I’m certain something will surprise me this year as well. Not 100% sure I’m making it down there this year, but for my readers in the VT/NH/MA area, you may want to give it a try. You can read more about it here: http://www.allenmellododgenashua.com/blog/2015/April/10/hippo-de-mayo-taco-challenge-manchester-nh.htm, or get a list of participating vendors from their own web site here.
On our recent trip to Pho Dang in Winooski, we immediately noticed that not only did North Main Street have a phở joint, it also seemed to have it’s own little Southeast Asian neighbor, with several Asian-related businesses nearby. One of them, Dharshan Namaste Asian Deli, is directly across the street from Pho Dang, and proudly sports “Bánh Mì” sandwiches in their window. I love a good bánh mì, so, a few weeks later when we were back in the Winooski area, we decided that we’d duck in and try Dharshan Namaste and see how they did.
As I mentioned in my review of Montreal’s Fairmount Bagel a few years ago, bagels are generally a fairly regional food item, with various world metropolitan areas all having their own variations on the same theme. One of the more respected ones, the Montreal Bagel, is also one of the most regional: it’s rather difficult to find a proper “Montreal bagel” outside of Quebec (and heck, they get pretty scarce outside of Montreal itself). So it was with a bit of skepticism that upon hearing that a relatively new addition to Burlington’s bagel scene (which, to date, hadn’t really impressed me that much, even with the relatively low standards I’ve had for “New England” bagels). But a trip this summer by Carol up to Burlington to get an issue with her Mini Cooper fixed let her to try out Myer’s Bagels, and she came back excited: “They really are good, Montreal-style bagels”. So the next time we were both up in Burlington, it was time to check out Myer’s.
A recent work trip down to Billerica, MA left me passing through Lowell around breakfast time, and a quick trip through the Lowell area quickly led me to The Owl Diner. I’ll fully admit to having a weakness for classic Worcester Diners, and the relatively busy parking lot showed that the Owl was definitely popular with the locals. So I decided it was indeed time for breakfast, and headed inside.
One of the things I’ve particularly liked about the Burlington, VT metropolitan area is that for for a metro area with only slightly more than 200,000 people (although that is around 1/3 of the state), it has rather a lot of great restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants. Indeed, Burlington has pretty much the highest concentration of Vietnamese people for quite a distance, and the area’s Vietnamese restaurant population has grown from the modest two places it had back in 2001 (when we moved here) to a robust half-dozen phở shops. One of these that I had been hearing a lot of good buzz about is Phở Dang in Winooski, so when we found ourselves in Winooski for a recent concert, we decided that pho was exactly what we needed to dispel some winter blues.
Time for a quick mini-review… A recent trip to Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, VT, left us looking for some late breakfast opportunities in Randolph. Probably due to the town itself being a fair bit off of I-89, we haven’t done a lot of exploring there, but several places in have started to show up on my radar, like One Main Tap and Grill and The Black Krim Tavern. But neither of those is really a lunch place, so we instead were drawn to a fairly central spot in Randolph, the Randolph Depot. Located in a nicely renovated railroad depot building (hence the name), Randolph Depot is serving up breakfast and lunch with a variety of soups, sandwiches, pancakes, and eggs. It looked like a particularly nice place to have a meal, so I ordered up some pancakes and corned-beef hash…
As I’ve mentioned a few times, there are some gaps in the culinary coverage up here in Northern New Hampshire and Vermont. Several cuisines are nearly absent: there’s no Vietnamese, for example, between Manchester and Burlington, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actual Cuban place closer than the Boston area. But one of the odder factors I’ve seen is that while there are quite a few Greek people living in New Hampshire, and even running restaurants, they usually don’t run Greek or even Middle Eastern restaurants, instead, they typically run pizza joints (often with the name “Pizza Chef” or “Village Pizza” as the name). I actually like a lot of these places (Grantham’s Pizza Chef, for example, has surprisingly good baklava, and Mexican Coke in the case). But sometimes I’m craving an actual Greek restaurant. Indeed, living in Michigan, Minnesota, or even Tennessee, it was never that hard to find a good gyro or souvlaki, but up here, it requires a bit of a drive (there are several good places in Manchester, like my already-reviewed Gyro Spot). But a few years ago, Claremont (which isn’t exactly a culinary Mecca), picked up an actual, honest Greek place: Elaini’s Greek Cuisine.
After a day of hiking around Woodstock, we were hungry, and decided that while our usual haunts (The Village Butcher Shop being one of the main ones, or the ever-wonderful Worthy Kitchen being almost a perennial haunt of ours), we’d mix it up a bit and get some pizza. Pi Brick Oven Trattoria had opened a few years ago, and despite the schticky name, we decided to duck in and give it a try.
Well, after a foray to South Burlington for beer and food trucks, we still found ourselves hungry for a little dinner, so we ended up heading up to Winooski. There’s a lot to like about Winooski: despite being a fairly small town (around 1.5 square miles), it has a surprisingly good restaurant scene. In particularly, Sneakers has been reliable for us for years, and quite a few Asian places have sprung up, including Pho Dong and Dharsan Namaste (neither of which I’ve reviewed yet, but keep tuning in…). But this time, we opted to try another place that’s reliably been getting some good word of mouth: Misery Loves Co.