Sometimes, I’m drawn into a place due to a recommendation, or a good online review. Sometimes, it’s as simple as walking down the street and seeing a line outside a place. And sometimes, the product itself is calling to you. In this case, we had just finished a rather pleasant visit to the Whitney (in it’s new location at the south end of the High Line, making it a new gem in the meatpacking district). Afterward, we were walking down Gansevoort, and found that amongst the hip nightclubs and galleries that seem to be the staple of the modern MePa (groan, at some point all the TriBeCa/SoHo like names will be taken…), is the Gansevoort indoor market, filled with all sorts of little food stalls (including, interesting, a stand selling autentico horchata de chufa, proper Valencian-style horchatas made with tigernuts). But it was walking by the stand of Cappone’s that my eye was drawn to two things: (a) a picture-perfect slab of rare, herb-crusted roast beef, and (b) the clerk at Cappone’s carving it to make a sandwich. At that moment, a proper, rare roast beef sandwich was what exactly what I was craving, so we decided to lunch there.
Like always, a trip down to the NYC area almost always involves a pit-stop in either southern VT or western MA for breakfast. Luckily, both Brattleboro, VT and Greenfield, MA have quite a good selection of places. In Greenfield, one places has been calling our attention for a while; The Brass Buckle. Located on Main Street just west of the main corner of downtown (Rte 10 and Main), the place itself is quite simple: it’s a quiet little breakfast coffee shop. But since it consistently gets good online reviews, and often has a line out the door when we come by, on this visit, we got there early enough to avoid a rush (and being a weekday, avoiding the weekend crowd).
A recent trip to Burlington had us searching out some pizza for a craving. This isn’t particularly challenging in Burlington, which has rather a lot of decent pizza places with good beer lists, including American Flatbread, Ken’s Pizza, Leonardo’s Pizza, and Manhattan Pizza and Pub. Yes, the fine people of Burlington do indeed like their pizza and beer. But our trip had us staying a night in the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn, and the back entrance dropped us out right in front of Pizzeria Verita. We’d known of it for a while, but it had never percolated to the top of our list. Why? Two reasons. First, it’s next to the truly wonderful Trattoria Delia, which has been known to suck us in off the street in hopes of scoring a table without a reservation (we’ve generally been successful at that). The second? The location, 156 St Paul Street, is one of Burlington’s “cursed restaurant” spots. Over the years I’ve been going to Burlington, it’s been a string of different restaurants (in my tenure, it’s ranged from Irish to Hipster heaven to Sports Bar), some good, most mediocre, none of them lingering long. So, to be honest, I was waiting to see if Pizzeria Verita lasted a while before going, and on this trip, seeing it across the street reminded me that they’ve been around since 2012, thus probably breaking the curse.
In general, I really enjoy that each part of the country has food specialties that they excel in, it gives me something to look forward to when I travel, like a good proper posole in New Mexico, or a proper Cuban sandwich in Miami. But it also leaves me with the occasional hard to satisfy craving. Like when I want a good, quality biscuit. Nominally, this shouldn’t be too hard, considering that within a 50 mile radius of me are about a dozen places that have biscuits on the menu… But I’ve learned that, like the phrase “New England Barbecue”, “biscuit” is a term to be treated with a certain amount of skepticism in these parts. I could get a nice, flaky, buttery biscuit with a bit of crumble… but I’m much more likely to get some sort of stale, leaden lump of dry dough that’s only vaguely suitable as a substrate for a biscuits and gravy. In short, most New England biscuits, well, suck. It baffles me a bit, since biscuits aren’t that hard to do… when I lived in the South, the vast majority of kitchens were able to put out a decent biscuit, without any products labeled with “Bisquik” or having any sort of canned dough being involved. But it’s something that most New England kitchens haven’t mastered, enough so that I’ve joked many a time about opening “Rich’s Remedial Biscuit School” and inviting local chefs. I was in that frame of mind when I was checking out reviews for some new places in Montpeliers, and I had noticed several good reviews for Philamena’s, a new Italian place that opened this year on Montpelier’s west side. Most importantly, more than one review mentioned great biscuits. Hopeful, but still skeptical, we decided to check them out for breakfast.
After a few years resisting, in recent years Montreal has finally started to embrace the food truck, offering up a permitting system for up to 50 trucks each season (running from Spring to Fall) at 38 designated locations around the city, as well as special events. As a result, the restaurateurs of Montreal have responded, and there’s now no shortage of food trucks, ranging from those run by established restaurants to those opened by new chefs. Last summer’s trip to the Mondiale de la Biere festival in Montreal (yeah, last June… I’m still behind in my writeups) allowed us to sample a good cross-section of some of the city’s food trucks. One of our clear favorites was P & A Garguantua, serving up grilled cheese.
Like Montreal’s Dragon Beard Candy Stand another place we’ve walked by many times is this little sign in Chinatown that says (well, the English portion at least) simply “Soup Dumplings”. The restaurant itself is called Qing Hua. We’ve been meaning to go there (or their original location over in Ville-Marie) for years, but kept getting stymied by one little factor: They aren’t open on weekends, which is when the majority of our visits happen. But when we were in town for the Death March, several of us were getting hungry, and decided to have a mid-afternoon snack of dumplings. And thus, we were finally able to visit Qing Hua.
As I mentioned several times, one of our annual traditions is to get together with friends, find a random city with decent walking routes and good food, and hike about 20 miles across the city, eating and drinking as we go. We call it a “Death March”. This year was our first “international” one, in Montreal, picked because it’s familiarity to us (we go to Montreal at least once a year), ease of travel, and the rather impressive array of restaurants, bars, and cocktail clubs available across the city. We also (not completely by accident) managed to book our trip to coincide with Mondial de la Biere, the Montreal beer festival. But like any of our Death Marches, about half of the eating and drinking happened on the days before and after the march. And thus, after settling into our hotel (the very eclectic, but affordable, Hotel Kutuma, complete with zebra-print sheets), we set out in search of a great breakfast, settling on the nearby plateau location of Universel Déjeuners et Grillades (one of two in the city, the other on Rue Peel down by McGill).
We actually rather enjoy going to Northampton, MA. Located in the west of Massachusetts in the Pioneer Valley, it’s a rather pleasant college town, with a really nice rail trail (the primary reason for our visit), several nice art galleries, a nice downtown, and even an outpost of Dobra Tea. But after a day of biking around, we were looking for a nice, substantial dinner, and that’s when we found Hungry Ghost.
I’ve always enjoyed the little town of Hartland, VT. It’s a nice quiet little town, just off of I-91 and down the road from Windsor. It’s a bit funny, since it really has three village areas: Three Corners (where Route 5 and Route 12 intersect, and basically the main part of town), Four Corners (to the west, where Route 12 and Brownsville Road intersect), and North Hartland (a quiet little village nestled in between I-91 and the Connecticut River, and home of the North Hartland Dam, a rather nice little recreational area). As small Vermont towns go, Hartland is nice in that it’s actually got enough basic amenities: a gas station, two convenience stores, a library, several churches (including the host of the Famous Roast Beef Supper) and the like. And a diner, the Hartland Diner.
Our May visit to Montreal also had us knock another place off of the “we should try that!” list. In this case, it’s over in Chinatown. Way back in 2003, coming back from a Cirque du Soleil performance on the waterfront, we wandered by a little stall with a simple “Dragon Beard Candy” selling pretty much one item: Dragon Beard Candy. We weren’t really hungry at that point, but were really curious to find out what it was. And then over the next dozen or so visits to Montreal, either didn’t go through Chinatown, went when the stand wasn’t open, or just plain weren’t hungry (a stomach full of poutine and smoked meat has a way of doing that to you). But this trip, we finally had a convergence: we were on a long walk (doing a test run for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike across a city), hungry, and Dragon Beard Candy was open.