When it comes to “Offbeat Eating”, one of my delights is finding particularly good food in places where you wouldn’t normally expect it. But sometimes there are little hidden gems hiding away in quiet neighborhoods outside of the normal shopping or dining districts. One of these is hiding in plain sight in Burlington, Vermont’s Old North End (not to be confused with the New North End about a mile away to the Northeast): on a fairly quiet cross-street halfway between the Battery St and Winooski Ave thoroughfares, is a quiet little building that looks like it’s a neighborhood convenience store. That’s because it is a neighborhood convenience store. The Shopping Bag is mostly a convenience store, with a selection of snack foods, beverages, light groceries, and even a small meat counter. But nestled into the front right corner of the store is a grilling station and a large menu board, and it’s actually one of the better places in Burlington to score a burger.
I’ll have to say, there’s something I rather like about the particular style that California burgers have. It’s a bit of a particular style: a fairly thin and well-crisped burger patty, served up with generous layers of lettuce, onion, and tomato (I’ve been told that this is a throwback to the days when fresh tomatoes and lettuce weren’t a standard item in grocery stores), usually on a toasted bun. And, somewhat peculiar to the style (see my reviews of
While I occasionally make a few exceptions to this rule, I generally don’t review cocktail bars that are just cocktail bars. And indeed, that’s the case with Drink. Located in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, downstairs from Sportello (which I reviewed in 2012, and is owned by the same folks), Drink is primarily a cocktail bar, but they do have a limited bar menu. And while that bar menu has a few gems, that’s not why I’m reviewing them; instead, it’s one particularly off-the-menu item that drew my attention.
When I was in Boston a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to go find a burger spot I had been looking for in Cambridge. But this was not your usual burger spot. I first found this place when looking for a cocktail in Cambridge, having gotten a recommendation for “Brick and Mortar” along with an address of 567 Massachusetts Avenue. Heading there, however, I only found Central Kitchen, a fairly well-recognized dinner establishment, and no cocktails. But…. see that unmarked door next to Central Kitchen? Through that lies Brick and Mortar, one of Cambridge’s Speakeasies, known for interesting cocktails and good bar food. Brick and Mortar is actually a rather cozy little bar (which makes for a pleasant drinking experience during the early evening, but by late evening the place quickly becomes crowded, with a long wait list to get in). The cocktail list at Brick and Mortar is quite impressive, and they are definitely in on the current trend of using bitters, gins, and other botanicals to make some very interesting cocktails. Past victuals that were particularly pleasing include the “Lido Shuffle” with Cocchi, Aperol, Chartreuse, and Lemon, or the “Gail Collins” with Mezcal, Sloe Gin, and Bitters. But on my first two visits, it wasn’t just the (excellent) cocktails drawing my eye… I noticed that several of the other diners had ordered burgers, and the burgers looked quite good indeed. So this trip, while I did get a “Sister Mary” (with Tequila, St Germain, Aperol, and grapefruit) my primary goal was to get a burger.
After the trip to Waimea Valley, we took the western route back to Honolulu, stopping in Wahiawa for burgers at Teddy’s. Normally a place that is advertised as “Teddy’s Bigger Burgers” wouldn’t immediately make my short list: of the many adjectives I look for in a good burger, “bigger” isn’t at the top of the list. But I didn’t let the name stop me: I had heard rather good things about getting a teriyaki burger in Hawaii (it’s one of those standard things you can expect at most places selling burgers in Hawaii), with a liberal application of teriyaki sauce and a slice of grilled pineapple… and that Teddy’s was one of the better places to get one. So we stopped in to give it a try.
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).
When my brother moved to London back in 2008, I thought it was neat that the building he lived in had a pub right downstairs. Problem was, that particular pub, the Pimlico Tram, was actually a lousy pub with a not terribly great clientele. But then something marvelous happened: the Pimlico Tram closed, and instead pub owner Martin Hayes refurbished the place and re-opened it as the Cask Pub and Kitchen. And, practically overnight, the lousy pub downstairs became the hip new pub downstairs, with a particularly good selection of British and imported beers, eight hand-pulled handles, and a reasonably good selection of pub grub. And starting that year, they’ve continued a run of excellence, with several awards including multiple winnings of The Publican Magazine Pub of the Year, Great British Pub Awards’ Best Cask Ale Pub in London, and CAMRA’s West London Pub of the Year. Enough so that I can’t even keep track of it. Meanwhile, they’ve been expanding, including more beers on tap, and, more importantly, sister pubs, with several locations of the Craft Beer Co open throughout Greater London (Craft is basically the same concept as Cask, but without the food). I hadn’t reviewed Cask before, since I generally don’t review pubs unless there’s something particularly notable about them or their food, and, quite frankly, I hadn’t been terribly impressed by Cask’s pub food in the past. However, starting in 2012, Cask significantly re-tooled their menu. On Sunday nights they still do the traditional “Sunday Roast”, but the rest of the week their kitchen transforms into Forty Burgers.
Last week’s schedule had me flying to the Twin Cities to give a guest lecture at the University of Minnesota (anyone want a lecture on radioisotope power supplies for space exploration?), and my flight arrived at lunchtime, so I decided to check out one of the area’s better-regarded Jucy Lucy joints; the Nook. First of all, some background for those not familiar, a “Jucy Lucy” is a hamburger with a layer of cheese crimped between two patties. Done right, it’s a nice combination of cheese, crispiness, and juice, albeit with more than a bit of a hazard of hot cheese burns on one’s lips. As you can read over on my review of another Twin Cities stalwart, Matt’s Bar, there’s always the perennial question of who makes the best Jucy Lucy in the Twin Cities. When I lived in the Twin Cities, there were always two places that claimed supremacy and had their followers, the abovementioned Matt’s Bar, and the 5-8 Club located a few miles south on Cedar Ave. But since I left the cities in 2001, the Jucy Lucy phenomenon has spread greatly, with over a dozen places selling them (and the trend is even national, I noticed a “Juicy Lucy” is on the menu at Richard Blais’ place now). The Nook is a relative newcomer to the Jucy Lucy scene in the Twin Cities, opening in 2000, but in the last few years, their Nookie Burger (their variant of the venerable Jucy Lucy) is now frequently mentioned in Jucy Lucy supremacy discussions, so I figured it was worth dropping by.
Because we were trying to do the trip to Frankfurt on the cheap, my tickets had what most people would consider to be an inconvenient 21 hour layover at London Heathrow. For me, this was an opportunity; my brother and sister-in-law live in London (hence all my frequent London and UK entries), so it gave me a nice opportunity to meet up with them, have some dinner, drinks, and pudding, get rested up, and get back to the airport in plenty of time for my flight. As far as dinner goes, it allowed me an opportunity to finally cross one major food destination of my to-do list: going to Hawksmoor, get a seat at the bar and try their famous Kimchi Burger. It was recommended to me a few years ago by someone on Flyertalk.com, but it’s been resilient to my efforts to actually get one; my first attempt was thwarted by my travel schedule (I was stopping off in London on the way to Spain), and my second thwarted by the large numbers of other people visiting Hawksmoor for Christmas festivities. But this time, I finally managed to pull it off, with my brother and sister-in-law in tow.
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.