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.
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.
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.
I always enjoy a good hot dog truck, especially ones that can really have fun with the concept. For example, about 6 months ago I really got to enjoy Asia Dog, a funky Asian-inspired hot dog vendor in New York City. So when wandering through Eat X NE in Burlington, one food truck caught my eye, The Hindquarter. The Hindquarter drives around Burlington’s South End in a converted Rescue Squad red truck, serving up a variety of sandwiches, soul food, and sausages to hungry eaters. For Eat X NE, they had a nice broad menu, focusing on fried whole belly clams (clam strips are the work of the devil!), their take on a Banh Mi, a smoked chicken sandwich, and a chile relleno. But one item in particular attracted my attention: the simply named Jumbo Hot Dog.
It’s been a crazy-busy year, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been eating, just behind in our writing. Back in September, we decided to take a weekend to ourselves and head up to one of our favorite cities, Burlington, VT, for a relaxing day of hanging around. After doing some light shopping, we headed down to the South end of town to pay another visit to Switchback Brewery. While there, we noticed that a rather lot of people were in the area, all headed for a local food festival, Eat X NE, focusing on local farm-to-food options (as well as their partner event, BrewHaHa, a modest beer festival focusing on local beers). We decided to check it out, and were very pleasantly surprised: the fairly lousy weather had finally broken giving some nice, clear weather, and we got to sample a handful of new beers, and check out some of Burlington’s food trucks. One of these were a modest little trailer called Lazy Farmer.
Coming back from my quick trip to Canada, my return itinerary also brought me back through Burlington, so I decided to check out another newcomer to the Burlington scene: Guild Fine Meats. Guild Fine Meats is the latest storefront operation from the folks that brought you Farm House Tap and Grill and El Cortijo. Back about a year ago, their opened their fine dining steakhouse, Guild and Company, on Williston Road in South Burlington. More importantly, they also took over the Winooski warehouse that was being run by SamosaMan (who seems to have disappeared from the Vermont dining scene), and turned that into their meat commissary, where they do their own butchering, aging, and other charcuterie supporting their several businesses. Well, earlier this summer they decided to open up a retail operation selling their meats, as well as sandwiches made from them.
Back in April, Seven Days, the alternative paper for the Burlington area, ran an interesting piece about the extensive Handy Family and the positive effect this group of Lebanese immigrants has had on Vermont (see Handyland). One of the places featured prominently in the article is one of Burlington’s older and more iconic breakfast establishments, Handy’s Lunch, which has been on my hit list for rather a long time as a breakfast joint (quite frankly, I don’t often have the opportunity to have breakfast in Burlington that often, I’m mostly a dinner diner in that city). But my recent trip up to the Canadian border had me spending the night in Burlington, so I got to finally check the place out. Located in a modest little building on the corner of Maple and South Champlain in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood near the waterfront. Walking in the door, it’s like walking into another era. Specifically, 1958, since that’s when Handy’s installed their current dining area, with a horseshoe shaped Formica counter.
Sometimes one door close and another one opens… So recently, I decided to apply for a Nexus card, the trusted traveler program between the US and Canada, giving you fast access through customs and immigration. While I do go to Montreal fairly often, that’s only one reason I got the card: it also gives you (for no additional cost or paperwork) access to Global Entry (expedited immigration at US airports), Sentri (the Mexican-US program), and TSA Precheck (which is like a time machine whisking you back to 2001, where you no longer need to remove your shoes, and can leave liquids and the like in your bag). But it required me to do a Canada Border Services Agency interview as well, which meant driving up to Champlain, NY for an interview. I decided to take a day off of work and make a fun trip out of it. Ideally, there was one spot I wanted to visit in Burlington, VT, called Sadie Katz, that several people told me produced a seriously good NY-style pastrami sandwich. Unfortunately, our one attempted trip to Sadie Katz found the place intractably busy, and we vowed to come back a different day. Well, about two months after that, in late 2011, Sadie Katz closed, so we never got to try it out. But that bad news turned out to have a bright side: the location (which is actually a diner, long ago it was opened as the Oasis Diner), was then leased by the Farmhouse Group (the folks that run the Farmhouse Tap and Grill down the street), who opened it on New Years Eve 2011 as El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina
The corner of Church and Main in Burlington is one of those spots that frustrated me. At the very bottom of the Church Street Marketplace, it’s a nice location, and for quite a few years it was the home of one of my favorite Burlington restaurants, Smokejack’s. However, like a lot of restaurants (good and bad), Smokejack’s closed in 2008, and the place sat empty for a few years before finally reopening as Church and Main. We’d walked by it several times since it opened, and people always seemed to be enjoying themselves in there (particularly with cocktails), so when I had to find a place in Burlington to celebrate Carol’s birthday, I decided to give Church and Main a try.
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.