I have a soft spot for Montpelier, one of the United States’ most quiet state capitals. It’s a pleasant town, with a lot of little stores, and a decent arts scene. And, most importantly, for a modest city of its size, it actually has an impressive assortment of restaurants, ranging from classic diner (Coffee Corner, to funky Asian-inspired (Kismet), to pizza (Positive Pie II), just for starts. And in this environment, new eateries are appearing all the time, and most of them have staying power. So, when a new place shows up in Montpelier, I’m usually interested in checking it out, so a trip up to Warren VT turned involved a chance to stop by and check out a relative newcomer: Downhome.
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 we returned from Hawaii, our next weekend was spent up in Montreal. While the main purpose of our trip was to go to the annual Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon (more on this later), it also gave us another trip through Vermont, this time over lunch. I’ve had one place on my hit list for a while: The Mad Taco. I originally discovered The Mad Taco at the 2011 Vermont Brewers Festival: they were one of the food vendors at the event, and two things stood out about them: (1) they served tacos which did not suck (this is not trivial in Vermont!), and (2) they had some seriously good hot sauce. Since then, I’d been making a note to stop by and try their location in Waitsfield, VT, but it never seems to work out. But a while ago they opened up a second location in Montpelier (in what used to be the retail location of SamosaMan before they imploded in scandal), and our late morning arrival finally gave us an opportunity to try them out.
As I’ve often complained here, my little corner of VT and NH suffers from a lack of good ethnic cuisine. One of the more obviously lacking cuisines is Thai. Our area basically doesn’t have many Thai restaurants, and the few we have are generally pretty dismal, so Thai food is one of those things we generally reserve for our trips to other places. But luckily, we don’t have to go all that far (in the grand scale of things) to find some good Thai. Siam Orchid in Concord is pretty decent (sadly, they used to have a location in Manchester as well). But another discovery of ours a few years ago was that a few blocks outside of Montpelier, VT likes another good Thai place, Royal Orchid.
Back in February, we came to Kismet to check out a pop-up restaurant they host on Wednesday nights (you can read my review of Himitsu Sushi here). In addition to introducing us to the rather good sushi of Himitsu’s traveling restaurant, this gave us a decent introduction to Kismet as well. While waiting for our Himitsu sushi, we looked over the Kismet menu, and decided to come back and check them out sometime. Well, this Friday we were headed up to Burlington for an extended weekend, and it had us passing through Montpelier during the “late breakfast” period of the day. While we almost ended up going to our standard Montpelier breakfast destination, Coffee Corner, we decided that going over to Kismet and checking out their brunch menu would be a good idea.
I knew that eventually the concept of the “pop-up restaurant” was going to hit the area. For those that aren’t familiar with the pop-up concept, it’s basically a temporary restaurant, where a chef or kitchen team opens up in a temporary space or borrows another restaurant’s space for a night, serving their food and menu instead of the normal fare. It’s a good way for chefs to test out concepts or run limited restaurants, and they’ve been all the buzz the last few years. Indeed, one place I’ve reviewed here, Dock Kitchen in London, started as a pop-up. And like most any culinary fad, eventually it finds its way here to northern New England. In this case, the pop-up restaurant is a sushi place, Himitsu Sushi.
It’s been a fairly lousy winter here, at least with respect to winter sports. We’ve really been wanting to get out and do some more cross-country skiing, but the distinct lack of snow has limited our outings. We decided this last weekend that we just had to give in and go to where the snow was, which was Smuggler’s Notch (our x-country passes are good there, too). Which meant a nice little drive through Waterbury. And a chance to stop at Coffee Corner for breakfast. My review of Coffee Corner is sadly overdue. A few months ago, I was recommending Coffee Corner to a coworker, and was going to email her the requisite link to my Offbeat Eats review…. only to find out that I hadn’t actually reviewed it. It’s not like I haven’t been there (I’ve probably been two dozen times since I started this blog), and I’ve got plenty of pictures… but this weekend’s trip was a good chance to get some fresh photos and do a full review….
Last month we went to the Cabot Hosiery Mills (a.k.a. “Darn Tough Socks”) annual factory sale in Northfield, VT, and afterward decided to go into Montpelier for a little bit of light shopping and eating. We eventually ended up at Skinny Pancake for some crêpes. Skinny Pancake didn’t start here, they actually started back around 2003 as a little cart selling crêpes on Burlington, VT’s Church Street pedestrian mall (not too far down from one of my other favorite Church Street food vendors, Hong’s Chinese Dumplings, which I reviewed last year. I had enjoyed their crêpes from the cart a few times, and then in 2007 they went big time, opening up a storefront on College St down by the waterfront.