Oakes & Evelyn

Oakes & Evelyn (Montpelier, VT)

The big thing that limited my restaurant reviews during the last year’s pandemic was the simple fact that I’ve had very, very little formal restaurant dining. Indeed, between March 2020 and May 2021, Carol and I had exactly one elaborate, sit-down dinner, and that was at one of our local favorites for fancy meals, Pine (for which you can read an older 2014 review), where we had a splendid anniversary dinner, seated at a socially-distanced table on their outdoor patio on a beautiful September evening. But then a big shift happened at Pine in January 2021: we got news that, while Pine wasn’t closing (indeed, reports from friends are that it is still doing well), the chef there, Justin Dain, was leaving, along with manager Emily Chism and Bar Manager James Ives (who has had stints working with several of the better bar programs in the area). They were moving to Montpelier, Vermont, to open up a new restaurant in a space on west State Street recently vacated by Kismet (another favorite of mine, recently downsizing to their original location over on Barre St). The new restaurant is named Oakes & Evelyn, named in honor of two of Chef Justin’s relatives.

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Revolutionary Burger

Revolutionary Burger Reborn (Lebanon, NH)

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” – Stephen King If there’s an underlying theme to dining during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been that there’s generally no such thing as “business as usual”, and pretty much every restaurant has had to adapt, or close. It’s been brutal, with a lot of places closing forever, but during these times, we’ve also seen some encouraging change, like new restaurants opening, and quite a few restaurants getting quite creative to adapt to the current dining “new normal” of primarily takeout food, social distancing, and more stringent health requirements. I’ve seen a lot of really good creative problem solving, especially when it comes to creating outdoor dining space, new ordering methods, new concepts, and even revisiting old concepts. The last of these brings us to Revolutionary Burger in Lebanon, NH.

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Thwaites

Thwaites Market (Methuen, MA)

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site, I’ve got a variety of ways that I discover the places that I review here on Offbeat Eats, and one of them is basically happenstance: I’ll be traveling someplace off my usual beat and notice a place, usually an old, established one, that’s got a long line out the door. That happened to me back in February: I had to drop off some equipment for work in Haverhill, MA, and on the way home to NH, the usual route, the “Loop Connector” between I-495 and I-93, was closed due to an accident, and my GPS directed me on a detour through downtown Methuen (which I’d hadn’t explored in a few years). My detour took me down Oakland Avenue, and as I approached Railroad Street, I was stuck at the traffic light for a cycle. My eye got drawn first to a small sign “Parking here for meat pies only,” followed by seeing a modest line of people waiting outside the door. Heck, I like meat pies, so I turned into the parking lot, parked, and got in line at Thwaites Market.

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Ruby Donut (Ayer, MA)

While the pandemic has definitely hit a lot of restaurants and bakeries hard, those places that are either primarily or entirely takeout found themselves uniquely situated to weather this particular storm; hang up a few plexiglass screens, and potentially update to a new POS system, and you’re good to go. So donut shops seem to have done quite well during the last year, and most of the shops I’ve ventured into are doing quite the business. However, my local area is basically just three different “donut” operations: Dunkin (meh), Lou’s (good cider donuts, awesome crullers), and Muriel’s (the ne plus ultra of deep-fried, lard-laden crispy cake donuts). But sometimes I crave a good bear claw, a fritter, or, best yet, a Boston Cream donut, and getting good versions of those requires a bit of travel. In this case, recent work obligations have me again traveling frequently to Boxborough, MA to do vibration and thermal testing (in the parlance, the “shake and bake”), and my best traffic-avoiding route takes me right by a favorite donut shop: Ruby Donut in Ayer, MA.

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Broken Spoon (Franklin, NH)

As I mentioned in my review of Funkalicious a few months back, I’ve got a lot of admiration for folks that, despite the extremely difficult and unusual business climate of the Covid-19 pandemic, have managed to rally and open new restaurants. A few months back, I started seeing some Facebook ads for a new Asian Fusion place in Franklin, NH. Franklin’s a bit of my normal path; while I’m often heading over to either Franconia Notch or the Conway area, I usually end up heading through Bristol and New Hampton instead of Franklin as a I cut over to I-93. But in late February, we decided to get out of the house a hit and explore, with two related goals: exploring the Winnepesaukee River Trail” and finally checking out Broken Spoon on Main Street in Franklin.

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Fox and Harrow (Royalton, VT)

(Closed) It’s always a bit weird that when the various delays involved in writing up my restaurant reviews result in my having a review written for a place that, after my visit but before the review posts, ends up closing… With a usual delay of 2 months or so between a visit and a review, this isn’t the first time it has happened, indeed, you end up with these odd sorts of reviews that are like flies trapped in amber, referring to a place that my readers could never go. Indeed, in a bit of irony, my review of the previous restaurant to inhabit this space, the old Fox Stand Inn in North Royalton, fell to exactly this fate, closing two weeks after a rather pleasant dinner I had. My usual policy is to forego these reviews in favor of working on my backlog, but in this case, I thought I’d share the review in a bit of an ode to what pre-pandemic dining was, and what we hope it will soon be again.

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Concerning Coffee

Those that know me well know that this Covid epidemic has made my food blogging a bit more difficult than usual, since we’re only rarely eating out at restaurants (and, when we do, it’s almost always takeout, especially now that winter’s going strong). But one thing that’s definitely changed in a more positive way during the epidemic is one of my favorite vices: my daily cup (or often, cups) of coffee. So I thought it would be nice to discuss the coffee we’re drinking, where we get it, and how we make it.

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Funkalicious (White River Junction, VT)

While Covid-19 continues to tally up some casualties on the dining scene, I’m still thrilled when someone is able to reverse the trend with the occasional opening. In this case, over in White River Junction, VT, in an older storefront that last I knew held Kibby Equipment Company (purveyors of fine chainsaws), Kevin Halligan and Dee Sonthikoummane have opened Funkalicious Market and Deli. This wasn’t a sudden opening; I remember seeing an announcement in the Valley News almost a year ago that they were installing countertops and getting ready for opening a market and deli that was focusing on housemade meats and specialty sandwiches, with an opening in February or March. Well, we all know those sorts of plans turned out… but in late October 2020 Funkalicious was finally able to open their doors, primarily offering a butcher counter and a menu of interesting sandwiches showcasing their smoked meats and other prepared deli foods.

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Amada’s Mexican Food (Mesa, AZ)

While it’s pretty quiet here at Offbeat Eats due to us being in month 8 of the general pandemic shutdown, I’ve still had the occasional travel. In this case, I had to take a trip to visit my parents in Arizona and help take care of some issues around the house. A long tradition of mine when I’m visiting my parents is to indulge in something that’s pretty rare around VT and NH: a really good breakfast burrito. Well, the Phoenix metro area has, seriously, probably a thousand places where one can get a good breakfast burrito, and during these Covid pandemic times, getting some takeout burritos is still a viable strategy. Most trips, I would head over to Amado’s Mexican Food about a half mile away and get a righteous machaca and chorizo breakfast burrito. I just ran into a small glitch this time: Amado‘s Mexican Food isn’t there any more. It’s now, after a sale to a new owner (one of Amado’s co-owners took full ownership), in a triumph of sign updating minimalism, now known as Amada‘s Mexican Food.

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Lalo’s Taqueria (Lebanon, NH)

Well, it’s been pretty quiet here at the blog. My last real restaurant review (of a repeat trip to Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a sucre) was for a visit that happened almost a year ago. Here in NH, March 16th 2020 brought the abrupt closure of restaurants, and now a full six months into Covid, we’re still not back to order. Many places have closed permanently, and with very few exceptions, almost every restaurant still running is, quite frankly, trying to make do with a combination of takeout, outside dining (now on the wane as the temperature drops), and “socially-distanced” dining, and most places are trying more to just stay open than put their best foot forward. I’ve actually got photos and partial reviews for a good dozen places in my backlog, but most of them are now outdated reviews of how things once were, and not how things are, but it seems like a poor time for restaurant reviews in general until things recover a bit more (and nobody wants to read reviews of an experience they can’t currently indulge in). But there have been quite a few bright spots throughout the dismal Covid-19 landscape. I’ve seen more than a few creative approaches for outdoor dining, takeout (including more than a few retrofitted takeout windows), and ways to just keep basic operations going (and staff employed). And in this landscape filled with restaurant closures both temporary and permanent, my local area has even had one notable restaurant opening: Lalo’s Taqueria.

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