Funkalicious

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

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

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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Quarantine news: the Vermont distillery hand sanitizer roundup!

I’ve generally paused my reviewing due to the general social distancing orders because, let’s face it, these are some seriously challenging times for restaurants, and we all need to cut them slack. But it’s also been a very challenging time for our regions brewers and distillers, having taken serious hits to their restaurant accounts, and being very limited in their ability to do retail sales. Not content to just sit idly by, several distilleries around the country have worked on converting their normal beverage distilling expertise to a related application: making hand sanitizer, since the normal distribution channels of products like Purel has been extremely taxed, especially early in the pandemic. Indeed, here in Northern New England, several distilleries jumped right in and started making hand sanitizer right away: Smuggler’s Notch announced their effort on March 16th (the day the wide-scale shutdowns in VT and NH were announced), and Vermont breweries Silo and Caledonia Spirits announced similar efforts right away, as did Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire. Since then, a good half dozen additional VT and NH distilleries followed suit. It’s not rocket science: the ideal hand sanitizer as a viricide simply requires approximately 70-80% pure alcohol (performing better than pure alcohol, which evaporates too quickly). I thought it would be interesting to round up a few different sanitizers and give them all a try.

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See you on the other side…

Well, it’s been quite a week. A week ago, there was a lot of rumbling in various events I’m involved with whether or not it was prudent to hold events, ranging from FIRST Robotics competitions, beer festivals, and even trivia night at the local coffee shop. Then, over the space of a week, things have escalated from “caution” and exhortations to wash our hands more to wide-scale travel bans, bans on group gatherings, and wholesale shutdowns of bars and restaurants. Friday, under the loom of potential closings, I had a very nice dinner with friends at Fox and Harrow in Royalton, VT. By mid-afternoon on Monday, restaurants are now closed across the entire region. While many places locally are hustling to try to find ways to adapt to take-out and delivery, other places are rapidly deciding that, at least for now, they’ve got to close up.

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Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, Fall 2019 Edition (St Benoit de Mirabel, QC)

As regular readers know, every few years I try to go to one of Quebec’s bigger culinary events, the Cabane à Sucre (“Sugar Shack”) event run by Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon. It’s one of the Montreal-area big ticket events, and a bit of effort is required to score a reservation, usually requiring waking up at midnight to get a good spot on the waitlist. It is truly a culinary “shock and awe campaign”; you can read my writeups of my trips there in the winter of 2014 and 2017, but both of those visits were to the winter maple sugaring event (which is mostly a “how many dishes can a chef come up with that involve both foie gras and maple?” sort of event). But this year, we decided to mix it up a bit. In addition to their annual maple sugaring feast, Au Pied de Cochon also runs a fall harvest season event, focusing on apples and other fall harvest fruits and vegetables (with, again, an implausibly large amount of foie gras worked into the menu as well). So this year, I arose very early on April 1st, and managed to score a table for 8 in late October. So, rounding up an assortment of my local friends, we drove up to Montreal for a merry weekend of excessive dining, Montreal-style.

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Health Check: Reservoir (Montreal, QC)

Back in 2013, I did a brief review of one of my favorite Montreal beer bars: Reservoir. Since then, I’ve had half a dozen revisits there, ranging from just stopping in for a pint, having dinner, and, well, everything in-between. On our recent trip to Quebec, we needed a light “fill in” meal to tide us over to a feast the next day at Au Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a Sucre, and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity to stop in and do a follow-up review of reservoir, including some of their mid-day menu.

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The Parker Pie Company (West Glover, VT)

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is very pleasant to visit: nice, rolling, forested hills and meadows, with some very nice views of the White Mountains to the east, the Green Mountains to the West, and a few smaller peaks scattered across the landscape. It’s also rather rural at times, so there’s not always a lot of good dining options. But there are some real gems hiding in some of the smaller towns and villages across the Northeast Kingdom’s landscape. One such spot is located in the village of West Glover, VT. Going behind the Lake Parker Country Store, you find yourself at the entrance of a pizza place: Parker Pie.

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Oak and Grain (New London, NH)

In a recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of our first date, Carol and I decided it was a nice opportunity to check out a local restaurant that has been perennially near the top of our hit list: Oak and Grain. Oak and Grain is the in-house restaurant at The Inn at Pleasant Lake, a small lakefront hotel overlooking Pleasant Lake that specializes in weekend getaways and appears to have quite the nice barn rental for weddings as well.

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Barrio Cafe (Phoenix Airport)

If there’s one place in Phoenix that friends are consistently telling me I should visit, it’s Barrio Cafe. Opened back in 2002, Barrio showcases the work of chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, who has gotten quite a following for doing upscale Mexican-American cuisine. Well, I still haven’t made it to Barrio, but I have made it to a close cousin: there’s an offshoot of Barrio Cafe in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A combination of weather and equipment issues had me with first a very-delayed, and then a canceled, flight, so I had more than a few hours to wander over to Barrio Cafe in Concourse D (the newest one at PHX, which has substantially more space dedicated to food than the other concourses), so I sit back and had a nice dinner at Barrio Cafe, Airport Edition.

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