J. J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery (Peru, VT)

There are a lot of little corners of Vermont that I haven’t done much culinary exploration in, simply due to the fact that I seem to pass through those parts during the wrong time of day. Peru, VT is one of those little towns that I’ve driven through probably a hundred times (it’s on Route 11, one of my preferred east-west routes through Vermont), but it wasn’t until I had my parents visiting in September that I finally had a reason to stop and check out downtown Peru, which is just off of Route 11 (the highway diverts about a 1/10th of a mile around the downtown), and, arriving right before noon, we found ourselves at J.J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery in downtown Peru.

While it seems almost obligatory for a small Vermont town to have a “General Store”, they really run the gamut all the way from the actual functional general stores (such as the famous Dan and Whit’s in Norwich, which is every bit as much a hardware store as anything else) to clothing stores to glorified candy stands. And, quite frankly, the “General Store” part of Hapgood is the latter variety, mostly selling a few local ingredients, a lot of maple products, and the inevitable candy selection. But primarily, J.J. Hapgood is actually an eatery: most of the building interior is either their main dining area or the adjoining cocktail bar area, and during the nicer months of the year (which definitely included September this year), they also run a nice, open, and scenic patio outside, and that’s what we came to experience.

Starting out, we got a plate of truffle fries, and these were everything I want for some lighter fries. Good, crisp exterior, still fluffy interior, truffle flavor notable but not overwhelming, and an aioli with both garlic and citrus flavor, but not enough mask the truffle or potato tastes. A good, solid appetizer.

My main course was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. I’ve recently gotten to rather enjoy the combination of a good chicken sandwich served up with kimchi (most recently encountered at Poor Thom’s), since it’s a real winning combination of juicy chicken, crunchy breading, spice from the kimchi, and a softer crunch from the kimchi cabbage, and the rendition at J.J. Hapgood was one of the best I’ve had: a surprisingly thick and generous chicken breast, over an inch thick, and, despite the thickness, cooked to perfectly with a light, flaky buttermilk crust. Add in some decent VT Cheddar, a light dab of sriracha mayo, some lettuce, and a thick tomato slice, and this was pretty much chicken sandwich perfection. I’ll actually go out of my way when crossing Vermont to get this again.

Carol opted for the simpler Plymouth Hunter grilled cheese sandwich with ham. This was a bit of a mixed bag: the basics were solid: Plymouth Hunter Sharp Cheddar, argula, caramelized onions, apple, and ham on grilled bread, but we both decided that while decent, it was a bit bland; the apple and mustard should have given it a bit of a bit, but somehow didn’t. This sandwich needs something to liven it up a bit, like some tomato (or, like we often do at home, sundried tomato paste). Nothing wrong with it, but definitely not in the same class as the chicken.

But things picked up with the pizza. The “Wild mushroom pizza” was nicely executed: a 12″ pizza with a nice fontina and shaved parm cheese topping, a fair number of mushrooms, a light application of oil, and a whole lot of arugula (which I think needs to get used more as a pizza topping), they had a really nice wood-fired crust to it. I should try one of their margherita pizzas at some point to see how they do with saucing, but as a white pizza, this was quite good.

Overall, we really enjoyed J.J. Hapgoods, and both the pizza and chicken sandwich were good enough that this place deserves a revisit at some point.

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