First Branch Coffee (South Royalton, VT)

(Update: Since November 2022, First Branch Coffee no longer serves as a tasting room for Upper Pass, that function has been moved down the street to Carlita’s Cantina. First Branch continues to serve up some quality coffee and pastries, however).

This fall, a new coffee shop opened up on Chelsea Street (the west side of the South Royalton Square): First Branch Coffee. Focusing on small 30-pound batch roasted coffee, they’ve been focusing on quality coffee drinks and pastries, and have been a nice addition to the Royalton-area restaurant scene.

Interestingly, I’m not going to be writing about their coffee or pastries, although I’ve actually had, and enjoyed, both. The real culinary attraction at First Branch is what’s going on in the back half of the house, since First Branch is also the home of the tasting room of Upper Pass Beer Company. From 4 to 9 pm on Tuesday and Friday, and noon to 4 on weekends, Upper Pass (owned by the same folks that run First Branch Coffee) runs a tasting room for their rather nice selection of beers. Upper Pass is brewed by Chris Perry and Andrew Puchalik, who I’ve known for several years through the local homebrewing community (and for years, Chris was one of the bartenders at nearby Worthy Burger, another of my Royalton favorites), and I particularly like their Cloud Drop and Modern Pants IPAs.

But on most weeks, their weeknight openings are themed and have light food service; Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, and Fridays are Flatbread Fridays, so in addition to getting a few pints, you can also enjoy some nice locally made tacos, or a flatbread pizza (and occasionally, a few other promotions, like the day before Thanksgiving they had Chinese food on Wednesday). I’ve been to both nights several times (indeed, it’s nice to have a good Tuesday option when Worthy Burger isn’t open).

I’ll start with the tacos. My track record with tacos in Vermont is a bit mixed; “Vermexican” tacos often seem to miss the mark, lacking a little bit of flavor, a little bit of texture, and having sub-par tortillas. The tacos at Upper Pass, however, were definitely a notch above some of their nearby alternatives such as The Mad Taco or White River Junction’s Trailbreak Tacos. First of all, they’ve got a decent selection of fairly classic tacos like the Moove on Up with braised beef, cotija cheese, onions, cilantro, and Fresno peppers, or the the Lamb Chorizo with house-made chorizo, corn salsa, and lime crema. Or they are doing a handful of fusion tacos as well, including Korean chicken with kimchi, roasted beets, or confit duck.

I’ve had all the varieties except for the beet taco, and I’ve been impressed. The Moove on Up starts with some flavorful beef with a nice, rich marinate, and while I usually like my beef tacos to be asada-style with some crispy bits, here the braising works well, and the Fresno pepper added more than a little bite to the taco as well. The lamb chorizo had a similar spicy bite to it, and in that case a really good crisp to the chorizo itself, and a pleasantly done lime crema. And while it’s gotten to be a bit cliche, the Korean chicken taco was a nice combination of spicy chicken and crispy kimchi. Overall, I was happy, although a bit saddened that we’ve gotten to the point where tacos routinely cost $6 (those natural meats and locally made ingredients add up, I guess).

Flatbread Fridays are, in my opinion, even better than Taco Tuesdays. It’s similarly limited menu, usually with a combination of classic pizzas (pepperoni, margherita, sausage), and a few quirky ones, like bacon and pineapple, duck confit (the same as the tacos!), or spinach and cheddar, and they are running a small wood-fired oven to roast up the pizzas. On my first visit, it was a bit rough around the edges at times (literally, since on my first visit my margherita pizza was tasty but was toeing, and possibly stepping over, the line into “burnt”), but since then, they’ve got it pretty well dialed in.

The crust is a thin crust, but with a wood-fired oven they get a good toast to it, and it’s got a nice firmness and chewiness to it, with a decent crown (the bubble part around the edge). The saucing has been good, with most of their sauces based on either a classic San Marzano lightly-seasoned red sauce, or a creamy, garlicky white sauce. A nice crispness to the cheese (not too heavily applied), and some good crispy bubbling on the meats, and I was happy with my pizzas at my follow visits: a great classic pepperoni, and a nice Vermont Salumi pizza.

Overall, I love that South Royalton has another option a few nights of the week. The beers at Upper Pass are solid, both the tacos and the pizza are flavorful and well executed, and, well, if I go on a normal day, they’ve also got some good house-roasted coffee and some nice pastries. I’m hoping to see the food options develop some more as they continue to be popular

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply