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Revolutionary Burger Reborn (Lebanon, NH)

(Closed) “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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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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Firebox (Hartford, CT)

(Closed) Last month, after a day spent with friends in Connecticut, since we were already in the Hartford area, we decided it was a good opportunity to stop and check out the local food scene. Our destination was the old Billings Forge complex, a rather large red brick Romanesque Revival industrial complex that originally held the Billings and Spenser company (inventors of the modern drop forge process, and the Spencer Repeating Rifle). Since the mid-20th century, most of the complex has been housing, original a housing project, and then more recently redeveloped as a mixed income complex. But parts of the complex retained their industrial nature for decades, only recently getting converted to other uses, in this case, two restaurants: The Kitchen which provides a light cafe and job training, and Firebox, a local restaurant focusing on farm-to-table cuisine showcasing central Connecticut farms. We decided after reviewing menus to catch a late lunch at Firebox

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2nd & High (Cleveland, OH)

(Closed) While my Death March trip to Cleveland mostly involved revisiting (and taking friends to) old favorite hangouts, we did get to explore a bit. And we discovered a few little hidden gems. Like just two blocks away from Cleveland’s Public Square, tucked in just behind a parking garage around the corner from Quicken Loans Arena, there’s a small bar with some not-too-obvious signage: 2nd & High (which is also it’s location). But behind the subtle signage on a quiet back alley that many have probably walked right by, lies a bit of a secret: a surprisingly good Poke Bar.

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Health Check: Black Pig (Cleveland, OH)

(Closed) Way back in 2013, I did a review of a relatively new addition to the Ohio City dining scene: Black Pig, which had been newly opened by chef Mike Nowak (who had previously been executive chef at several other Ohio City hot spots, including Bar Cento and Market Garden. Since that visit, a lot has changed with Black Pig. For starters, they’ve moved, from their relatively cozy location on W 25th to a substantially larger location on Bridge Ave that used to hold the revered Parker’s restaurant (meanwhile, their old location was taken over by neighbor Nano Brew, providing them a much-needed increase in space). With the move, they ended up retooling the menu a little bit; the focus is still definitely on “New American Cuisine” using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, particularly focusing on Ohio’s beef and pork products, but shifting a bit more towards a more regular menu; my two previous Black Pig visits had custom chef’s tastings, and while they’ve still got an impressive “Tasting Menu”, it’s generally now just a prix fixe menu with periodic seasonal updates. And with the substantially enlarged space, Black Pig does a lot more “Private Dining” events than they used to as well. But I continue to hear some really good word of mouth about Black Pig, so I figured that ending this year’s Death March there would be a great opportunity to check in on how they are doing.

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Sokolowski’s University Inn (Cleveland, OH)

(Closed) My regular readers know that once a year, I gather with several of my friends and we do a “Death March” in which we spend an extended weekend at a different metropolitan area exploring the food, drink, and cultural scene, culminating in a ~20 mile walk through the city to explore all the neighborhoods. We’ve done a lot of cities, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, London… this year was Cleveland. Okay, I can hear a lot of you already asking, “Wait, what? Cleveland?!” But you heard me right. Yeah, Cleveland had some rough years of post-industrialism, burning rivers, and general rust belt blight, but as I learned with many business trips to the area in the ’90s through recent years, Cleveland is actually one of the country’s most underrated cities, having cleaned themselves up quite nicely, and the city has a plethora of great attractions, ranging from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to some great parks, some great breweries, and excellent restaurants both old and new. While much of the culinary coverage of Cleveland focuses on the newer places, we started our visit in the city with a trip to one of the old stalwarts of Cleveland ethnic dining: Sokolowski’s.

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Allium (Waterbury, VT)

(Closed) For our other dinner out while we were spending an extended weekend in Vermont, we decided to go back to Waterbury and check out some of the locations. Since we moved to NH (more than 16 years ago, how time flies!), Waterbury has definitely grown up from the fairly sleepy town that also sported a coffee roasting factory and an ice cream factory into something a bit more refined. It had one really well-regarded brew pub grow up, get flooded, and moving on to found a full-fledged, world famous brewery (now up in Stowe). It’s also had several restaurants and beer bars appear over the last decade or so. One of the newer arrivals in town is Allium.

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Beau (Montpelier, VT)

(Closed) Montpelier is another one of those towns around here that seems to punch above their weight when it comes to the culinary front. Sporting a good Asian fusion place (Kismet), a Southern cooking place (Downhome), several good Italian places, a taco shop (one of the Mad Taco outposts), two Pho joints, a whole range of other dining options, and even a culinary school, I’m never far from some good eats in Montpelier. But there are always new things showing up, and a bit over a year ago we were taking the back way to Hunger Mountain Co-op via Barre Street when we happened across Beau. Beau had an interesting business model: it was basically a combination of a butcher shop with house-cut meat and house-made charcuterie and a cocktail bar, with custom-crafted cocktail served out of a rolling bar out front. They also do a light menu of charcuterie and soups (and, in nicer weather, set up an outdoor patio and have a food truck or portable pizza oven come by). It was pretty much custom-adapted to my particular tastes… all in a 300 square foot store. Well, a few changes have occurred since they opened. Alas, the cocktail program has ended (realistically, that was a lot to cram into such a small space), but they’ve expanded the meat area and their menu as well, so overall, it’s probably been a bit of an improvement, since I can still get all the same great meats and a better set of dining options (and if I want a cocktail, head to one of several other nice spots around the area).

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Black Krim Tavern (Randolph, Vermont)

(Closed) One of the rules I generally observe when selecting places to review here at Offbeat Eats is that I tend to avoid doing writeups on special holiday dinners and events, since those events aren’t necessarily representative of the restaurant in general. While I do make the occasional exception, such as my occasional visits to the Cabane à Sucre, all too often special events (particularly “dining out” holidays like Valentine’s Day or Easter) end up being a below-average experience: the restaurant usually has a higher number of tables, a busied staff, and a menu of unusual specials. But the occasional place will shine under these circumstances, like our trip to Black Krim Tavern in Randolph, Vermont, for an Easter brunch (yes, those looking at a calendar will realize that despite my best efforts, I’m again 4 months behind in reviews…)

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El Rancho (Oxon Hill, MD)

(Closed) Recent work travel has taken me to several conferences at the Gaylord resort at National Harbor in Maryland. Considering that the DC area generally has rather good transportation, National Harbor is notable in that it doesn’t; it’s mainly it’s own little isolated enclave with a large resort, a casino, and a handful of touristy restaurants (although among the various tourist joints are a few serviceable places like Nando’s and the quite good Succotash). And while I do love some Nando’s, I was really in the mood for something more like Peruvian chicken. As you may remember from my reviews of Super Pollo or El Pollo Rico, I rather enjoy a good, fresh, Peruvian-style pollo, and the DC area does have a lot of options. So, on a recent trip to National Harbor, I called up my friends Jen and Tom, and they came and took me to Oxon Park (just barely beyond what I’d call a “long walk” from the Casino to a fairly new joint in Oxon Hill called El Rancho.

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