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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

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March 2013

March 29, 2013

Grazing: The Maple Menu at Québec's Le Relais

Lerelais1Sunny days and cold, freezing nights. 'Tis the season of the drip-drip-drip of sap into buckets, of pancakes with fresh syrup and of sugar-on-snow.

Yet relegating maple syrup to breakfast and dessert is doing it a great disservice, as the sugar-mad Québécois know. There, the stuff makes its way into every course, savory or otherwise.

While reporting last week's story on "black market maple," I hit up Québec's Eastern Townships — specifically, Knowlton, a sleepy village on Lac Brome about a 20-minute drive north of the Vermont border. Right in the center of town is Auberge Knowlton, which has been an inn in some form or another for over a century. Its bottom floor is given over to Le Relais Restaurant Bistro, a comfy, unpretentious restaurant with high-backed colonial chairs, packets of mayonnaise on the tables and a dinner menu devoted to maple — at least on Saturday nights during sugaring season.

BlogUnlike the cooks at Québec sugar shacks where plates of bacon and eggs are slathered in maple syrup, Le Relais chef Paul Lalande has a light hand with the stuff. He barely drizzles it into a peppery split-pea soup, so that it adds weight and sweetness but doesn't dominate; he laces the broth for his mussels with syrup, then spikes it with chipotle for a spicy-sugary taste.

Maple syrup makes another appearance in the marinade for flank steak, where its vanilla-like sweetness becomes a background note to the charred but juicy meat. And, since Lac Brome is famous for its duck, the kitchen presents a succulent, rosy-pink duck breast that's seared, sliced and fanned over maple-caramelized onions.

Continue reading "Grazing: The Maple Menu at Québec's Le Relais" »

Vermont Brew Bracket: The Championship Round

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 9.28.12 AM

We started with 32 local beers. By Monday, only one will be left standing. We've made it to the championship round in the 2013 Vermont Brew Bracket, presented by Three Penny Taproom.

In one corner we have the Alchemist Heady Topper, the winner of last year's inaugural Vermont Brew Bracket. In the geekier of the two Final Pour matchups, Heady Topper soundly beat its brother in glorious balanced hoppiness, Hill Farmstead Edward, 66 pecent to 34 percent.

In the other corner we have Switchback Ale, which won a Final Pour matchup between two of the state's most popular and widespread beers, defeating Long Trail Ale, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Continue reading "Vermont Brew Bracket: The Championship Round" »

March 28, 2013

New Bluebird Eatery Opens Next Week

Bette headshot tavernSue Bette has a serious claim. The new Bluebird Coffee Stop at the Innovation Center begins its soft opening at 128 Lakeside Avenue next week, and Bette says its chocolate-chip cookies are good enough to fill the void left when the South End's Fresh Market closed. Chocolate-chip-cookie lovers have been pining ever since.

With Bluebird Tavern, Bluebird Barbecue and the original Bluebird Coffee Stop downtown, this will be Bette's fourth eatery opened in as many years. Why add another?

"We’re taking the Bluebird Coffee Stop concept and expanding it a little bit," says Bette. "We absolutely love the Church Street location, but we're limited in what we can do because of the space constraints. This allows us to be a little more of a café."

The LEED-certified Innovation Center was a natural fit with a recently redone café space and a built-in population of hundreds of workers. But the 30-seat resto is also open to the public. To begin, hours will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bette says she'll also use the space for private parties and special events, such as her popular oyster nights and beer and wine events.

What about the food? The menu showcases a wide range of breakfast and lunch dishes, aimed at everyone from the hungry worker to the gourmet looking for a palate tickling.

Homemade breakfast sandwiches and bagels from Myer's Bagel Bakery (with Bluebird-made cream cheeses) are available for breakfast, along with muffins in flavors including candied-bacon-and-peanut-butter and chocolate-espresso.

Lunch focuses on sandwiches and salads. Pressed sandwiches come in flavors such as chicken liver with grilled onion and lady apple or Maine crab with artichoke and lemon-cured tomato. Salads include field greens with red-wine-prunes, goat cheese and a pine nut vinaigrette, as well as a classic chopped iceberg version with ranch dressing, smoked ham and boiled egg.

Along with espresso and coffee, Bette says she and chef Michael Clauss also designed a number of new desserts. They'll serve slices of whole cakes, including red velvet and cheesecake. Milk chocolate or honey-vanilla puddings will also be a sweet way to end a workday meal.

But no creemees. Bette says she'll leave those for Church Street. And they, too, roll out for the season next week.

March 26, 2013

Alice Eats: The Bagel Place

IMG_51381166 Williston Road, South Burlington, 497-2058

Its interior finished with boards from a 1791 Shelburne barn, the Bagel Place, the newest eatery on Williston Road, is classier than your average bagel joint. But does the food match the ambience?

Last Sunday, it was suitably crowded with families lining up for a quick breakfast. And it was quick. A team of counter servers assembled my meal so fast, the folks at Burger King would blush. The prices, too, were comparable for a product that surprised me with its quality. My large meal for two added up to $23.46.

Naturally, I started with breakfast. A honey-whole-wheat bagel crackled with whole grains and betrayed just a hint of sweetness. It was filled with a freshly cooked egg, cheddar and Taylor ham. The hard-to-find product was a fun addition, but with just a single slice, I could barely taste it.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: The Bagel Place" »

Vermont Brew Bracket: The Final Pour


We're down to the Final Pour in the Vermont Brew Bracket, presented by Three Penny Taproom. The choices were tougher than ever last round, and it's only going to get tighter now. A look back at the third- round results:

  • The Cinderella run for 14th Star Valor came to an end, as this bracket's own Florida Gulf Coast University lost big to the juggernaut that is the Alchemist Heady Topper. The defending Vermont Brew Bracket champs won by a 2-to-1 margin.
  • In the most exciting matchup of the round, Long Trail Ale defeated last year's runner-up, Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA, by 55 percent to 45 percent. The two traded the lead multiple times before Long Trail made a late run to win it, avenging its loss in this same matchup in last year's Final Pour.
  • Another close race pitted Hill Farmstead Edward vs. Otter Creek Copper Ale. This was the closest vote margin of the round, at 54 percent to 46 percent, but Edward led the polls wire to wire.
  • In the last match, Switchback Ale handily defeated Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout by 20 percentage points.

Now there are just four Vermont craft beers left as the best of the best. Interestingly, three of the four Final Pour finalists are holdovers from last year's bracket, with Edward replacing Double Sunshine IPA as the only change.

The Alchemist Heady Topper vs. Hill Farmstead Edward. Long Trail Ale vs. Switchback Ale. One altbier, one IPA, two pale ales. You have until Thursday at midnight to vote. Choose wisely. Click here to make your picks.

March 22, 2013

Grazing: Friday Nights at Citizen Cider

Citizen_cider_doorSnow was falling in big, fluffy tufts by the time I made my way to Citizen Cider last Friday, intent on finally hitting up their weekly shindig.

Finding this place inside the maze of Fort Ethan Allen isn't a snap, but it seems like half of Chittenden Country does just that every Friday night — at least judging from the parade of raucous photos on the Citizen Cider Facebook page. I'd been meaning to attend for months, but have an allergy to Route 15 during rush hour.

My loss. The traffic wasn't as bad as I imagined, and Citizen Cider's founders  — Kris Nelson, Justin Heilenbach and Bryan Holmes — tip off passerby with a roadside placard. Just beyond, the parking lot was already full with cars, and the Hindquarter, Cloud 9 caterers' red 'mobile canteen,' was parked outside and taking orders.

I opened the door and stepped into a room that smelled faintly of yeast and fruit, with pom-poms hanging from the ceiling. The place seemed to have a split personality: On the left, bright lights illuminated tanks filled with fermenting cider; on the other, people jockeyed for space around a long, wooden bar. Music (was it bluegrass?) blasted from somewhere, but was barely audible above the din. It had the feel of a cider-fueled speakeasy. 

Continue reading "Grazing: Friday Nights at Citizen Cider" »

Vermont Brew Bracket: Round 3 Now Open


We saw some awfully close races in Round 2 of the Vermont Brew Bracket presented by Three Penny Taproom — and the choices only get tougher from here.

The big upset of Round 2 was the rise of 14th Star Valor, which defeated last year's debutante Fiddlehead IPA by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin. Somewhat curiously, this matchup had about twice as many votes as the other polls — 2880 total votes, while the others had between 1321 and 1692. I'm sure our dear readers wouldn't do anything untoward and stuff the ballot box ... right?

Continue reading "Vermont Brew Bracket: Round 3 Now Open" »

March 20, 2013

Vermont Brew Bracket: On to Round 2

Medrect-brewbracket13Yesterday saw the end of the Round 1 matchups in the Vermont Brew Bracket, presented by Three Penny Taproom, and once again, there were no shocking upsets. Some of the biggest names in local brewing, including Long Trail, Switchback and Wolaver's, handily defeated overmatched opponents. The only brew to defeat a higher-seeded rival was Hill Farmstead's Twilight of the Idols, which took down Trout River Rainbow Red 60 percent to 40 percent. In another close-ish matchup, Zero Gravity TLA IPA beat Long Trail Double Bag by 16 percentage points.

Now, we're on to Round 2, where the matchups will presumably be tougher to decide. The Alchemist vs. Lawson's Finest Liquids? Switchback vs. Zero Gravity? The choice is yours, drinkers. Voting for this round will be open through midnight on Thursday. After this round, voting periods will be open for longer than two days.

Click here to see Round 1 results and cast your votes for Round 2.

March 19, 2013

Alice Eats: A Little Peruvian

IMG_5366Burlington Winter Farmers Market, every other Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. Info, 310-5172.

There are lots of favorite foods I grew up eating in the New York City suburbs of Connecticut that I long for living in the Green Mountains — Korean barbecue, great Indian buffets, Greek.

But thanks to another Connecticut kid, there's one itch that I'm now finally getting scratched: Peruvian. Since debuting at last summer's Burlington and Capital City Farmers Markets, Hugo Lara has refined his fare into a thoroughly comforting fusion of Vermont ingredients and Peruvian flavors.

IMG_5368At last Saturday's Burlington Winter Farmers Market, I ate my way through Lara's whole menu and found the concise offerings thoroughly satisfying.

I was most excited to try the chicharrón sandwich. I was initially disappointed that the pork from North Hollow Farm wasn't crispier — after all, chicharrones in their most basic form are essentially pork rinds. However, the slider-sized, crusty bun from Stewart's Bakery added its own crunch to the flavorful pork. So did red onions. Meanwhile, sliced yams lent an earthy sweetness.

And I got to have my first taste of aji in Vermont. The mint-green, mayo-based sauce rests in squeeze bottles on every table at the Peruvian restaurants I frequented back home. I found A Little Peruvian's version a bit light on the jalapeños (some of my favorite restaurants refer to the spicy sauce simply as "picante"), but the tangy, cilantro-flecked sauce still hit the spot.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: A Little Peruvian" »

March 18, 2013

Vermont Brew Bracket: Second Half of Round 1 Now Open for Voting

BrewbracketadWe're now voting in the second half of Round 1 for the 2013 Vermont Brew Bracket, presented by Three Penny Taproom.

Round 1 voting has concluded for the left side of the bracket, which didn't see many close races. There were a few upsets, though, as the Valor amber ale from 14th Star Brewing Company in St. Albans defeated the world-famous Magic Hat #9 by a 69 percent to 31 percent margin.

Harpoon UFO also sustained a somewhat surprising loss, going down to Middlebury's Drop-In Brewing Heart of Lothian.

Now it's time to vote for the right side of the Bracket. Heavy hitters here include Long Trail Ale and Switchback, but you can also make your choice for beloved brewpubs such as Zero Gravity or the Bobcat Café. There's also Backacre's Sour Golden Ale, as profiled by Corin Hirsch last week. Cast your votes now; this round of voting closes Tuesday at midnight.

Click here to see the full bracket and cast your votes.

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