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August 20, 2013

Alice Eats: Lunch at E.B. Strong's Prime Steakhouse

IMG_614710 Church Street, Burlington, 497-1214

One of the fun things about reporting Alice Eats is sharing opportunities to eat at pricier restaurants on a budget. Many of the "price is no object" spots in the area don't serve lunch, but when they do, you're guaranteed a chance to try the fare without taking out a second mortgage.

More than a year after E.B. Strong's Prime Steakhouse opened on Church Street, I still hadn't tried it, skittish about its reputation for $40-plus steaks. Now that it's serving lunch, I finally got my chance to get a meal for two at Strong's for less than the price of a steak.

I got more than I bargained for. On a quiet Sunday, a friend from my extracurricular life in theater was the only server. He sent out a delicious French onion soup made with veal stock, and a complex, spice-rubbed tuna tartare and watermelon dish. The latter hit notes that clearly showed chef Brian Jenzer's experience in Southeast Asia — it balanced sour, sweet, salty and spicy flavors admirably. But since I didn't pay for those dishes and they would have put me well above my Alice Eats price point, that's all I'll say about them.

IMG_6146Instead, I'm here to tell you about my new favorite burger. At $16, the wagyu burger costs the same as the locavore patties at Bluebird Tavern and a dollar more than the stellar Farmhouse Tap & Grill burger.

Often, when I've had a burger that was supposed to be "Kobe" or wagyu beef, it was murky what I was really getting. This chubby, perfectly medium slab of cow flesh ran with light, clear juices in a way that only the Japanese cattle can.

But the wondrous beef was only the beginning. Creamy, smoky bacon aioli replaced rashers with perhaps more flavor than the real thing. Fried pickles lent acid and a fun crunch and Shelburne Farms cheddar had exactly the right amount of sharpness to tie it all together. Even the bun was enviable: fluffy and lightly sweet with crisp edges.

I suspect the fries could be a polarizing factor, but I loved them. The giant potato spears were so large that I only needed one, but they were crisp outside, soft inside and had just a whisper of truffle taste.

IMG_6145For my second dish, I wish I had ordered the pork belly sandwich with tomato jam. Instead, I tried the mushroom tagliatelle.

The housemade pasta had potential to be a big hit. It sat in a delicious, creamy sauce and the mix of mushrooms were cooked admirably. Unfortunately, that beautiful house pasta was cooked just a little too much and ended up mushy. The delicate, poached egg on top somehow came to me cold, so when broken it left a frigid trail of yolk. Maybe some people like that, but I wanted the dish to be warm throughout.

Next time, I'll either tell the kitchen that I want my pasta very al dente or go for another sandwich instead. Or just get two burgers. Yep, I'll be doing that soon.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to alice@sevendaysvt.com.

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