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May 17, 2013

Grazing: Waitin' On A Plane at the BTV Skinny Pancake

Foodnews-skinnyThis post probably appears just above one from earlier this week announcing that the Skinny Pancake on Burlington's Lake Street will double in size by July. Does that mean that the third Skinny Pancake — the much-anticipated one at Burlington Airport, which opened just over two months ago — is already old hat?

Not for me. Without plans to fly anywhere, this rustic-looking kiosk remained off limits from behind a wall of TSA glass. With some local craft brews on tap, a cocktail menu that draws heavily on local spirits, and a section of the menu devoted to crêpe-less dishes — panini, a Vermont Salumi sandwich, even a burger — I was curious about what I couldn't have.

Until this Wednesday, when I was booked on a flight to DC. I arrived at the airport early to get my Skinny Pancake on.

Skinny_wontonThe menu here is huge, and it's printed on an equally huge black board above the registers. Even so, many people choose to order (and linger) instead at the sleek, L-shaped marble counter that surrounds the place. One, it's inviting; two, it's lined with electrical outlets, so you can tap away on your laptop while sipping Heady Topper (or Fiddlehead, which is the best-selling beer here). The bar/counter is so convivial that I was chatting with my neighbors within minutes over my own drink, a clear and slightly sweet blend of Barr Hill Gin, dry vermouth, honey and Urban Moonshine bitters — its flavors were as bracing as its cost: $16. (Hello, airport prices). At the nearby tables, made from salvaged wood, quartets of business people huddled with pads, paper and pints.

Yes, the prices at the airport Skinny Pancake are higher than you'll encounter in the restaurant's other two locations. But they're in step with most airport eateries. I pay $3 for water at most airport newspaper kiosks, for instance. At BTV Skinny Pancake, a crêpe will set you back between $6 and $9, and the pulled-pork-stuffed wontons, as an appetizer, are $11.95. The flip side, of course, is that food arrives almost as soon as you blink; the blasting music escaping from the kitchen suggests the line is furiously pounding out plates.

Skinny_burgerThat haste shows slightly in the food, which is a step up from most airport food in terms of creativity and sourcing, but not terribly polished. The bite-sized wontons were oozing oil, their crispy, bubbly skin wrapped around conservative spoonfuls of succulent pulled pork. More pork, less skin (ie, a larger size) would have been a tastier ration. The apricot dipping sauce that came with them was sweet and pungent, but the hulking bed of carrot-and-cabbage slaw on which the wontons rested was barely dressed. 

Curious about how the Skinny Pancake might do a burger, I ordered one of those, too. Even though I asked for a "pink" version (SP parlance for medium-rare, I guessed) the patty came very cooked, on a charred bun topped with two tired-looking pieces of romaine heart. Moist, peppery fries and a few pickle wedges completed the plate, which cost $11. Once my server realized the burger was overdone, she immediately offered to replace it. I ate half of it, anyway; it was clearly good meat, just lost in translation.

While I ate, I saw crêpes coming out of the kitchen looking as plump and lovely as ever. A uniformed guy noshing on one said to his buddy: "It took me a while to figure out what they meant by 'Skinny Pancake.' Cute!" Next time, I may return to the 'cute' basics. Truth be told, though, who isn't thrilled to have this place in the terminal? Judging by the sated and sometimes tipsy smiles, probably no one.

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