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January 14, 2014

Alice Eats: Harvest Café

IMG_7118McClure Lobby, Fletcher Allen Health Care, 111 Colchester Avenue, Burlington, 847-3978

This week is Seven Days' annual Health & Fitness issue, our chance to pay homage to some of the food that we don't usually have an opportunity to write about. In my case, that's hospital food.

Alice Eats is all about sharing great deals, and Fletcher Allen Health Care's Harvest Café has more than a few cool reasons for me to endorse it: While the food isn't uniformly healthful, it is prepared with an eye toward good health.

The cafeteria is open from 5 a.m. until 3 a.m. every day, meaning it competes only with downtown's Kountry Kart for all-hours supremacy. The wide range of foods is prepared with as many local ingredients as possible, including produce grown at the hospital garden in season. And most importantly for the purposes of this column, the food is cheap. Really cheap. $3 for a pizza cheap.

IMG_7115If you go in expecting Hen of the Wood, you will be sorely disappointed. But if, like me, you have a soft spot for cafeterias and grade institutional food on a curve, you may find Harvest Café becoming your late-night snack secret. And I, for one, don't mind the slightly mournful hush of a hospital dining room after 8 p.m. on a Sunday. In fact, I find the people- watching somehow comforting.

And where else could you ever imagine having a local Highland beef burger for $2.65? It would cost more than that to buy the beef and make it at home.

Admittedly, the patty is fairly thin, but its flame-licked stripes conjured musings of a grass-fed  special at Burger King. A slice of cheddar slowly melted over fresh lettuce and tomato (I eschewed the burger bar at which the cook helps to put numerous other veggies and sauces on top), all sandwiched in a whole wheat bun. If that had been my whole dinner, I would have felt pretty healthy.

IMG_7116But in the interest of culinary science, I had more work to do. Not that it was any effort to eat the day's special; turkey pot pie over a split biscuit. Despite the less-than-flattering photo, I dug right into big, tender chunks of fowl, speckled with peas, carrots and potatoes. The biscuit was buttery enough to know that this wasn't health food, but at $3.50, I still felt more virtuous than I would if I had hit a fast-food chain.

A pair of personal pizzas, prepared on whole wheat pitas, was more healthy than delicious. Though the thin crust was a more acceptable surrogate for the real deal than I'd expected, toppings didn't quite cut it. The barbecue chicken version had a strange crunch from small chunks of pepper chopped on top but undercooked. The toppings on the veggie pie were also a little al dente for my taste, though I did enjoy the big flavor of its pesto base.

IMG_7112For dessert, I enjoyed hitting the yogurt bar, where I stacked a blob of Butterworks Farm vanilla yogurt with fruit and granola. My dining partner grabbed a slice of chocolate pie that made me jealous. With a crumbly graham-cracker crust and a texture that recalled chocolate mousse, the dessert was something like s'mores in pie form. Not exactly healthy, but even in a hospital, sometimes it's OK to indulge.

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 [email protected].


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