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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

Alice Eats: Restaurant Reviews

November 19, 2013

Alice Eats: The Guilty Plate Diner

IMG_6904164 Porters Point Road, Colchester, 343-6789

When is a diner not really a diner? If you ask purists, an eatery doesn't truly qualify unless it's in a classic diner car. Strike one for Colchester's new Guilty Plate Diner, then. Rather than a vintage dining car, this restaurant is situated in the former quarters of a vintage, er, video store.

But a look of the photo at right shows that the Alvanos family, who currently own Burlington's Pine Street Deli and once also ran the Parkway Diner in South Burlington, know a thing or two about the great American diner. The checkered floors, counter and ’57 Chevy booths capture the classic feel, while photos of farm animals give it a more modern Vermont edge.

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November 5, 2013

Alice Eats: Vermont Ale House

IMG_6563294 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-6253

Sometimes, you have to get past a drunk guy or two to get to Dad's library, but usually it's just him and his buddies. Inside Stowe's Vermont Ale House, the sauced fellows may be total strangers, but the books are pretty much the same.

In the sunken side room, complete with blazing stone fireplace and flat-screen TVs showing a hockey game and skiing, is seemingly every book ever released as part of a Time Life collection. There are issues of National Geographic dating back to the 1960s. And as far as I could tell, there are copies of every Agatha Christie and Hardy Boys book, too.

IMG_6567I could have spent all evening enjoying myself with a volume by the fire (part of Teddy Roosevelt's collected works, perhaps?) on Saturday night, but there was eating to be done at my table just up the stairs.

The "Alice Eats" price limit prevented me from trying one of the bar's creative cocktails such as the Ruby Faye, composed of Green Mountain Organic Gin with rosemary syrup, fresh lemon, soda and orange-blossom water. I also had to skip the 24 beers on tap, which include local and hard-to-find craft brews.

The obvious first gustatory stop was the house specialty: a hot roast beef sandwich.

Even for this blood-craving carnivore, the meat was simply too rare. The thick wad of beef was a mess of gooey flesh and fat in my mouth. The situation improved when I thought to cut small slices of the sandwich and dip them in the warm, scallion-speckled beef broth on the side. Sour cream flavored with horseradish was a nice addition, too, but it was still not an easy sandwich to get through.

IMG_6566For an extra two dollars, I added fries to my plate, which was an excellent move. The crisp, lightly battered potatoes were salted to perfection.

I also liked the balance of the arugula salad. Shaved fennel and paper-thin slices of Fuji apple contributed fun, crisp textures and hints of licorice and sweetness to the greens dressed in a light, white balsamic vinaigrette.

The ball at the bottom of the plate at right is a breaded orb of Vermont Creamery chèvre. It was too large for its own good, throwing off the cheese- to-crust ratio, but who can argue with the interplay of hot, fried cheese and refreshing greens?

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October 29, 2013

Alice Eats: Vergennes Laundry

247 Main Street, Vergennes, 870-7157

IMG_6531Run, run, run as fast as you can;
You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerdead Man.

Actually, maybe you can. Gingerdead Men are not as fast on their feet as living Gingerbread Men, and these adorable corpses are available at the Vergennes Laundry through Thursday.

IMG_6541As you can see from the hanging skeleton, the Vergennes bakery is not your average patisserie. Yes, co-owners Julianne Jones and Didier Murat infuse their food and decor with a touch of humor and whimsy (check out the mounted deer head just feet away from the ultra-modern lamp — the bright, white space looks like France by way of Mars). But it's the deadly serious care in creating classics that has commanded raves from the New York Times Magazine and Food and Wine.

Think of the hot chocolate (right) made from steamed milk that slowly melts three handmade crème fraîche truffles. Serious stuff.

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October 22, 2013

Alice Eats: ArtsRiot Kitchen

IMG_6462400 Pine Street, Burlington, 540-0406

I have a long list of culinary necessities that, once fulfilled, will finally make me completely comfortable living in Burlington. We're probably still a ways from my dreams of Korean barbecue and Polish comfort food, but with the recent openings of Bento and ArtsRiot Kitchen, I can now check off two of my more important needs: inexpensive, to-go Japanese bentos and groceries and regional Chinese food.

When I spoke to ArtsRiot co-owner Felix Wai last week about an upcoming slew of culinary events at the restaurant and gallery space, he wanted to make sure that people know that the high-ceilinged café is open regularly for meals, not just pop-ups. To those who haven't figured it out yet, here's what you've been missing.

In one fell swoop, this dish scratches more than one of my itches. It introduces Uyghur seasonings to Vermont, with spicy, cumin-scented beef from Boyden Farm. I'm more accustomed to the sandwich being served on an ancient style of rice bread, which is how they offer the sandwich at my beloved Maison du Nord in Montréal. But this wheat bun looked nearly the same and offered a similar combination of chew and crunch.

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October 15, 2013

Alice Eats: Guild Fine Meats

IMG_6453111 St. Paul St., Burlington, 497-1645

It's called the Bad Idea, but that's a misnomer. It's actually a very, very good idea.

I've met my share of breakfast sandwiches and burgers served on doughnuts. Usually they're overkill that require a nap for dessert. Guild Fine Meats' Bad Idea is different. Like everything from the Farmhouse Group, the offerings at the brand-new deli and butcher shop have a sheen of sophistication and great taste.

After visiting the Guild Commissary for this week's feature, I was eager to try as much as I could this weekend.

The soon-to-be-legendary sandwich starts with a very special doughnut. Neither doughnuts nor maple are ordinarily my thing, but pastry chef Samantha Noakes has combined the two to create one of my new favorite desserts. She told me it was loosely modeled on the pastries from Krispy Kreme, and Noakes captured the airy, cloudlike quality of those doughnuts. But these are far more subtle, with just enough sweetness.

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October 8, 2013

Alice Eats: ABC Café & Pub

La-bourdain-31 Towne Marketplace, Essex Junction, 872-8188

On an April episode of Anthony Bourdain's CNN show, "Parts Unknown," artist David Choe took the chef on an unlikely trip in his native Koreatown.

The pair headed to Sizzler, where Choe, in an all-orange suit, showed off the finer points of constructing a meatball taco from the buffet offerings. "There's nowhere else in the world where you can have this," Choe explained to Bourdain.

IMG_6396Well, Choe may need to hop on a plane for another "nowhere else in the world" creation. Vermont, meet ABC Café & Pub's samosa. Mashed potatoes mixed with beef, peas and onions are wrapped in a Chinese wonton skin with nary a hint of curry flavor. The combination is more shepherd's pie than samosa, but just when you think you've got it figured out, there's the side of marinara sauce for dipping. Is it good? Not really, but that's beside the point.

Since Chinese native David Lee took over the former Banana Winds Café & Pub last spring, the townie bar has seen an interesting menu transformation. And according to the regulars with whom I sat during their Sunday night football pool, the food has drastically improved.

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October 1, 2013

Alice Eats: Route 4 Country Store, Deli & Bar-B-Que

IMG_63213699 Woodstock Rd., White River Junction, 295-7563

Despite my most ardent efforts, there are still some places in Vermont where I haven't yet tried the barbecue. Check Route 4 Country Store, Deli & Bar-B-Que off the list.

Distance is my only excuse. The quirky spot is exactly my kind of place. Where else can I buy smoked pig ears (intended for dogs); mini bottles of both Boyden Valley Vermont Ice and ChocoVine; and ribs. The packed country store, also home to Vermont Chocolatiers, is eclecticism done right.

I only wish I could have tried even more of the barbecue offerings, but I went slightly over my $35 limit as it was, with the inclusion of drinks, sides and the unexpected cost of including sauce and veggies on the sandwiches. A warning: If, like me, you usually agree to whatever toppings your sandwich artist suggests, be aware at Route 4 that it will raise your bill.

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September 24, 2013

Alice Eats: Global Burlington International Dinner Series

IMG_6270Community dinners don't have to mean fish fries or chicken pie suppers. At North End Studio's Global Burlington International Dinner Series, they could mean tah chin, momos or, in the case of last Sunday's dinner, nafaqo.

The monthly dinners are a joint venture between North End Studios, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the Vermont International Festival. And for $15, I got my money's worth last Sunday.

Abukar Mohamed of the African Safari Store and Deli at 78 North Street brought a feast from the market's tiny kitchen to feed the appropriately international group of diners. I sat between guests from Holland, England and the Congo and talked to fellow attendees who work regularly in Norway and South America.

But Somali cuisine was new to nearly everyone.

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September 17, 2013

Alice Eats: Rí Rá Irish Pub

581903123 Church St., Burlington, 860-9401

Thursday's Trivia Mania has made Nectar's my regular haunt for eight years now. But before the locally grown pub quiz sprouted up, my Tuesdays belonged to trivia at Rí Rá Irish Pub.

Back in the day, I had to hurry and eat before or get stuck having chicken nachos for dinner (pretty good), an Irish boxty (unpredictable) or burger (blah and overpriced).

But last May, the game changed when Rí Rá's menu underwent a major overhaul, complete with membership to the Vermont Fresh Network.

Now, the options are both more authentically Irish (see the photo at right) and more authentically Vermont. I recently passed by the restaurant and was drawn to the new bill of fare. Would the reality match up to the descriptions? I braved a Sunday night football crowd to find out.

I was hidden in a front corner away from the game, which was evocative of an Irish bar filled with nooks and crannies, but very dark to photograph.

IMG_6255A range of creative salads and mini sausage rolls would have to wait. I needed some belly for my belly.

Pork belly, that is. And the potato cakes had it. This Jewish girl was envisioning shredded potato like latkes, but these were like meatballs made of creamy mashed potato, with a panko crust to hold them together.

Cheddar-mustard sauce, in pools below the cakes and blobbed on top, sounded like potential overkill, but added a tangy edge of sharp flavor without too much extra glop.

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September 10, 2013

Alice Eats: A Food Writer's Weekend

Back in 2010, I offered Alice Eats readers a glimpse into what a weekend in my life really looks like. Three years later, it seems like time to share another wild few days of eating and drinking around Vermont.

IMG_6227The whirlwind began after I finished reporting a food news piece about the food-themed exhibit opening next week at the Fleming Museum. I ran over to Hotel Vermont where I met with New England Culinary Institute executive chef Jean-Louis Gerin just after he picked up a very special guest at the Burlington Airport.

There on the comfy couches beneath Juniper's slate walls sat Ariane Daguin, owner and co-founder of D'Artagnan, Inc. Since starting that meat-selling business in 1984, the Gascony native has established herself as the goddess of American meat, bringing foie gras, charcuterie and game meats to the masses via a network of small farms.

Why was she in Vermont? "He twisted my arm," she said, smiling conspiratorially at Gerin. The twice-knighted Montpelier-based chef has some pull after 28 years at famed Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, Conn.

Starting Saturday morning, Daguin would be sharing her expertise in a duck-filled weekend that began with a seminar on making cassoulet and culminated in a D'Artagnan-heavy brunch.

Why spend so much time with NECI students? "The students are my clients of the future. And I guess I love convincing people what I think is right. It’s always an opportunity to think about good husbandry for farms," says Daugin.

Her passionate stance on raising meat right has won her lots of chef fans, including Anthony Bourdain, who named his daughter after Daguin. Gerin is part of the pack, too. In the '80s, when most pork was pallid, white, factory-farmed mush, he marveled at the pink, marbled pig flesh produced by Daguin's small farms in Missouri.

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