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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


April 26, 2013

Grazing: Fried Chicken Sandwich at Tip Top Café (or Hello, Restaurant Week)

I turned around to look at the clock on the wall behind me — 11:45 a.m. I usually don't eat lunch until 2 or so, but today was different.

It's the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week, something we've been waiting for and working toward all year. As the menus have dribbled in, we've salivated and plotted and planned. What makes this one especially sweet for me is that four spots in the Upper Valley are taking part. That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice as many as last year.

At 11:46, I began gathering my things to go for lunch at one of them.

Corn_chowderI don't think I've ever been disappointed with a meal at Tip Top Café, which is saying a lot for a place that's been around for seven years. When I first moved to the Upper Valley, I would hit this airy White River Junction bistro weekly for to-go lunches of curries and creative sandwiches.

At night, Tip Top morphs from a sunny café into an atmospheric, candlelit restaurant with martinis and first-rate food (on First Fridays, it's impossible to get a seat here without a long wait). This year, Tip Top is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time. 

And the place is doin' it right. The kitchen is loading it on for the $10, two-course lunch special. The cup of chunky corn-and-ham chowder that kicked it off today was spicy and silky, and dense with sweet corn, minced red peppers, slivers of potato and what looked like bits of kielbasa.

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April 19, 2013

Grazing: During a Crazy Week, Finding Comfort in Cream

When news of the Boston Marathon bombing began trickling in on Monday afternoon, we were in the throes of production at 7D, unable to really tune into the details. Some people seemed silently rattled and distracted, but it was a distraction we had to push aside while we finished up edits and layout and proofing.

When I began to really tune in a few hours later — ingesting images of smoke and blown-off limbs and blood staining the street — it was haunting and horrible yet hard to tear away. Yeah, bombings happen all over the world, practically every single day, but when random violence strikes a place you know well — such as Boylston Street — the line between normalcy and chaos seems paper thin. 

Like a ton of people, I became a news junkie this week, reading stories about the victims and following the addictive Subreddit devoted to finding the bombers. And on this gorgeous, windy day in Vermont, our neighbors a few hours south woke up to stories of even more violence and an eerie lockdown. 

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April 12, 2013

Grazing, Seafood Edition: Oysters With Pickled Blueberries & Foie Gras Aioli; Ahoy Matey Wrap

Oysters_bluebirdA few months back, a reader complained that we write about Bluebird Tavern too often. Apologies in advance — but this week I ate something at Bluebird that was too amazing to ignore. Yeah, it was oysters again, though on this occasion, they were broiled and dolloped with foie gras aioli (!) and ... pickled blueberries. Yup. If someone set this quartet of oysters down in front of you, menu unseen, you might not be able to pick out the individual parts; but taken together, each shell was filled with a silky, creamy, luscious mass kissed with a hint of pucker.

Four oysters cost $16. Not an everyday treat, but a treat to be sure — and a fleeting one. It's unclear how long they'll be on the menu until chef Michael Clauss changes it up yet again. But any chef who thinks to pickle his blueberries and marry oysters with foie is someone to whom I have no problem handing over me life. (The Bluebird mini-empire also just added a breakfast and lunch spot at the Innovation Center, and it's tasty, but that's a post for another day).

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April 5, 2013

Grazing: Crispy Artichoke Hearts at Buono Appetito


I've worked in Burlington for just over two years, so there are still scores of restaurants I've never visited. I ate at The Daily Planet for the first time (ever!) this spring and have yet to hit the Inn at Shelburne Farms and so many other iconic places.

Not quite iconic, but seemingly beloved, is Buono Appetito, a nondescript — at least from the outside — place on Route 7 in Shelburne that people have urged me to visit for months — especially since chef Sevie Cartularo took over the kitchen of his family's restaurant.

BrusselsI dropped in for the first time on a wintry night last week, and the place seemed to have a split personality: In the back a guitarist strummed to a bar full of drinkers. Up front were some quiet, old-school dining rooms. At first glance, the menu looked well stocked with standard-bearers such as pizza and eggplant Parmigiana. In their midst, however, were tantalizing things such as squid-ink spaghetti and an entire section of funky small plates. With the wind whipping around outside, I mainlined some crispy, garlicky brussels sprouts tarted up with capers and lemon — I later learned it was a favorite of food writer/editor Melissa Pasanen, who wrote up the dish for Vermont Life — and some floppy pappardelle smothered in spicy sausage and a silky tomato sauce smoothed with a splash of milk.

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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.

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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. 

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March 1, 2013

Grazing With Jerky

Maybe it was only a matter of time before Vermont got its own jerky shop. Still, when I first drove by the sign a few weeks ago, I had to do a triple take — the shop's name somehow jangled against the sign's polished typography and Stowe's stately shops and houses.

But there it was: Vermont's Amazing House of Jerky. When I tried the door, though, a smaller, handwritten sign revealed that the owner was out getting "more delicious jerky" and would return the next day.

Jerky2A few weeks later, I was in luck. Anthony Capone, the owner, was holding court in a sunsplashed shop so elegant that its product selection seemed out of place. It was time to confront my own preconceptions about jerky, which blanketed the rustic pine shelves Capone built himself.

There were various flavors of beef jerky, of course (chili was sold out), but also turkey, alligator, venison and even trout. As I considered some mushroom jerky in the vegan section (it rubbed shoulders with some granola), Capone called it "beautiful." The turkey was "silky," while another — the venison jerky —  "tastes like red wine," he said.

Capone clearly has a passion for his trade. Though House of Jerky shops appear in dozens of places across the U.S., he insists his is not a franchise nor part of a chain; his stores in Lake Placid, Lake George and now Stowe are his alone.

To explain the makings of jerky here would take too long; this isn't locavore stuff, but to my untrained eye, it looked high quality. Those who can't decide between alligator and turkey could go for a sampler pack, which sells upward of $30. I opted for the benchmark Natural Style Beef Jerky, as well as some black-pepper venison, teriyaki turkey and Pan's Mushroom Jerky. 

Capone was right: The venison jerky, while tougher than the rest, did indeed taste like red wine, maybe even a Cabernet filled with black fruit and charred flavors. The beef jerky was gutsy and umami, while the amber-colored, striated teriyaki turkey had the softest texture and sweetest flavor of the bunch.

The mushroom jerky wasn't as soft as I expected it to be; rather, it was (of course) earthy and tough, and reminded me of a few other mushrooms I'd tried as a teenager, sans bitterness. But I'll leave it to a vegan to decide.

Capone says a jerky store is in the works for Burlington. Watch out, Church Street.

Vermont's Amazing House of Jerky, 100 Mountain Rd., Stowe, 760-6111.


February 22, 2013

Grazing: The Gooey Joys of Raclette

Raclette1Whenever my parents would unearth their avocado-green fondue pot, exciting things would follow — namely, dipping chicken tenders into my Dad's killer Schlitz-based beer batter, then frying them into crispy, amoeba-like shapes in the bubbling oil. 

It wasn't until years later that I sampled cheese fondue for the first time and, inspired by the communal gluttony, I purchased my own stainless-steel fondue pot ... which I used approximately twice. Reminded of its existence by my colleague Alice Levitt's recent article on fondue — and inspired to resurrect the tradition — I carted home thousands of calories' worth of cheese along with an Elmore Mountain Bread baguette.

Unfortunately, some of the fondue pot's parts were scattered to the wind, and my Kirsch was showing signs of age.

Fortunately, there's another convivial Swiss tradition for consuming copious amounts of cheese: Raclette, or melted Alpine cheese served with cornichons, pickled onions, boiled potatoes and cured meats. Though it, too, calls for special equipment (an electric raclette melter), a fire of any sort will do. After all, Raclette is hundreds of years old, predating electric outlets.

So I unwrapped my two types of cheese — a brick of squishy, cheap German cheese called Butterkäse, and a wedge of Spring Brook Farm Raclette — and arranged them on a rimmed cookie sheet. I then balanced this, perhaps unwisely, atop the grill of my gas fireplace. (You could use a warm stove, too, heated to 250 degrees or so). The cheeses began to melt and slide around after about three minutes, and within 12 minutes, they were ready to scoop onto the plate. 

The pale-straw-colored Butterkäse, literally "butter cheese," melted the fastest; it's mild and oily, but with a rustic edge. It's also the less expensive of the two. Befitting its name, the Spring Brook Farm Raclette fit the job perfectly: still a quick melter but with an elegant, addictive texture somewhere between silky lemon curd and butter.

Traditionally, as raclette melts, it's scraped onto diners' plates and savored over an hour or more of dipping, smearing and pickle crunching. Without a broiler, my raclette never became brown and bubbly, but it was still warming and scumptious when slathered over a crusty baguette and chased with tangy bites of cornichons, onions and apples. And since cheese and cider are such good pals, it was an ideal time to sample some Flag Hill Farm Sapsucker, a hard "cider beer" made in Vershire that's so dry it almost feels like drinking flannel. Alongside the molten cheese, the barely effervescent cider became rounder, with hints of orange peel, quince and biscuits. 

Raclette feels a little bit like eating deconstructed grilled cheese, but with a few Old World touches to keep it civil. Get it while it's hot, though; once it starts to harden, its appeal rapidly fades.

February 8, 2013

Grazing: Snowed in With a Bee's Knees

734476_10151254701388553_502872597_nI forget how old I was when someone told me that too much gin would make me want to fight, or cry, or both. Either way, besides a few stray Sapphire-and-tonics in my twenties, I generally avoided the stuff.

That is, until I first sipped a crisp Plymouth gin martini. And a Hendrick's gin rickey. And then, Caledonia Spirits' Barr Hill Gin. Each has its own seductive flavor profile, from juniper to coriander to (in Barr Hill's case) the faintest hint of honey. 

That's probably what makes it the ideal spirit for the Bee's Knees, one of the simplest, most gorgeous cocktails in the universe, and one I'm slightly obsessed with at the moment. Gin, lemon and honey, shaken with ice and then strained, yields a golden, sour-sweet, magical thing that almost tastes good for you. The Prohibition-era mixologists who created it were either genius or eminently practical, as they surely researched myriad ways to deal with a surfeit of bathtub gin.

However, the very simplicity on which the Bee's Knees depends can also be its downfall — too much booze can make it harsh, while the honey can turn into a cold, hard mass in the shaker (as I learned when I first tried to make one). At Hourglass at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, bartenders counter this problem by using honey simple syrup, a clever twist that yields their stunning rendition (pictured), which has just the perfect sweet-tart-floral balance. (They use Barr Hill, by the way). 

I've watched bartenders struggle with the honey-glop thing as I did, and then deliver overly sharp concoctions. I love the citrusy, bracing version at the Parker House Inn in Quechee, where bartender and co-owner Adam Adler also makes another alluring concoction: a blend of gin, apple cider and St. Germain that I think is called a Cider Press (details are fuzzy).

Back at the ranch, I have a small jar of honey syrup at the ready. It takes only a few moments to make — just heat equal parts water and honey until dissolved. I mix it with a small sprig of rosemary to add another layer of wintery flavor.

The Bee's Knees

2 ounces Barr Hill Gin
3/4 ounce honey simple syrup (or use a warm spoon for honey, and mix fast and furiously)
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sprig of rosemary (optional)
Lemon peel or twist (optional) 

Combine first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake wildly to blend, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or twist, and serve.

January 25, 2013

Grazing: A Dedicated Fish-and-Chips Shop Opens in Brattleboro


If you know nothing about World's Most Delicious, let your nose be your guide: As soon as you enter the dimly lit space, the smell of malt vinegar wallops you in the face.

Brattleboro's newest place to eat may be tiny, but it's also colorful and gutsy: They serve fish and chips (and Belgian fries), and that's pretty much it. The compact menu is even painted onto the wall behind the register, suggesting it will change rarely, if ever. With fish availability ever shifting, though, the market prices for each night's supper are scrawled on a nearby chalkboard: $12 for eight ounces of fish and a basket of fries; $10 for half that.

"We only use hake," says Sam Scott-Moncrieff, who opened WMD with his Dad, a Scottish filmmaker, in December. "It's less oily." And, he adds, it's plentiful, which allows them to keep prices down. A nearby cooler has bottles of beer arranged in neat rows: Belhaven Scottish Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Trout River Rainbow Red.

I order a half supper and settle in at one of three picnic tables adorned with salt, pepper, vinegar and a metal flower made from a spigot handle. On a small stage in the window, a musician named Brooks Letchworth strums on his guitar, taking part in WMD's "ing For Your Supper deal  — perform for an hour and WMD comps you a full fish dinner.

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