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September 15, 2009

Best Bites: Firebird Café

163 Pearl Street, Essex Junction 316-4265

Summer 2009 240 Being half of a couple of obsessive eaters can be challenging: Sometimes one of you wants breakfast, the other wants lunch. Other times, you feel like something healthy, but your partner wants to down a few hundred calories per bite.

From experience, I can recommend a compromise: Firebird Café. The new occupant of the former New World Tortilla space has choices to satisfy any mood. The fresh California-bred aesthetic of owner Jake Tran pervades every dish. Expect lots of avocado and sauces lovingly made that morning.

Even the hot chocolate is something special. Chocolate chips get melted in milk in the cappuccino machine, resulting in what Tran describes as a “Choco-latte.” We had ours with a poblano pepper and tomato omelette (see above), bathed in a zesty chipotle sauce. It made a satisfying in-mouth mole. The flavorful homefries were a delightfully crispy side.

Summer 2009 123 For a more indulgent breakfast, nothing can top the Croissant French Toast (at right). Picture two whole croissants, battered in a cinnamon-sweet egg wash, then fried. Oh my yes. Best French toast ever.

More in the mood for lunch? It’s hard to choose between the many appealing panini. Last time, I tried the Orchard, a combination of black forest ham, brie, and apples with housemade honey mustard on sourdough. More honey than mustard, the condiment alone is worth writing home about. Any sandwich can also be made as a wrap. Next time I plan on trying the Pilgrim, smoked turkey with cranberries, cucumbers, provolone and tarragon mayo. Or maybe it will be the Pork Carnitas Burrito. Or multigrain French toast with grilled bananas. No matter what, I know I’ll leave more than satisfied.

I love the pork carnitas burrito. I never had anything like it before, and it is very yummy! Even with the avocados. mmmm

This summer, my family and I traveled to Durham, N.C., a couple of times. Someone down there recommended that we try a popular breakfast haunt called "Elmo's Diner." We tried it and loved it. During our last trip down there, we remarked, "We could really use an Elmo's up in Essex." The next weekend we discovered the Firebird, and while it is diminutive compared to Elmo's, it was an tasty answer to our dreams.

Myself, my boss, and my co-worker ate there and all got incredibly sick from something in the food. Also, the help screwed up our orders, the credit card machine was down and they "wrote" our numbers down, and the people in the kitchen were, at best, confused and, at worst, inept. The boss knew it too because he was yelling at them to do their jobs right in front of us.

Incidentally, we were the only three customers in the place, so none of this was about being swamped.

If there is one restaurant in the area the three of us tell people to avoid, it's the Firebird Cafe.

It must've been an off-day, because I have been to Firebird weekly since it opened, and have only been happier with the food, service, and atmosphere. The sauces are absolutely incredible -- I'm left craving the Chipotle Red Sauce which you can get in the burritos. Even the pancakes are out of this world. As a chef, and as a patron, I recommend Firebird Cafe to all!

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