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October 05, 2010

Alice Eats: Buono Appetito Italian Restaurant

3182 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, 802-985-2232

Not every business in the Vermont Fresh Network is fine dining. Scouring the list of restaurants that are members of the localvore association, I came across numerous joints that one might never guess would focus on serving local produce. Buono Appetito Italian Restaurant in Shelburne, better known as Buono's, was one of them. Who knew the family who owns the red-sauce Italian place had a passion for keeping Salad things fresh? I had to give it a try

The dimly lit dining room was filled with grandmotherly types Sunday night. A mural on one wall depicted a Venetian scene, complete with a scarf-sporting gondolier. Our server brought menus and asked if we would like a cocktail before dinner, an invitation I heard repeated as each party arrived at the restaurant. She also made note of the special, a burger made of beef from LaPlatte River Angus Farm and Cabot cheddar. It was $14. Seriously. The Burlington area is rife with overpriced local burgers, but this was the most expensive I've seen yet.

I was shocked to see that the regular menu reflected the same pricing. Chicken parmigiana was $24. Four pieces of fried chicken with fries, $18. Even a plate of spaghetti with butter on it was $9. What the hell was going on?

Parm The entrées each came with a salad and basket of fresh dinner rolls that resembled Dunkin' Donuts munchkins in size and shape. I dipped mine in the dressing from my Caesar salad (top right). The light, citrusy vinaigrette was not exactly what I expect on a Caesar but was delicious, coating the big, fresh romaine leaves on the plate. A dusting of grated Parmesan added just enough of the expected creamy Caesar taste.

The dinners appeared small for their price. If I'm paying $24 for chicken parmigiana, I at least want to get a couple of meals out of it. The breading on the breast was smooth and visually very pleasing, a picture-perfect crust. It tasted good, too, and was surprisingly juicy, gushing liquid as I cut each slice. The spaghetti on the side was al dente and covered in an unconventional red sauce. A peppery finish lightly burned my throat with each swallow. The sauce was really more puttanesca than marinara, not an unwelcome change.

Chx The fried chicken featured some of the weirdest butchering I've ever seen. At first glance, I couldn't tell which piece was which. There was a leg, a wing, a nugget and ... a bigger nugget. One of these nuggets was on the bone, the other was not. Despite the fact that these turned out to be breast meat, they were both wonderfully moist and tender. Too bad the breading wasn't more flavorful. When I was a kid, my mom used to coat chicken breasts with plain breadcrumbs, then fry them. This "Southern" fried chicken was clearly a result of the same method. Great Proustian throwback, not so great for an $18 restaurant meal. Further thumbs down for limp fries.

The food at Buono's wasn't bad. In fact, I really enjoyed my parm. Will I go back for it? Maybe if someone else is paying. But I don't think the folks at Buono's will mind. Both dining rooms were full the night I was there. Folks with more disposable income than I have, godspeed.

Alice, your reviews are staggering. Are you a food critic or a poor struggling artist figuring where to eat for $20 or less? Food costs money. Good food costs more money. Complaininga about expensive food perpetuates the madness of cheap factory farmed food that exploits workers, the earth, and animals all while making people fat and diabetic. Buono's was packed because people love it. It's a Shelburne tradition. Keep your nasty comments to yourself, especially in this tough economy as businesses struggle to get by. How can any good come from your review?

I agree that volume is not a valid criteria for judging a meal's worth. If the food sucked, that's a different story. If you're grading on a dollars per ounce scale, I advise you to avoid good restaurants in real Cities, your head will explode.

That said, $14 for a burger is exorbitant, there's no way to reconcile the quoted prices with the food in the pictures. Spaghetti w/Chicken Parm is $8.65 at Bove's, and there's no way the parm in the pic is three times better than Bove's.

I also disagree with Gill that criticism should be banned from local restaurant reviews. I appreciate hearing about both the good and the bad.

To the above comments I will add the following:

1. Freedom of Speech still exist in America (despite attempts to take it away and muzzle anyone with differeing points of view).
2. $24 is EXTORTION for Chicken Parm.
3. Portions ABSOLUTELY factor into the equation when considering value. In other words, should someone be expected to pay the same for a 6 oz steak versus 16 oz ? That makes no sense.

Nice job Alice !

Tony - I agree with you on point 1 and 2, but not 3. I'd pay more for the 6 ounces of fresh, local and organic run-free, than the 16 ounce piece of tortured beef from the steakhouse. Let's not forget preparation, presentation and taste though... those are the main three that I appreciate most from any restaurant. Alice- try La Villa next week, down the road from Buono's and tell us what you think.

Dan, don't encourage her! Alice, please don't review La Villa next week. Save our beloved restaurants!

Just a reminder to Gill: The point of "Alice Eats" is indeed bargain-hunting. My goal is to get a meal for two for less than $35. I was expecting to find one at a family red sauce restaurant and was disappointed in that search.

I also think it's important to point out that restaurants that use some local ingredients do not necessarily use all local ingredients. I am fairly certain the chicken was not local, or necessarily farmed ethically. If that is the case, $24 is quite a markup.

I am more than happy to pay high prices if there are reasons, either in preparation or ingredients, for doing so. I am definitely not above a $100 tasting in a big city if the meal is exquisite and unique. Buono's, while good, is neither.

If you find an exquisite meal for two for $100 in any big city, please let us know, that would truly be an unprecedented discovery.

One of the best meals I ever had was here:
Here's the link to my review:
If you look past the big names, it's not so hard.

Ah, I didn't realize you meant $100 per person, and without drinks, tax or tip.

Alice, your credibility is waning. If you want cheap food go to the pretend deli inside price chopper, Al's, mr mikes, or a bar. Your reviews are lame. Would a real food critic please stand up?

Gill, instead of poking jabs, why not put your money where you mouth is and enlighten us all as the incredible wealth of culinary knowledge you must possess to pass judgment on someone else. If you truly feel that paying $24 for chicken parm is fair, by all means go right ahead and do so. The forst time I ate at Buono I simply shock my head and said "you have got to be f$%^ing kidding me". I gave them the benefit of the doubt, stayed and ate, and left wondering who would pay such prices for this food. I guess Alice should just do "fluff" pieces like the Free Press. Yeah, that's a real public service.

Oh and by the way, what makes the deli at Price Chopper "fake" ?? Have you eaten there ? Another generalization that has no value at all.......
Dan, in my example (which may not have been clear), I was referring to similar cuts/quality of protein. I agree that if the quality is awful, size does not matter (that's waht she said). My point was, if two restaurants charge $18.00 for chicken cutlet and one is 6 oz and one is 16 oz, I'll opt for the 16 oz which to me, represents a better value.

Gill, correction to above question. What makes the deli at Price Chopper "pretend" ? (I mistakenly restated your comment using the word "fake").

Eight ounces laplatte beef $2
Bun $.75
Cheese $.25
Lto $.25
Fries $.75

Cost $4

Industry average markup 72%
Menu price 14.28

It's expensive to run a restaurant.

This is a blindsided punch to a person who works 14 hours a day cutting free range chicken, fresh veal, preparing sauce and lasagna every day, using Laplatte River Angus beef for our meatballs and burgers and using as many local farm fresh products that are in season that fit into our applications. The cost of food is a small portion compared to labor, upkeep, cleanliness and property expenses that also fit into the equation where a 39 year old restaurant may be one of the oldest in Chittenden county. Is there any respect for running a business for this long? How old are you? Have you ever worked in a restaurant?

The people who want cheap low priced food with huge portions have no idea where food comes from or how it's made. They just want it to be a big portions and cheap. Someday, they'll figure it out. Right now, they're just ignorant idiots eating factory farmed nastiness.

Boo hoo, running a restaurant is hard, life is so unfair. Maybe you can get a law passed requiring everyone to buy $14 burgers. Until then, I can do it myself with the same ingredients for two bucks.

A bit if follow up;

1."A blind sided punch" ? No, it's a review.
2. .75 for a bun ? Find a new source, $9.00/dozen for rolls is ridiculous.
3. "their just ignorant idiots"....I'm sure people on a limited budget appreciate that label
4. I may be misunderstanding the statement that "industry average markup 72%". I have worked in many restaurants and NEVER ran a 28% food cost......

in the famous words of food critic Anton Ego: "If I don't like it, I don't swallow."
39 years in business for a restaurant is a VERY LONG TIME, keep cooking it up and serving Buono's. One review does not a restaurant break...

We need to remember that everyone's tastes are different. isn't that what makes the world go around? What Buono's does works, that why they have been succssful for nearly 40 years. Insted of forming an opinion from what someone suggests, go down to the restaurant and check it out for yourself

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