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March 15, 2011

Alice Eats: Basil's Pizzeria & Restaurant

20 South Main Street, Barre 477-5032

IMG_2051 Right now, I am in the final stages of updating every restaurant's listing in the 7 Nights guide. It's no easy task, but what makes it fun is learning more about each eatery.

If I hadn't spoken to owner Vasilio Vlahakis recently, I wouldn't have known that his Barre restaurant, Basil's Pizzeria & Restaurant had Broasted chicken. I've only seen it one other place in Vermont, the P&H Truck Stop in Wells River.

What is Broasted chicken? In 1954, Broaster Foods invented a method of simultaneous pressure cooking and frying. The result: chicken that retains all of its juicy goodness, but also absorbs less fat in the frying process. It's kind of the Esperanto of fried chicken — a really great idea that was just a little too weird to fully catch on.

IMG_2046 Inside, Basil's has a casual pizzeria feel. We were told to seat ourselves and chose one of the assorted colors and styles of booths. A vase of fake royal blue and fluorescent pink flowers, tag still on, sat on the table.This was particularly odd, given the fact that Basil's recently started a new gimmick — flowers delivered with your pizza. Hopefully the drivers remove the tags before delivery.

The menu is large and appealing, with American diner-style dishes, pizza, Italian choices and even gyros and baklava in honor of Vlahakis' homeland.

We opted to start with the spinach salad (right). It reminded me of salads I make myself at work, out of a plastic bag that I take from home. Not that I don't enjoy those salads, but this was just a little sad looking.

Sadder still were the cranberries, which were candied and chewy. In fact, I'm still not certain they weren't fruit snacks. The raspberry vinaigrette was of a similar character. There wasn't any vinegar taste to speak of. It reminded me of the flavored "maple" syrups at IHOP. The salad's saving grace was house-roasted pecans, which had a pleasantly toasty, not-too-sweet taste.

IMG_2049 Basil's pizza has been voted Central Vermont's best in the Times Argus. Barre-based friends have also stumped for it, so I had high hopes.

I ordered the "Basil's Special," a combination of mushrooms, peppers, onions, sausage, hamburger ("hamburg" on the menu) and pepperoni. The crust was a good texture, crisp and slightly chewy at the bone. There were so many toppings, it was difficult to taste the sauce, so I can't really attest to its quality. I could have done without the plain, overcooked crumbles of ground beef. Both pepperoni and sausage were flavorful, though I wish the pepperoni hadn't been buried, unable to crisp up.

I had the opposite issue with the peppers and mushrooms. Both were raw, apparently thrown on top at the end of cooking. This made for an unpleasant textural departure, though the peppers tasted fresh.

IMG_2048 Then it was time for the pièce de résistance — a thigh, breast and leg, all pressure-fried. I wish their batter had been better seasoned, but really, it didn't matter. The chicken was juicy in a natural, chicken-y way, sans brine or grease. If there was skin attached, it was undetectable. The coating was nothing but an almost sheer, tissue-thin layer of addictive crispness.

My boyfriend described the fries as "like eating fried chicken themselves." They were battered, perhaps in the same coating and perfectly crisp outside, with a cloud-like center. I usually balk at mayonnaise-based coleslaw, but this one, dotted liberally with celery seeds, was so flavorful, I didn't mind the creaminess.

IMG_2050 As for the baklava, at $1.50 a plate, I had to try it, although it's not generally my favorite dessert. This, however, was an excellent representation of the dish, completely free of the cloying sweetness that's all too common among Mediterranean desserts.

The top layers of phyllo were crisp and buttery, but far from greasy. Inside, cinnamon and cloves worked alongside honey, and were not overwhelmed by it. Whipped cream and chocolate sauce (I got them on the side) were a nice touch. The baklava was so nice, in fact, that we took another piece home. If only fried chicken could travel that well.

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]

I have visited Basil's myself and though, too, that the tag on the "center pieces" was odd, but then realize the Vermont-esque-ness of it; comical and simple. The salad does look and feel, pardon the term, half-assed, but tastes simple and homemade. The pizza, I agree, is often too loaded to get the full flavor of each ingredient. The broasted chicken is juicy and full of its own flavor, but non of any spices. The baklava comes from a box, I think.

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