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March 16, 2012

Grazing: Tucking In at Tuckerbox

Tucker_counterThere are lotsa lovely cafés in the Burlington area, and I surf them in a circuit whenever I try to come up with decent prose outside the office. Even after 14 months here, though, my favorite place to caffeinate and attempt to look busy is still a few miles away — well, about 90 miles, on a corner with a view of often-deserted railroad tracks.

For years, the building at the confluence of North and South Main in White River Junction was either a food incubator or a cursed space, depending on perspective. For a blip in time it was A Taste of Africa, which went on to become a local catering powerhouse. Then it became Como Va, an Italian place that suffered from the sleepy WRJ after-dark trade. Eric Hartling, who owns Tip Top Café down the road, took over the space in 2008 and turned it into Tuckerbox.

I'm still no sure what a Tuckerbox is, and after years of going here, I may never know. For me, the word conjures brick walls and the rumble of a bean grinder and a massive, communal farm table covered in the scattered remnants of three daily newspapers; a quartet of comfy, cracked leather chairs, a chalkboard sometimes etched with irreverent scrawl, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let you watch every move in this berg that usually feels a bit too small. (If you live in the Upper Valley, it's hard to come here without running into someone you know.)

Tucker_saladTuckerbox seems to serve as a virtual office for every creative type in the area, from cartoon studies students to web designers to furrowed-brow writers. We park ourselves in its midst (if we can find a seat) to tap away on our keyboards or hold impromptu meetings. An extra perk is that the food is so damned fresh and delicious — carrot-ginger muffins, tangy soups (there's a split pea and garlic), towering BLTs, almost-neon-fresh salads — that if I'm nearby, I rush to get here before the kitchen closes at 2. Then I finish off with oversized cups of bracingly strong coffee (roasted by Vermont Coffee Company) or White Heron Tea from New Hampshire. Or just linger — no one at the mellow Tuckerbox ever seems to mind WiiFi or outlet use or abuse, which may help explain why seats become scarce.

There used to be beignets, too, but they're a distant memory. I'm not quite sure why they disappeared from the menu. You can still start your day with a peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwich, though. But who gets up that early? 

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