Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alice Eats: Pho K&K

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM

121 Connor Way, Williston, 288-1017 
Cha gio with avocado smoothie and lemonade - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Cha gio with avocado smoothie and lemonade
Apparently, it can be risky attempting to open an authentic ethnic restaurant in Maple Tree Place. While I dined anonymously at 2-month-old Pho K&K last night, co-owner Khanh Le told me that early customers complained about the taste of his food. Specifically, they thought there was too much of it. Unfortunately for those of us who like big flavor, he's been listening.

So what's a critic to do? I'm stuck reviewing what I tried, not what I believe Le and his wife, Khanh Pham, are capable of. There were hints of skill throughout my meal, but it was stymied by the utter lack of salt. Still, given the value offered and the excellent location, I'm willing to give this family business another try. Here's why:

1. The beverages need no tweaking. Fresh-squeezed lemonade ($2.50) is pulpy and as blindingly sweet as the Vietnamese refresher should be. In an uncommon touch, the sugar crystals are incorporated seamlessly, making this version easier on my teeth.

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Farmers Market Kitchen: Wild Grape Pie

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM

  • Photos: Hannah Palmer Egan

There is so much to say about grape pie.

But rather than carry on for hours (I could, but it wouldn't be pretty), I'll offer just this: It's not easy to make.

It's best to set aside most of a day to prepare it — or do the crust one evening and the filling the next day, for a total of four to six hours, including cooking time.

It's an epic task. But few days are spent on a better single endeavor than producing this stunningly beautiful, absolutely delicious, one-of-a-kind, showstopper pie. 

Last year, I made it with Concord grapes, which I found at the Greenmarket in New York City's Union Square. This year, I searched high and low, but the one person I knew growing the deep-blue-purple fruit said his crop was spoken for.

Serendipitously, my cousin just moved to a new piece of property, which I'm provisionally calling "WildFarm," since it already abounds in edible flora and he intends to farm there. When I visited last week, we pulled down pounds of wild grapes growing up a large maple at the edge of the woods. (Here's an action shot on Instagram!)

The grapes are super-tart, which makes them great for baking, since most fruit pies call for lemon juice to perk up the pucker. With these, that's not necessary, and their character, color and texture are much like the Concord's. They're smaller and seedier, so you'll need a lot more of them to fill a pie, but I enjoy their sour, feral flavor. And you won't have to pay $6 or more per pound for the cultivars, because these grapes are free for the taking, growing on a roadside near you.

As with all wild forage, KNOW WHAT YOU'RE PICKING. If you're not absolutely certain what the wild grape looks like, do your homework first! If you don't have time to go pulling wild grapes from trees, use Concords — I saw some from Massachusetts at City Market last week, and some of those may be left.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Alice Eats: Wicked Wings

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 1:32 PM

119 Pearl Street, Essex Junction, 879-7111
Wicked WIngs
  • Wicked WIngs
It's hard to miss the devilish bird with one yellow eye. Though the other eye is red, apparently the victim of a computer's auto-fill setting, you get the idea: This steroidal rooster — or whatever that horned avian is supposed to be — certainly gets his point across: There are wings here, they are hot and you should eat them. Sold, Wicked Wings. I think we have an understanding.

The space at 119 Pearl Street has been a revolving door in recent years, with incarnations including a Southeast Asian spot I really liked and a pizza place I didn't quite so much. In buildings such as this one, I always hope for a restaurant that will find its "forever home," breaking the "curse." But it's harder when the modest surroundings retain vestiges of previous tenants. 

On a Sunday evening, the space was about half full, but locals ducked in for take-out. Those who stuck around seemed to be there for the game, shown on several flatscreen TVs. All had giant platters of wings, which I soon learned was really the point.

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Farmers Market Kitchen: Chorizo-Stuffed Poblanos

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 9:15 AM

  • Photos: Hannah Palmer Egan
With farmers markets in the final throes of the summer season, this week's recipe pulls from a laundry list of local farms.

At the Burlington Farmers Market on Saturday, I found gorgeous, waxy, dark green poblano peppers and cherry tomatoes from Monkton's Bella Farm, fresh chorizo and shallots from Huntington's Maple Wind Farm and cheese curds from West Glover's Sweet Rowen Farmstead. All of these came together in some fantastic chile rellenos for a Saturday night feast with our neighbors, who are headed to the Virgin Islands for the winter.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alice's Latest Obsession: Every Burger At Last!

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 2:16 PM

  • Alice Levitt
Just before noon today, I got a text from Chris Russo, co-owner of Bento in Burlington. It was just four words: "We've got Every Burger!"

I ran right to College Street, knowing my life was about to change. For the first time ever, I am now able to buy my favorite candy in Vermont. From Indian rose barfi to bone-shaped, cardamom-flavored Maltese ghadam tal-mejtin, I've eaten my way through the world's sweets with unbecoming gusto. But in the end, nothing can compete with a childhood favorite. 

When I was a kid, my family drove to a Japanese supermarket called Meiji-ya for groceries a couple of times a month. I had lots of musts on my list: eat a melon-flavored shaved ice from the counter; bring home Botan Rice candy, wrapped in edible rice paper, to wow my friends. Panko, at the time not something you could just buy at the grocery store, also seemed to go quickly in my house. 

But my favorite candy was always the Every Burger. Or maybe it's more of a cookie. The bite-sized burgers are made of mini patties of chocolate topped in yellow white chocolate, which stands in for cheese. The buns are skinny, shortbread-style cookies topped in chopped sesame seeds. Every Burgers used to be sold with two mini compartments in each package, but in the last year or two, they've been packed as a single serving. This makes portion control extremely difficult for me. 

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Farmers Market Kitchen: Mother Hubbards

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 10:00 AM

  • Photos: Hannah Palmer Egan
Last week, I stumbled on a boatload (or a porch full, as it was) of stunning Hubbard squash at the WORLD FAMOUS Evansville Trading Post in the Northeast Kingdom. I couldn't get away without snapping up a couple (they keep for months and only get sweeter as they age). This morning I roasted half of one with maple syrup and butter using my mother's method, which works well with any amber-fleshed winter squash. 

Hubbards are one of the largest winter squash, sometimes swelling to close to two feet long and a foot or more across. Their skin is tough and thick — don't dare try and peel them with a potato peeler — and their flesh is head-bashing hard and kind of mealy. But when roasted and mashed, their flavor is deeper than the easier-to-handle butternut or acorn, nutty and earthy and, I swear, has a hint of fallen leaves, too. The flavor of autumn in New England.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Alice Eats: India House Restaurant

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM

207 Colchester Avenue, 862-7800
I often think that my 12-year-old self would be pretty satisfied with how my life turned out. My boyfriend and I can play Street Fighter II at an arcade that also serves food and video-game-themed cocktails. I get to eat out for a living. And I don't have kids, so I can have fun without finding a babysitter.

But 12-year-old Alice would be horrified at the state of my Sundays. At that time in my life, I rose each week to worship in the institution that still remains closest to my heart: the Indian buffet.

But as often happens, my religion fell away in the Green Mountains. Not by choice but by circumstance. The Indian restaurants I found in northern Vermont were pallid imitations of what I'd grown up with. I left my subcontinental food stops to visits in Montréal or New York.

But this Sunday, I was desperate. Over the last couple of years, I'd heard rumblings that, along with a major renovation inside and a new sign outside, culinary matters at India House had improved, as well. 

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Farmers Market Kitchen: Dead Greens Gratin

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 9:01 AM

  • Photos: Hannah Palmer Egan
It's late September and the greens are still going strong. You've already blanched and frozen all that you intend to save for winter, but the garden's still cranking out chard, kale, collards and whatever else at a cold-weather-defying rate. During a mild year, some kales will winter over and grow through the following spring if you let them. And at market, these hardy survivors will chug along well into root-vegetable season and beyond.

As summer gives way to fall, these greens are also one of the last doses of fresh chlorophyll we'll get, and I'm happy to embrace both the tyranny of leaves and cooler-weather cooking. Let's bust out the cream, shall we? 

Adapted from an Alice Waters classic, this rich, creamy gratin will take care of whatever greens the garden wants to throw at you, and warm your belly on a cold autumn's night.

Even better, it works fine with whatever ratty old past-prime leafy things you've got kicking around your fridge. Last night, I made it with a mix of wilty rainbow chard, kale and gummy celery, but you could add radish or turnip greens, spinach, leafy herbs (basil, sorrel, lovage, in moderation) or even some sad-sack arugula. Get crazy! All dead greens love cream. 

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Farmhouse Group to Close Burlington Deli

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 4:58 PM

  • Alice Levitt
  • The Bad Idea
Updated 09/19/14 with more information from Jed Davis, Farmhouse Group's managing partner.

Maybe the Bad Idea — a sandwich composed of a homemade maple doughnut, house sausage, egg and cheese — was more prophetic than addictive. Farmhouse Group owner Jed Davis announced today via email and social media that Guild Fine Meats, the home of the Bad Idea, Piggly Wiggly Poutine and a slew of sandwiches prepared from homemade deli meats, will serve its final meals next Thursday, September 25.

Via email, Davis said, "We are very proud of this restaurant – the ambition behind the concept, and the daily execution in particular. Our staff was exceptional. We hold our heads high knowing that we created and delivered a unique concept to the market, and that we excelled with quality product and service. Unfortunately, not all businesses work out."

With a steady stream of customers, to the casual observer, the business seemed to be working out just fine. But in a phone conversation after this story was originally posted, Davis explained that profit margins were to blame.

"It can be a tough gig, the farm-to-table restaurant movement. You’re operating in a world with much, much higher costs than other people," he said. "That model works brilliantly in some cases and unfortunately, it just didn't work here."

While the Farmhouse Tap & Grill Burger is a successful vehicle for the local meats produced at the company's commissary, Davis said a deli sandwich proved to be a less cost-effective fit. "The guest wanted [the sandwiches] to be two bucks less and the business needed ti to be two bucks more. That value conversation just break down," he explained.

The Guild Fine Meats products sold at 111 St. Paul Street also make their ways into the dishes at Davis' four other Farmhouse Group restaurants, including Guild Tavern, Pascolo Ristorante and El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina. Bacon, sausages and deli meats from the label are already available at City Market and Healthy Living.

But what will become of the space? Will the prolific Farmhouse Group try its luck with another concept? "That's undetermined right now," Davis told Seven Days. "We're going to feel that out."

Davis and his team are also working to find potential homes at their other restaurants for some of GFM's most popular sandwiches and baked goods. 

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Farmers Market Kitchen: Honeyed Zucchini Layer Pie

Posted By on Tue, Sep 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

  • Hannah Palmer Egan
Often with cooking, necessity is the mother of innovation. Faced with another massive, late-summer garden zucchini, I went to make a pie but, feeling lazy, planned to go the phyllo-crust route. I only make crusts from scratch in late fall and winter. Or that's the rule for today. 

I pulled the phyllo from the freezer, went to unroll it and (surprise), it splintered into a million paper-thin pieces — go figure, I left it very loosely wrapped last time I used it ... So my pie flew to the sky but I called up my loaf pan, (always waiting in the cupboard) and layered the broken phyllo in the bottom with honey and butter and zucchini stuffing and called it a day. 

It's sweet and light, a little salty, warming and delightful, and yields about three cups of zucchini water for later use.