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Monday, November 9, 2015

Alice Eats: Erica's American Diner

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 5:31 PM

Fairfax's finest, manure not included - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Fairfax's finest, manure not included
The photo above looks familiar, right? You may know the building pictured as the Country Pantry, Vermont Breakfast Company or AJ's Country Pantry. Since September, it's been called Erica's American Grill, under the same ownership as Linda's in St. Albans. I know it as the first place I had a real Vermont meal.

The first thing I ever ate in the Green Mountains was an unmemorable chicken Parm at Alfredo's on Church Street, now long closed. The next day, April 20, 1996, my mom and I joined my brother and his realtor for brunch at the dyed-in-the-wool Vermonters' favorite restaurant, the Country Pantry.

The fields across the street were being manured, but that didn't stop kids from playing softball just feet away. And it only made my introduction to rustic diner fare more enjoyable. It was vast miles, both physical and spiritual, from the metal-sided Greek diners I'd known before. Two years later, I'd become a regular when I moved 15 minutes away, beginning my 17 years as a Vermont resident.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alice Eats: A Cuisine

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 12:21 PM

Burlington is not a place for highly conceptual restaurants. Most go about as far as "locavore" or perhaps "Vietnamese." A Cuisine requires a much more complex explanation.

"Conveyor belt sushi" requires some dense verbiage in itself. A slow-moving track extends along the long, skinny restaurant counter, moving food from table to table. Diners grab what they feel like, when they feel like it. But another detail, "in the mall," adds a whole other layer of gawkers, who watch diners grab their rotating sushi. The view includes Burlington Town Center's Starbucks and FYE.
Salmon teriyaki roll, $5 - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Salmon teriyaki roll, $5

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alice Eats: Michel's German Food

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 1:16 PM

Michel's German Food: hand painted and home cooked - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Michel's German Food: hand painted and home cooked
Remember the Cork & Board? The Dorset Street restaurant closed more than a decade ago, but in my early years in Vermont, it was the only place to go for wurst and spaetzle. German cuisine has never really taken off in Chittenden County — perhaps we're just too health-conscious — but it's been back in South Burlington, now on Williston Road, since August.

Michel's German Food doesn't have much in common with the Cork & Board. In fact, it doesn't really have much in common with a restaurant. The space consists of little more than a service counter and a small kitchen in what was until recently the Hairy Bear kids' salon. There are a few tables, but no seats. Takeout is encouraged, but the brave few who choose to stand will be rewarded with Teutonic bonhomie from general manager Addi von Eynern. It's like having a picnic with Heidi Klum, but presumably with better, heartier food.
Curry sausage ($7.50) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Curry sausage ($7.50)
The grub was flavorful and well prepared nearly across the board, but that doesn't mean it was pretty. The currywurst consisted of juicy bratwurst served sliced and drenched in a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Curry came from both the pool of sauce and a liberal shake of powder. In summary, it was far better than it looked.
Medium Belgian fries ($2.40) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Medium Belgian fries ($2.40)
Crisp fries on the side completed the typical fast-food dish. Eynern provided ketchup and mayo packets for dipping, but the curry was the most satisfying accompaniment to the hand-cut beauties.
Schnitzel with sauerkraut and spaetzle ($12.50) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Schnitzel with sauerkraut and spaetzle ($12.50)
The pork schnitzel was pounded to a uniform thinness, but it was still a bit fatter than usual, which translated to more moisture in the meat beneath the crisp breadcrumb coating. Eynern said that the thin pool of sweet-and-sour mushroom sauce on the side was mostly there to keep the meat juicy. It was an unnecessary measure, but the sauce was still a nice addition to the extra-long stretches of nutmeg-spiced spaetzle. 

The dumplings came at an extra price of $3.50, a surprise when we got our bill. A choice of sauerkraut or red cabbage was included. Eynern suggested we try the former, which was indeed sour and uncommonly tender in the wake of some heavy fermentation.
German wedding soup ($7.50) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • German wedding soup ($7.50)
This was my first time trying Hochzeitssuppe, or German wedding soup. The clear, dark broth was flavored with slivers of carrot and leek as well as cubes of soft, stewed beef. But the fun came in the form of rolled crêpes, which took on the role of noodles, along with cubes of fluffy egg yolk cooked to share an uncanny resemblance with Japanese tamago. Yes, it was served in a take-out container, but the effort — dare I say love — with which the soup was crafted was apparent.
Farina ($3.50) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Farina ($3.50)
We initially ordered two desserts, farina pudding and a chocolate mousse. But Eynern brought out two farinas at the end of our meal, saying that something unappealing had begun to grow on the mousse. TMI, yes, but I appreciated her honesty. I didn't appreciate the burgeoning sour milk taste of the pudding we did get, though. Perhaps it would be smart for the chef, Norbert Sass, to make desserts in smaller quantities to ensure they're always fresh.

But the strengths of the hole-in-the-wall outweigh its weaknesses. How could they not? Home-cooked German comfort cuisine is heavy stuff.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $45. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to 

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Alice Eats: Disco Brunch at Waterworks Food + Drink

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 12:53 PM

"I like to be embarrassed," said server Jordan of being photographed with the Zombie on the Beach ($10). - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • "I like to be embarrassed," said server Jordan of being photographed with the Zombie on the Beach ($10).
Ever since Sneakers Bistro opened in 1980, Winooski has been a brunch force that belies the city's mini size. In recent years, Our House Bistro, McKee's Pub & Grill and Misery Loves Co. have made the Onion City the place to be for eggs in the afternoon. 

The reborn Waterworks Food + Drink began serving a brunch of its own over the summer, with blue skies over Winooski Falls as its primary attraction. Last month, Outright Vermont and DJ Craig Mitchell staged a Disco Brunch to kick off Pride Week with music and an indulgent meal. It was back last Saturday, complete with spangled servers and 10 percent of the meal's proceeds going to Outright.

My waiter, Jordan, committed to the concept better than anyone else. And to match his stardust extravagance, we couldn't resist ordering the menu's most colorful cocktail. The Zombie on the Beach was a true rainbow, starting with blue and indigo at the bottom and graduating to a strawberry-flavored red. The yellow-orange in the center was a classic Zombie, floating amid the varied fruit flavors. In all, the drink utilized four different types of rum for a result that mimicked an incredibly sophisticated multi-strata Slush Puppie.
Housemade cinnamon roll ($5) in front of the falls - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Housemade cinnamon roll ($5) in front of the falls
It would take a stronger woman than me to forgo ordering a housemade cinnamon roll. This version was firmer than would have been ideal, which made it difficult to cut and share among my party. Oh well; next time there will be no sharing. Despite the thick slather of hard sauce on top, the aromatic pastry wasn't overwhelmingly sweet. 
Biscuits and gravy ($10) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Biscuits and gravy ($10)
The menu included no mention of poached eggs on the biscuits and gravy, which made the runny yolks a tantalizing surprise. Atop pillowy biscuits that flaked apart into buttery layers, the peppery gravy held both chunks and slices of sausage, creating a different texture with each bite.
Chicken and waffles ($14) - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Chicken and waffles ($14)
Just as the poached eggs oozed forth as if they were taking a test in the subject, the sunny-side-up egg on the chicken and waffles was cooked to perfection. The dish's titular bird, however, was dried out nearly beyond recognition. But with house hot sauce to slather over it, I didn't really mind. Manager David Logan told me that the deep-orange sauce will be available for sale soon, and I will be purchasing a bottle for its light burn flavored with vinegar and cumin.

Did it pair well with the fluffy, crisp-edged waffle that I drenched in maple syrup? Well enough. But I didn't really question whether the combo made sense. I was enjoying the individual elements, the tunes and the view more than enough to concern myself with culinary soul-searching. 

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $45. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to 

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Alice Eats: Wow Bao

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 at 12:23 PM

It's getting steamy at UVM - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • It's getting steamy at UVM
Last June, the University of Vermont announced some major dining upgrades for this school year. There would be more local fare available than ever thanks to new contracts with Skinny Pancake, Vermont Bean Crafters, and SoYo Frozen Yogurt. I was already familiar with those Vermont businesses, but a new name stuck out on the list of incoming eateries: Wow Bao.

Turns out it's a fast-food business from Chicago restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You. UVM's Wow Bao is one of only three outside Chicago; the other two are at Baltimore's Camden Yards and Kent State University in Ohio. But I'll be surprised if we don't see the chain mushrooming to greater dominance.

I promise I'm not pulling a Marilyn Hagerty here. Wow Bao is not gourmet. But its steamed buns are not only truly fast, they're full of flavor. The speedy lines at 9 p.m. last night at UVM's Marché attested to the concept's popularity with the college crowd, including a smattering of Chinese students.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Alice Eats: Rowan's

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 12:56 PM

What's new is new again. - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • What's new is new again.
It was only five years ago that I first described entering "the gleaming embrace" of Milton's newly built Apollo Diner. But the Greek joint closed in January. Now, a similarly old-fashioned concept fills the still-glistening silver building. Rowan's debuted at the end of May, pushing burgers and hand-turned shakes.

And the food is resolutely old-school. But I don't mean the from-scratch creations your grandmother labored over after church. I'm thinking more along the lines of the handiwork of Mr. Stouffer. More on that later. First, the shakes.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Alice Eats: Saj Mahal

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 1:21 PM

Saj Mahal, 1448 A Saint-Mathieu, Montréal, 514-725-8646 - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Saj Mahal, 1448 A Saint-Mathieu, Montréal, 514-725-8646
The Taj Mahal is a giant mausoleum in Agra, India. A guy died there while snapping a selfie last week. Saj Mahal is a Lebanese flatbread joint in Montréal, Canada. I survived stuffing myself while snapping photos of the food last weekend. And lucky for me, I still have leftovers to show for it.

That's because the food is so darn cheap, I couldn't help but try more than my fair share.

The little basement restaurant is named for the convex metal pan, or saj, on which the thin bread known as markouk is griddled. Lovers of Armenian and Turkish food might be familiar with the skinny flatbread called lahmajoun. Markouk is similar, though even thinner. At Saj Mahal, the markouk are served either open, like a pizza; rolled like a burrito or folded in half. I wasn't asked which I preferred and got both of mine folded.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Alice Eats: Basin Harbor Club

Posted By on Tue, Sep 15, 2015 at 12:31 PM

Lavender vichyssoise with Zerran "caviar" at the Basin Harbor Club - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Lavender vichyssoise with Zerran "caviar" at the Basin Harbor Club
The impending December 23 closure of Bove's Restaurant has created more than a few sad faces among Vermont diners. It's not every day we get to eat at a restaurant with 74 years of history. Or is it?

On Monday night, making a rare exception to Alice Eats frugality, I feasted on the fruits of another, even more storied dining spot, the Basin Harbor Club, without even thinking about it. (Incidentally, I hit the other end of the old-fashioned spectrum eating giant sandwiches at septuagenarian Chick's Market in Winooski two days earlier.)

I was privileged on Monday night to attend the Basin Harbor Club's first fall wine dinner ($95 per person). The series, a collaboration of executive chef Christian Kruse and Québecois wine director Jocelyn Vandal, filled up with resort guests when it premiered this summer, but in autumn there is plenty of room for locals to score seats. When they do, they're taking part in a 133-year-old tradition of dining at the property.

The dinner began with a glass of iced Lillet, fruity with a cube of pineapple resting at the bottom. Vandal then led the small group of diners and kitchen staff through six courses (not including the honey-ginger sorbet intermezzo) of food whose flavors melded, Gobstopper-like, with tastes of the selected wine.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alice Eats: Shelburne Tap House

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2015 at 1:58 PM

The new guy in Shelburne Bay Plaza - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • The new guy in Shelburne Bay Plaza
Hey, remember Town Tavern? How about Flatbread Factory & Taproom? They've both occupied the strip-mall space in Shelburne Bay Plaza next door to Bruegger's Bagels. But unless you live in the neighborhood, you may have missed the short-lived restaurants that preceded Shelburne Tap House.

New owners Ed Lambert and Sandy Maynard seek to attract diners with something more than a tap list of 11 local sips. With a Queen City Brewery Yorkshire Stout on the table, I tried to figure out the best way to taste some of the diversity of the large pub menu. Where Town Tavern kept things safe with what I then called pre-gastropub fare, Lambert embraces a more modern approach with lots of beer-based sauces and braises.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Alice Eats: Champlain Valley Fair 2015

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 12:17 PM

Is the Champlain Valley Fair growing up? Usually, my annual dining adventures at Vermont's largest fair go more or less like this:
What is fried bubble gum, anyway? - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • What is fried bubble gum, anyway?
But this year, the orgiastic excess seemed to be on mute, or at the very least on Lipitor. There were more local vendors than ever, including po' boys from local Rajun Cajun and spicy stews from Pine Street-based Jamaica Supreme. Last week's Alice Eats subject, Berdas Roadside Eatery was present, selling its snappy hot dogs and fried mac-and-cheese.

But even when a vendor's fried food was the focal point, it seemed that flavor and craft took precedence over beating their neighbors in a John Waters-style "filthiest food alive" contest.

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