Eastern Mediterranean bites at Honey Road's March 6 pop-up
On Monday, March 6, Burlington's Monarch & the Milkweed transformed from a boutique “fine diner” to a softly lit watering hole complete with candlelight gleaming on blush-colored wine glasses. The scene was lush enough for a night out, yet aptly cozy for Monday evening.
Locals chattered and laughed, elbow-to-elbow at the bar top or tucked into modest corner tables; instrumental guitar and lilting vocals kept tune in the background. Monarch’s tiny dining room was amiably packed with folks relaxing into the second installment of a multi-part pop-up series from Burlington’s forthcoming Honey Road restaurant — an Eastern Mediterranean spot to be helmed by co-owners Cara Chigazola-Tobin and Allison Gibson.
When I stopped by the Little Red Kitchen — located at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Intervale Road — on a Friday morning between breakfast and lunchtime, I landed in a lengthy conversation with owner Cheryl Strenio. Our talk ran the gamut of business, family and her much-sought-after Parmesan dip.
When I learned that the Burlington Winter Farmers Market would be moving from the condemned Memorial Auditorium in downtown Burlington to the University of Vermont's Dudley H. Davis Center, I was skeptical that the new location would have the right vibe. My first visit to the market in its new location proved me wrong.
Apple cinnamon piroshki and Anjou-Amaretto polenta cake
I usually say that I don't have a sweet tooth, but last Saturday, sitting on the ledge of the fountain at Burlington City Hall Park, I ate an apple-cinnamon piroshki from the Nomadic Oven stand. With the farmers market buzzing around me, I even closed my eyes, savoring the unfurling pastry curl by curl.
The insides of the Russian-style sticky bun were bloated with apples. Its hard-baked edges were laced with coffee cream. When I got to the core, I ate it in one slow bite — a ceremonious process akin to uncovering an artichoke heart.
I returned to the Nomadic Oven to chat with its baker-owner, Meghan Brickner. When I left her, it was with another piroshki and a slice of Amaretto-polenta cake dressed with Anjou pears.
On a recent Friday, I stopped at Shy Guy Gelato’s newly opened scoop shop at 457 St. Paul Street, five minutes before closing. In June I had previewed the gelateria’s early-July opening, psyched at the prospect of a boutique gelato business churning daily-made scoops on my route home from work.
What’s more, the Shy Guys behind the biz are Tim Elliot, cofounder of Burlington’s popular lunch spot, Zabby and Elf’s Stone Soup, and Paul Sansone, an Italian American Vermonter who gained his culinary training in Abruzzo, Italy. The prospects looked good.
I had gelato on my mind since 9 a.m. the previous day, but a cooking event on Friday had me heading to St. Paul Street precipitously close to 9 p.m. — closing time. But I was determined to make it.
Picture this: I’m sitting on a concrete stoop near Valencia and 24th Street in the Mission district of San Francisco. It’s just past 1 a.m., and the fluorescent lights of my favorite taqueria cast an off-lime glow on the paper plate perched on my lap. Two chicken tinga tacos — bloated with smoky meat, radish coins, cilantro and white onion — are halfway finished.
I devoured those tacos in five hulking bites shortly after finishing a demanding Saturday night grill shift at an upscale Hayes Valley restaurant where I cooked on the line. Perhaps it was the fatigue, or the fluorescent lights, but I’ve never tasted tacos so damn satisfying.
Fast-forward to two years later, on the corner of Church and Cherry streets in downtown Burlington. I’m hungry, but I’m not looking for tacos. To be honest, I gave up the quest when I returned to the East Coast, where the bagels are unmatched and the maple syrup is dark and glorious, but the tacos tend to be flabby replicas of the ones I enjoyed during my brief stay out west.
Then I find Taco Gordo, the wheeled, wooden food cart on Church Street Marketplace.
There are sacrifices involved in living in Vermont, to be sure. I recently wrote about the hardship of life without a good Indian buffet nearby. While I was stuck home writing a book through the summer and fall, I haven't had time to get to Montréal for dim sum. It's been painful. On Sunday, I finished that book, but I also couldn't wait anymore. I headed to A Single Pebble for its version of the comfort-food assault I'd been missing.
I'd only been once before, years ago when I still had the alternative of Zen Gardens, still my go-to for authentic Chinese, though it no longer serves dim sum. Unlike the format at Zen Gardens that had involved ordering specific dishes from a menu, A Single Pebble's method is more a micro version of what one would see in Hong Kong — or Montréal. Rather than multiple carts full of goodies, a single server brings forth a basket with a few revolving specialties as they emerge from the kitchen. She makes a check mark on your bill under the item's price each time you order.
Most of what we chose were in the "dumpling category," meaning they cost $5.99 a pop. Big-city dim sum eaters will likely cringe at this expense. I had to remind myself repeatedly that most of the dim sum I've eaten has been made from anonymous animals stacked on a truck from who knows where. At a Single Pebble, owner Chiuho Duval has local animals raised specifically for the restaurant at at LaPlatte River Angus Farm.
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.
I'm an obsessive person. When I was a kid, I flitted every few years from one life's purpose to another: the works of Stephen Sondheim, Victor Hugo, the Burke and Hare murders. I was nothing if not eclectic. As a grown-up food writer, I'm slightly better adjusted, but when I taste something truly special, it happens all over again.
Such was the case a few months ago when I had my first Mint Chip smoothie at Eco Bean & Juice in Burlington. In the depths of winter, I needed somewhere to stop after a spinning class at REV. I'd never thought of myself as a "smoothie person," but my mind was open — I'd never considered myself a spinning person, either.
As a lifelong devotee of mint chocolate chip ice cream (I still swear by the ones at Baskin Robbins and La Crémaillère in Bedford, N.Y., my lowbrow and highbrow childhood favorites), the choice was a no-brainer. Raspberry-chia-peach and Nuts About Acai — made with acai, berries, peanut butter and protein powder — sounded attractive. But any foodstuff with fresh mint high on the ingredient list is my first choice.
The Farmhouse Group's latest project, Pascolo Ristorante, will debut in early May, says chef-partner Phillip Clayton. In anticipation of the Italian restaurant's opening, he has hired an executive chef and sous-chef to get the ball of pasta dough rolling.
Opening Guild & Company (now Guild Tavern) sous-chef Kevin Sprouse has returned to Vermont to take on the role of executive chef at Pascolo. In the interim, he gained seafood experience at Blue Point on North Carolina's Outer Banks. "He was looking to come back to the area right around the time we started searching for an executive chef for Pascolo," says Clayton of the Culinary Institute of America grad.
Sprouse's sous-chef will be Brattleboro native Michael Moranski. Most recently at chef Sean Brock's Nashville sequel to his famed Charleston restaurant, Husk, Moranski's Nashville career also included farm-to-table eatery Flyte World Dining & Wine and his own Sunday brunch pop-up at the Nashville Farmers Market, the Speckled Hen.
Meanwhile, a new executive chef is also onboard at Guild Tavern, longtime Trattoria Delia chef de cuisine Bruce Stewart.
Why not place the chef best known for Italian food at Pascolo? "Bruce’s skill set extends well beyond Italian food, and he’s really excited about the opportunity to spread his wings a little bit and explore different types of cuisine," Clayton explains. "Kevin and Mike both have a passion for Italian food and great experience with it."