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Entrées and Updates 

Side Dishes: Uncommon changes hands; localvore eateries expand

Published June 9, 2009 at 7:31 p.m.

Since 1994, Skip and Bev Blakely of Uncommon Grounds Coffee & Tea have been providing Burlingtonians with fresh-roasted coffee drinks, loose-leaf teas and pastries. But last month the couple quietly retired, leaving the business in the hands of their daughter, Brenda Vinson.

“I spent since September learning the business end of things,” says Vinson, a self-described coffee lover, who moved to Vermont from Texas to take over the operation. She says the café’s “great staff” eased the swap process: “They work hard. They’re really good.”

Vinson doesn’t plan to make many changes, but she does intend to expand UG’s wholesale business. “I think we can offer a really great, fresh-roasted product to restaurants in the area,” she says. “We’re local, we can get it to people really quick, and it’s very fresh coffee.”

When they’re not hanging out in the coffee shop visiting regulars with whom they’ve “grown to be friends,” the Blakelys will be pursuing their cherished hobbies. “My mom loves gardening, so this is the perfect time of year to transition out,” Vinson says. Skip “really loves woodworking, and he’s got a great workshop. They’re enjoying having more time.”

The Farmers Diner, located in Quechee, is known for its commitment to local farmers. As the menu boasts, the biz strives to purchase 80 percent of its ingredients from “area farmers and producers.” Last Wednesday, Addison County growers started to feel the love as partners Tod Murphy and Denise Perras quietly opened the doors at their Middlebury location, in the spot formerly occupied by Top Spice Asian Cuisine.

Offering casual fare such as chicken wings, burgers and hash ’n’ eggs, the diner dishes up breakfast and lunch all day. On weekends, the joint, which has a full bar, remains open from Friday morning at 7 till Sunday night at 8. “People are excited. There’s nobody around doing it,” says Murphy of the late-night hours.

What does the night-owl crowd nosh on? Lots of fresh French fries with gravy. “Nectar’s got them trained,” Murphy suggests. He says the “community-driven” Midd crowd — made up of college kids and older folks — feels distinct from the touristy Quechee market, and eats up poultry dishes and strawberry milkshakes.

Later this summer, after adding a selection of small plates and dinner entrées to the Midd menu, Murphy hopes to make strides toward opening a third location in Williston or Burlington. “I’ll start putting together financing in the middle of the summer,” he says, “and then begin to look for a space.”

Like the Farmers Diner, the Burlington-based Skinny Pancake is known for its commitment to localvore ethics. And it’s just undergone its own expansion. The crêperie’s smaller second location, which co-owner Benjy Adler refers to as a “mini-Skinny,” opened last Friday in Montpelier.

Adler attests that the move went “swimmingly. The people of Montpelier had wonderful, kind and welcoming things to say to us. Children were running around and dancing on the patio; it was swell,” he gushes.

In particular, Adler is thrilled with the spot’s “beautiful staff,” including “incredible” General Manager Jeremy Silansky. The CIA-trained chef has worked at legendary Green Mountain restaurants such as Smokejacks, American Flatbread and media darling Hen of the Wood. “He’s a proven localvore and a great asset,” Adler states.

To supply the new spot, Silansky helped the SP hook up with fresh sources such as Cate Farm, Gaylord Farm and the Main Street Market Garden.

While the skinnier Skinny will lack a few features of the flagship location — such as table service and fondue — Adler notes that he’s honoring the spot’s past as a Ben & Jerry’s with a couple of special desserts, including a hot and cold confection called “Brownies in Bed.” Sounds pretty … hot.

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About The Author

Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Former contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the first Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a goose, butcher a pig, make ramen from scratch, and cook a scallop perfectly.


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