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Side Dishes: Restos Respond To The Recession

It's no secret that the current economic climate is tough on restaurants, which rely on folks feeling flush with disposable income. The trend has been illustrated by the shuttering of such diverse eateries as Sean & Nora's in Barre, award-winning Christophe's on the Green in Vergennes and Tortilla Flat in Burlington.

This week's casualty is River's Edge Coffee Shop and Grill on Riverside Avenue in Burlington. More on that later . . . (Click here)

A few bold eateries are responding to the recession with creative, value-added offerings designed to keep the cash flowing in the right direction. At Three Tomatoes Trattoria in Williston, staffers now dish up pre-movie pizza and pasta family-style; on Sunday, Ariel's Restaurant in Brookfield features frugal three-course prix-fixe dinners for $20 per person. The accompanying $15 bottles of wine are a steal, too.

According to Susan Luce, co-owner of the New North End's Avenue Bistro, the way out of the financial doldrums is counterintuitive: Serve more meals rather than fewer. "It's been very tempting for us to maybe take away an evening dinner shift or a lunch, but when you start doing that you start losing potential new customers," she says. "I think any time that you're open and are able to answer people's questions or sell a gift certificate, it helps the bottom line."

To that end, the cozy neighborhood eatery is now slinging Sunday brunch, with specials ranging from Grand Marnier French toast to classic and vegetarian eggs Benedict.

Is the additional meal making moolah? "It's going great," Luce avers. "Each week seems like it's steadily getting a little bit busier. This town is lacking a brunch place, and people seem to be responding. It's good food and it's fast."

At Burlington's A Single Pebble, they're reeling folks in with seven-course tasting lunches at $15 per head. Where else can hungry patrons sup on tender scallop and beef with verdant snow peas, crisp eggplant tempura with a drippy dipping sauce, and pad Thai with shrimp at $2.14 per dish? Nirvana, perhaps?

The sumptuous spread always includes the soup of the day which could be an egg drop made with rich chicken broth or the subtly coconut-flavored Spicy Three River soup with tofu and dessert. The stuff in between is at the chef's discretion, and it changes regularly.

In a rush? Let the Pebble people know, and they'll deliver the parade of courses and the check lickety-split.

The tasteful deal and the regular lunch menu are available six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Saturday lunch is a new thing for the Pebble: Looks like the owners are on same page as Luce.

The Village Cup, best known for its pastries, fresh soups and panini sandwiches, is burnishing its reputation as a Jericho hot spot with Friday and Saturday evening dinners that include suggested wine or beer pairings.

"We've taken the time to work with Vermont Wine Merchants and G. Housen to get some wines and beers chosen specifically for the items on the menu," dishes co-owner Kim Evans.

"We're out here in the middle of rural Vermont, in the middle of Jericho," she points out, "so the main focus of our business is to create a community gathering spot."

Now that the Cup has beefed up its menu, folks can congregate over snacks such as spiced mixed nuts, crostini with goat-cheese mousse and an antipasto plate featuring fresh pecorino cheese, grilled seasonal vegetables and garlic confit. The entres include grilled flatbreads, four-cheese penne and wild-mushroom quesadillas; specials pop up weekly.

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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... more


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