Within a few short blocks, diners can nibble on macaroons at a French-style bakery, sip craft cocktails mixed with private label rum, or gather a group for a suckling pig roast at $45 a head.
This isn’t the South End. It’s Burlington.
Over the past year, notable chefs and restaurateurs have traveled up the interstate to open establishments in Burlington. The new restaurants are slowly morphing a food scene ruled by Chick-fil-A and standard mall chains like Cheesecake Factory into an emerging culinary destination.
Restaurateurs say they are drawn to Burlington’s growing pool of office workers and young families with big-city taste buds who are migrating from Boston to more affordable homes in the suburbs.
Some restaurant owners, sick of sky-high rents and relentless restaurant competition, are looking for alternatives to Boston. They view Burlington as an attractive market because of its bustling retail sector and proximity to the intersection of two major state highways.
“Burlington is trying to create amenities for people who live and work in Burlington to stay and hang out in Burlington,” said Patrick Lyons, whose restaurant group is behind Bleacher Bar, Towne Stove & Spirits, Scampo, and many other Boston eateries. “They are doing a good job and getting Boston-style restaurants and options here.”
Lyons opened an outpost of the 30,000-square-foot adult bowling alley called Kings in Burlington in February. The space features a restaurant, outdoor patio, and two bars. He then opened Osteria Nino in a new development, called 3rd Ave., in May.
Nino is an Italian restaurant with an entirely-from-scratch kitchen, Italian wine menu, and craft cocktails. Lyons said he was attracted to Burlington because of a Wegmans in the development and overcrowding in Boston.
“The amount of restaurant openings in the city of Boston is insane,” Lyons said. “That’s why we’re in Burlington. The problem with that is that everyone is hip to it and soon there will be too many people here, too.”
Lyons already has stiff competition from restaurants like The Bancroft. The modern steakhouse is run by Webber Restaurant Group, which sources produce from its own farm in Groton. Mario Capone, the executive chef, previously worked with Boston food legend Lydia Shire.
The Bancroft opened over a year ago and is the highest-rated restaurant in Burlington on Yelp. The Globe’s restaurant critic, Devra First, gave the eatery a rare three out of four stars in her review.
Chopps American Bar and Grill also opened in the recently renovated Boston Marriott in Burlington about a year ago. Daniel Bruce , chef at the Boston Harbor Hotel and founder of the Boston Wine Festival, is the consulting chef for the steakhouse.
General manager Davide Crusoe said Burlington’s population of about 25,000 is small, compared to other places. But he said the town becomes busy during the day, when thousands of commuters pack in for work. On weekends, the clientele turns to shoppers in search of a post-retail bite.
Keurig Green Mountain Inc., Raytheon Co., the security software company Veracode, and the software company Nuance Communications Inc. all have headquarters or offices in Burlington, among others.
“We’re very fortunate to have gotten ahead of the bell curve,” Crusoe said about opening Chopps ahead of competitors. “Success breeds competition, which is wonderful. We’re excited about the growth.”
Meanwhile, some existing restaurants have gotten an upgrade.
The owners of the Italian restaurant chain Papa Razzi recently renovated the Burlington site down to the studs. The restaurant reopened in April with an updated menu and a new name, Papa Razzi Metro.
Paul O’Reilly, chief executive of Newport Harbor Corp. which owns Papa Razzi, said the Burlington branch is a key restaurant in his chain because of the town’s trifecta: corporate tenants, strong retail market, and location.
But the market also has its downside.
Since the renovation, sales from group events at Papa Razzi Metro have been better than expected, but traffic from regular diners has been weaker. It might take time for word to spread about the new menu once residents return from summer vacation, or it could be that business has been affected by the influx of other new establishments. Diners will have even more choices next year when Burlington gets its own version of Boston’s popular Island Creek Oyster Bar.
“I still believe in the long run the market is big enough,” O’Reilly said. “At the end of the day, if you put out great food and great service in a beautiful environment and have the right management, you will do very well in a marketplace like Burlington.”