Burlington, Vt.: locavore capital revels in good taste
BURLINGTON, Vt. — Denizens of this city’s hippie past still wander the local food co-op and cheerful pedestrian mall, Church Street Marketplace, but they are relegated now to the category of local color. Burlington’s new poster children are its chefs, bartenders, and brewers. In recent years the state, home to more cheesemakers and brewers per capita than anywhere in the country, has emerged as a destination for foodies. Despite its short growing season, the Green Mountain State has attracted top-flight chefs eager for a slower pace.
Since the opening of Burlington’s first boutique hotel, Hotel Vermont, a year ago, the city’s burgeoning dining scene has grown more sophisticated and more diverse. The chic hotel is an ideal base for a culinary tour.
Guests’ first taste of nouvelle Burlington cuisine is likely to be at the hotel’s restaurant, Juniper, a few steps up from the lobby with its granite, slate, and reclaimed wood. The name refers to 13-acre Juniper Island in Lake Champlain, a couple of blocks away, and chef Douglas Paine often cooks with that piney, coniferous plant.
Like the building materials, the hotel’s every detail, from Lunaroma Aromatic Apothecary toiletries to the ingredients in Juniper’s dishes, is locally sourced. Breakfast diners enjoy dishes of yogurt or oats from Butterworks Farm in Westfield. Dinner brings Vermont lamb chili with arepas and micro cilantro to start. Entrees include sandwiches such as black-sesame-roasted local turkey served with kimchi, Sriracha, and chicken liver pâté.
Paine’s cuisine is also offered at the Courtyard Marriott Burlington Harbor next door. Both hotels belong to Westport Hospitality, a small group based in Burlington. The Marriott’s just-opened Bleu Northeast Seafood restaurant, with a view of the lake, gives Paine a chance to work with local products as well as regional cold-water delicacies supplied by Boston’s Wood Mountain Fish. The resulting fare includes dishes such as seafood lasagna with scallops, lobster, fresh crab, uni béchamel, handmade pasta, and Maplebrook Fine Cheese burrata. Breakfast offerings include lobster frittata or fried oyster eggs Benedict with herb hollandaise.
For many out-of-town diners and locals alike, a reservation at Hen of the Wood is a priority. Chef Eric Warnstedt is a five-time James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef: Northeast. His restaurant in a Waterbury gristmill catalyzed the simple farm-to-fork aesthetic that now defines Vermont cuisine. Last fall, he opened a Burlington location with a wood-fired grill and oven that ensures every dish is kissed by fire. The daily menu might include meltingly fatty lamb ribs, wood-fired octopus over sunchoke puree, or hanger steak.
Pastry chef Andrew LeStourgeon creates Hen of the Wood’s refined desserts. His opera cake has won fans with its layers of hazelnut-and-almond sponge, chocolate ganache, and maple butter cream drenched in maple-rum syrup. That cake, as well as seasonal tarts and and pots de crème, also make their way to tables at Juniper and Bleu. His breakfast pastries, including cinnamon rolls stuffed with local cheddar and housemade ham, are served at both hotels as well as at fair-trade coffee bar Maglianero a few blocks away.
The three-year-old cafe is a hot spot for Burlington’s artsy South End crowd. The same folks who schedule business meetings over canelés and a cup of Rwandan Remera are likely to head to hip Pine Street at night. There, gallery and performance venue ArtsRiot is serving up more than concerts and art openings.
Last fall, owners Felix Wai and PJ McHenry launched the ArtsRiot Kitchen Collective. Its well-stocked professional kitchen serves as an incubator for fledgling restaurateurs. Six chefs serve dinner Monday through Saturday nights. Until Next Time pops up with its New Orleans-themed cuisine on Monday and Sunday brunch. Other regulars include the Hawker Stall, which represents the street food of a different Asian country each Wednesday; and Southern Smoke, chef Brian Stefan’s globe-hopping smoked specialties.
Stefan’s Charleston-honed chops first gained notice when his Southern Smoke food truck debuted last year at ArtsRiot’s weekly Truck Stop. This year, close to 20 vendors will fill ArtsRiot’s back parking lot beginning on May 16. Stefan will be back, along with the Burger Barn and its Samuel de Champlain, a beef patty topped with pungent brie, thinly sliced prosciutto, juicy apples, and spicy maple mustard.
Pine Street is also home to South End Kitchen, the three-month-old cafe and learning space from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Any chocoholic worth his salted caramel will melt at the opportunity to spend an hour making chocolate bars with Lake Champlain’s chocolate sculptress, Emily McCracken. An hour later, students leave with four handmade chocolate bars filled with their choice of premium mix-ins.
Those who prefer to leave the work to professionals can lunch on a nutty, slow-cooked pork mole at the cafe, or head up St. Paul Street for sandwiches at Guild Fine Meats. The shop, which opened last summer, is the fourth restaurant from Burlington’s Farmhouse Group. Farmhouse Tap & Grill on Bank Street has been a beer geek’s dream since 2010, while sister restaurants El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina and Guild Tavern provide local takes on Mexican and steakhouse fare. Pascolo Ristorante, focusing on the group’s pasta-focused farm-to-table Italian cuisine, is set to open next month.
A 5,000-square-foot commissary in nearby Winooski provides each restaurant with homemade baked goods and meat cut from Vermont animals. At Guild Fine Meats, that means sandwiches served on house rolls might be stuffed with mortadella, capicola, or bacon that was born, cut, and cured within a few miles of the store.
Complete with house sausage poutine, the deli is one of the clearest examples of the Burlington area’s blossoming food system at work.