Vermont road-trippers stop in Burlington for its crunchy college-town vibe and its beautiful location on Lake Champlain, not necessarily for its food scene. But over the past few years, chefs and artisanal producers have been using the state’s exceptional ingredients to turn Burlington and its outskirts into a bona fide restaurant destination.
In 2005, chefs Eric Warnstedt and Craig Tresser opened Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, 25 minutes from downtown. The two alums of Burlington classic Smokejacks do wonderful things with local produce. I loved the zingy salad of Vermont-grown beets from Pete’s Greens and the lamb shank from nearby Winding Brook Farm, served with a spiky, slightly sweet relish of parsley and Meyer lemon.
Inside city limits, Kathi and Kevin Cleary opened L’Amante Ristorante in 2003, with a bar offering some of the town’s best cocktails, like a Clementini made with fresh clementine juice and a lemony riff on a Cosmopolitan that’s called, intriguingly, the Mistress. Chef Kevin Cleary adds subtle twists to Italian classics, as in his juicy roast half-duck with a fricassee of artichokes and potatoes and his arancini (rice balls) stuffed with mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm in Bennington, Vermont.
Burlington’s farm-to-table ethos also thrives in smaller spots, like Viva Espresso, which opened last summer in the up-and-coming North End. Viva’s nutty, mellow-tasting coffee is made with fair-trade, organic beans from Vermont Coffee Company; the pastries come from nearby bakeries, like the chewy Montreal-style bagels from Myer’s.
Burlington has few ethnic restaurants, but I found hot, nutty dan dan noodles with shrimp and other delicious Sichuan dishes at A Single Pebble. Chef-owner Steve Bogart moved the spot from Berlin, Vermont, to Burlington in 2002.
Before I headed home, I stopped at the five-year-old City Market to take a little piece of Vermont back with me. The shop is loaded with local breads, coffees, maple syrups and cheeses (so many cheeses, it’s no wonder the American Cheese Society has picked Burlington for its meeting this coming August). Ben and Jerry may be Burlington’s most famous sons, but at City Market I found what everyone in town has been raving about: the exquisite ice creams from nearby Strafford Organic Creamery. The Fresh Mint flavor is made with herbs from a wild patch on the farm. The shop doesn’t carry ice creams from Lake Champlain Chocolates, so I made one last stop at the chocolatier’s Church Street shop for a cup of its ultra-Vermonty maple syrup-flavored butter-pecan.
Updated August 2009