Around New Years, the SO and I decided to get the hell out of Dodge and skip out on the hullabaloo of shiny dresses, clichéd sparklers and oh god, the crowds: The unwashed masses and drunks and Times Square revelers…
Nope, no thanks. We wanted greener pastures, where we could eat and drink in the new year our way, which is to say, quietly and decadently.
Scanning a map of possible Northeastern destinations, we decided on Burlington, Vermont. A MegaBus makes it surprisingly accessible, it’s a walkable city and the Anchorage Inn just outside of downtown was inexpensively priced. It’s also a college town, with the University of Vermont smack-dab in the center; college towns have a tendency to attract creative small businesses and restaurants, which offers much more in the way of activity. Bonus points for it being holiday break!
With four days of nothing planned but New Years opulence—we packed a case of grower Champagnes to keep spirits bright—we hit up the below restaurants in a gluttonous free-for-all of charcuterie, pâté, Bayley Hazen and Vermont’s farmer bounty. Now that we’ve set a precedent, New Years will never be the same.
Hen of the Wood at Hotel Vermont: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hen of the Wood was hands-down one of my favorite meals of 2013. The Burlington outpost of this acclaimed restaurant rocks an inviting Vermont-chalet vibe, kind of a country mouse-meets-city mouse sophistication. The strictly seasonal menu features impeccable locally sourced plates alongside nose-to-tail options. It all serves to underscore Vermonters’ pride in their state’s diverse bounty. HOTW—along with the other restaurants on this list—source predominantly from within state lines.
Without a reservation, SO and I sidled up to the bar, deciding to tackle the starters, small plates, entrees and desserts as a duo, skipping the well-curated list of local cheeses—there’d be plenty of time for that later. Glistening oysters on the half shell were served alongside a light mignonette and the world’s most perfect martini, made with Vermont’s own Barr Hill gin. Next up was the seasonal tartare with housemade potato chips, served atop a surprisingly bright parsley and foie gras vinaigrette, followed by a lobster bisque so rich and bursting with umami, we wondered if they had a tub of mother they just added to, day in and day out. An impossibly tender octopus salad was dispatched in short order—as were two quartos of red and white from the small-producer-focused wine list—while a light entree of Bayley Hazen-stuffed crepes rounded out the meal. For dessert, we enjoyed a berry-and-fruit rum cordial, courtesy of our knowledgable bartender, who’d been making batches of the stuff at home since the summer’s haul of goods. HOTW’s food is not for the faint of heart or tiny of stomach, but it delivers nothing short of high octane Vermont flavors.
Café Shelburne: Located 10 minutes just outside Burlington city limits, Café Shelburne is a cozy, homey restaurant dishing out upscale rustic French fare with, you guessed it, local Vermont goods. Everywhere you turn in this town seems to offer local goods, and Café Shelburne is no exception. We took part in a special New Years prix fixe, whereupon we scarfed down an impossibly thick oyster chowder, amongst other things alongside a Loire Valley Cab Franc that just sang with fruit and acidity, while the coup de grace was a richly flavored goose served atop a creamy parsnip purée, a more-than-welcome replacement for the Guinea hen available to earlier diners. Get ready to unbuckle your belt; it’s feedin’ time.
Farmhouse Tap and Grill: Holy ballz, get their burgers. SO AMAZING. If burger making was an art (you mean I can’t get my BFA in burger studies?), then Farmhouse is in the master class. Expect nothing less than a behemoth of bread, meat and cheese, monstrously dripping all over your hands, plate and face, a five napkin burger in fine form. We opted for the special of the day, a perfectly seasoned venison burger—salt and pepper, folks! It ain’t fancy!—and loaded with Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen and butternut-squash bacon jam (!!!), as well as the Angus beef burger from LaPlatte Farms, stacked with other Landaff Creamery cheese and Guild Fine Meats bacon. A seasonal menu is rounded out with your standard bar fare, plus house charcuterie, also from GFM. Try their pâtés, particularly the country version, studded with cherries and rich pockets of fat, or the duck rillettes from La Belle farms. A range of craft beer on draft is offered in half and full pints.
American Flatbread: Woodfire pizza done oh-so-right. With a giant firepit in the center of the relaxed, pub-like dining room, our affectionately dubbed “pizza sages” shoveled just-ordered pies into the maw of angry flames. You’ll find the de rigeur farmer friendly goods here, too. We found out too late that half pies are available for sharing multiple orders, but their in-house brews like the London Calling Session Bitter kept us sated.
Duino Duende: Man cannot live on opulence alone. We stumbled into Duino Duende after getting into town, and post-exploring the charming Church Street corridor. The menu here is super casual, focusing on various street food cultures. Many folks were there to listen to some local music talent, while sipping on the joint’s cocktails. The duel food/performance space lent itself to a lively crowd in a fun, cozy space, especially on a bitter cold night. Travel delirium kept us from overindulging, so a crispy Cubano sandwich and order of fish tacos were fine by us, while a solid Old Fashioned kept the chill from my bones.
Stay tuned for my Drinking Guide to Burlington…
[Featured photo of Burlington’s Church Street by tbplante | Flickr]