There’s always been a healthy resto-rivalry between Burlington and Montpelier. Food fanatics in the largest city in Vermont can’t figure out why the little burg with all the crosswalks consistently shows it up. The cuisine scene in Montpelier appears to be thriving. Chef’s Table. Sarducci’s. Main Street Grill. A short drive gets you to the best Chinese restaurant in Vermont — too bad there’s only one Single Pebble. Just a few weeks ago, the Royal Orchid opened to central Vermonters hungry for Thai food. Even without a liquor license, it was standing-room-only last Saturday night. Chances are the culinary crowd will be equally gung ho for Gunga Din, scheduled to open in about two weeks with Indian and Tibetan fare. The only menu still missing in Montpelier? Says Savoy Theater co-owner Rick Winston: “a Jewish deli.”
The Charlotte-based food writers once employed by the mega-magazine publisher Hachette Filipacchi are eating well enough under new ownership. A number of the former employees, including editor Marcelle Langan Di Falco, are now contributing stories and recipes to Tavolo, an online retailer specializing in food-related merchandise. The San Francisco-based company bought the assets of Eating Well magazine last May and changed its name from Digital Chef — a website launched two years ago in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America. Located at digitalchef.com, Tavolo claims to be the largest online supplier of food-related products — kitchenware, specialty food products and books — with stories, “scalable” recipes and cooking tips mixed in. Bylines are apparently a thing of the past. When I logged on to the chat room to ask a question about the dangers of eating with old, rusting silverware, I got a little sympathy before the $500 question. “Can I help you find a new set?” I also asked, “Where are you located?” Long pause. “Our offices are in San Francisco.” No mention of the crew of Vermont photographers, writers and recipe testers toiling away on this side of the table, er, tavolo.
It was in somebody’s cards to reincarnate the fortune cookie. Before delicate constructions of oatmeal, maple syrup and walnuts hit the shelves of Healthy Living in South Burlington, no confection commanded less respect than those stale, cardboard triangles that come with the Chinese restaurant check. Marshfield artist and baker Alice Eckles has come forth with the thinking man’s fortune cookie, featuring “above average” predictions baked inside. Actually, they’re more like quotes, handwritten and attributed to suspicious-sounding sages like Ruth Eckles. Mom? They’re beautifully packaged and taste great, but it’s hard to predict how many people will want to shell out $4.50 for six cookies.
If you think the only thing crunchy about Killington is the snow, check out the Kentucky-fried tofu at Toadstool Harry’s on Route 4. “Even people who don’t like tofu love it,” co-owner Michael Press says of the entrée he describes as “somewhere between chicken and French toast.” The restaurant-bar-lounge caters to healthy eaters, with great salads, veggie dishes and ethnic cuisine. The portabella mushroom is their culinary mascot, but the chefs are not afraid to have some fun with it. The NYVT Blue is a grilled New York sirloin and portabella mushroom burrito with blueberries, purple cabbage, brown rice and sour cream. Après ski, maybe.
None of the local pizza places have started offering it as a topping, but emu sausage is an option at Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. The low-cholesterol meat is mixed with lean pork to yield a cooked sausage that tastes “very, very similar to pepperoni,” says Pat Goodall of Vermont Prime Emu Producers. The first batch came off her Holland farm in September. Patties and steaks have been available since last spring. A former dairy farmer, Goodall switched to big birds when her husband died. She keeps about 100 animals, 30 of which are breeders, laying large green eggs that take 50 days to hatch in an incubator. The rest of the animals are processed not just for food, but for the valuable oil rendered from the fat between the meat and the hide. One bird yields about a gallon and a half of emu oil, which can be taken internally to lessen inflammation and lower cholesterol. Taken externally as a salve, it is more effective than Bag Balm, according to Goodall. Works wonders on psoriasis, eczema, diaper rash, bug bites, keloid scars even stretch marks.
The recipe for the “cellulite melter” looks a little dubious in Naturally Beautiful, a new coffee table book from fashion model Dawn Gallagher written by Calais author Melanie Menagh. Subtitled “Earth’s secrets and recipes for skin, body and spirit,” the book is overflowing with food, only nobody is eating it. They’re applying avocados to their faces, rosemary to their hair and eyes, roses to their bath water. Guys are M.I.A., but they’ll definitely dig this beautiful book full of gorgeous semi-nude women from all over the world. Personally, I’m partial to the saltwater marinade, a.k.a. “seashore soak,” prescribed for fatigued publishers looking forward to a Caribbean vacation.
CHEW WITH A VIEW
“Finding a cure for the munchies has just got a whole lot easier,” the press release promises. But it doesn’t mention the battery of multiple-choice questions — about varieties of mustard, mayo and cheese — required to score a burger for lunch at The View. Instead of catsup and relish, the student staff offers sherried mushrooms, sautéed onions and peppers as “condiments” at Champlain College’s new snack bar. Formerly known as the Beaver Dam, the academic eatery has gone upscale, replacing iceburg lettuce with greenleaf, hamburger buns with Vermont cheddar-dill rolls. “They’ve adapted very, very well,” cafe manager Kim Purdy says of student reaction to the menu changes, which include the abolition of American cheese. Better yet, the prices are still greasy spoon. Soup and sandwich will set you back $4.25. A grilled chicken caesar — spelled correctly, no less — goes for $2.75. The glorious panorama is free. The new slogan, “Munching with Class,” pretty much sums it up, although Purdy hasn’t given up on junk food entirely. “I gotta have fries,” she concedes, proving every good restaurateur, including tenured ones, knows her clientele.
OUT OF THE PAN...
When it comes to cooking instruction, you can’t beat the hands-on approach. But not everybody has a couple years to kill in culinary school. For eager epicures who want just a taste of it, there is the Vermont Cooking School — the brainchild of Charlotte resident Jane Kirby. The former nutrition editor for Glamour worked briefly as the editor of Charlotte-based Eatting Well magazine. But now she’s teaching a series of classes in her home, inspired by a friend who asked Kirby for assistance planning low-fat meals for her family. “I said, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’” Kirby comments. “And then I wondered how many other people would want something similar?” Kirby did her homework, through the Women’s Small Business Program, by circulating a survey to assess the level of interest in the area. “I got a tremendous response,” she says — as well as all the vital info she needed to tailor the nutrition-centered program accordingly. Two four-part courses run three times this fall. “Ideal Weight Forever” invites you to write your own diet. “Women’s Nutrition” covers topics such as preventing osteoporosis, aging and breast cancer. Single-session subjects include “The Healthy Heart,” “Nutrition for Sports,” “Feeding the Family” and “Healthier Holidays.” After 25 years in the business, Kirby finds one-on-one instruction more satisfying than writing for “millions of people.” Especially in the final course of the semester — nine days before Christmas titled — “Chocolate.”
It’s a sweet thing Ben & Jerry’s is doing for Project Angel Food. On Black Friday — the biggest shopping day of the year — the ice cream company is coming out with a flavor that should give heavenly hash a little karmic competition. For just one day, it will sell dollar scoops of “angel food” to raise money for the Burlington-based nonprofit. Like a mobile food shelf, Project Angel Food redistributes perishable items from restaurants and health-food stores to agencies serving people in need. Because it’s a one-day good deed, B&J only made enough for 1200, each cone topped with a dark-chocolate heart from Lake Champlain Chocolates. You can get the dollar dollops there, or at the scoop shop up Church Street. It’s not every day you can feel good about loading up on milk-chocolate ice cream chock-full of dark chocolate and angel food cake chunks — especially with all that turkey still in the frig. Leftovers? Call 951-HALO.