Side Dishes: Chittenden County opens up
Courtney Ovitt has been in the restaurant business long enough to know that downtown Essex Junction caters to “that $10 to $12 crowd,” she says. So when AJ’s Kitchen  moved to Railroad Avenue, leaving an empty space on nearby Main Street, Ovitt responded by offering cozy, affordable comfort food at the newly opened Essex Grill . Breakfast begins at 6 a.m., and dinner is served until 9 p.m.
Ovitt’s goal is to give the community something fresh — literally. The interior, which formerly resembled a diner, has been painted a soothing sea green. Photos of Ovitt’s dogs, as well as her friends and family, decorate the walls. Ovitt calls herself “a ridiculous animal lover,” but she says that her canine theme is under control: “I didn’t want to go over-the-top quirky and have people eating out of dog bowls,” she jokes.
What will chowhounds be tucking into? Ovitt has applied for Vermont Fresh Network  status, and local names such as Shadow Cross Farm , Boyden Farm  and Wood Creek Farm  are already on the menu.
Ovitt recommends Essex Grill’s hand-battered fish and chips, but she’s particularly keen on the grass-fed burger. It’s available in several styles, from a ham, scallion and pineapple-topped Hawaiian to the Cajun-spiced Zoe Burger with bacon, sautéed onions, blue cheese crumbles and dressing. Don’t eat red meat, but want a taste? Turkey and black bean patties are also available.
Although Phuong’s Kitchen  has adopted an all-American barbecue menu, and Patra Café — where Sapa’s Coffee & Tea used to be — has subbed panini for bahn mi, it appears the Vietnamese trend is still going strong in Greater Burlington.
Last week, the space on Winooski’s Main Street formerly occupied by 38 Main Street Pub got a new sign: A cheerful yellow paper window covering declares that Pho Pasteur will be a “Vietnamese noodle [shop] and grill.” Though restaurants by that name exist in Boston and Montréal, sources believe the Winooski café is locally owned and not a chain. The owners could not be reached for comment.