Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two Burlingtonians With Beards

M & I made a quick trip to Vermont back in April to do some eating, drinking, and hiking, not necessarily in that order. We only made one big reservation, and, really, it wasn't that big. It was at the highly rated, but friendly and informal Bluebird Tavern. How highly rated? Well, among other things, it was one of about 30 semifinalists for a 2010 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant (it and roughly 28 of the other semifinalists lost out to Marea of New York City).

Little did we know that we would end up visiting two 2010 James Beard Award nominees (and one winner) in two days...

bluebird scan fig. a: detail, menu

#1: Bluebird Tavern

Burlington's Bluebird Tavern is a self-proclaimed gastropub perched above the Winooski River that, like many of Vermont's finest restaurants, specializes in all things local and sustainable and is an active member of the fantastic Vermont Fresh Network. I mean, just look at all this list of farms, dairies, orchards, and other producers that the Bluebird is teamed up with. Anyway, just having the goods isn't enough--you've gotta know what to do with it, right? And Bluebird Tavern's definitely got some firepower in the kitchen.

Highlights included some utterly heavenly ricotta gnudi with brown butter and ramps (our first of the season!) and a very tasty, very refreshing julienned kohlrabi salad with walnuts, bitter greens, and "mountain cheese." Our mains weren't nearly as mind-blowing, but Michelle had a homemade spaghetti 'a la chitarra' dish that came dressed with some excellent veal meatballs, and my roasted chicken was a plump, juicy thing of beauty that was served on a mushroom & bread salad with a liver vinaigrette--too bad the salad was a little overdressed, because the chicken was the best we've tasted since we shopped at Fleisher's.

One last thing about Bluebird Tavern that you should know: Tuesdays at the Bluebird Tavern are Tavern Tuesdays, and that means casual dining and bargain prices. You see, in addition to their normal menu items, the kitchen adds a trio of items for the low, low price of $10: house-ground double burgers with Vermont blue cheese, a boudin blanc plate with homemade sauerkraut, and Maine mussels with bacon, crème fraîche, and apple cider, all of them served with fresh-cut fries, all of them an exceptional deal.

Oh, yeah: Bluebird's got a great selection of wines and beers, and they only brew Vermont Artisan Coffee.

Bluebird Tavern, 317 Riverside Ave., Burlington, VT, (802) 540-1786

Al's French Frys fig. b: burger, dog, float, frys

#2: Al's French Frys

Speaking of fresh-cut fries...

I'd read about Al's when I was prepping for this trip back in early April. Little did we know that our South Burlington hotel would be situated about 50 feet from Al's and their famous french frys.

Things have changed a little since Al's first started up in the 1940s. Back then Al and Genevieve Rusterholz ran the place out of a hut with a window counter and no inside seating--"a small hut," apparently. These days, Al's has kind of a throwback diner look to it--definitely not overwrought and obnoxious like those ersatz '40s and '50s "diners" that you see just about everywhere these days, but they do pipe a soundtrack of vintage rock 'n' roll into the parking lot.

The thing that hasn't changed is the quality of Al's frys. These are truly legendary french frys, with phenomenal texture, a rich color, and a deep potato flavor--quite possibly the best we've had since we paid a visit to Frit Flagey in Brussels back in '08. Even better, they sell them in handy pint and quart (!) sizes. (Trust me, unless you've got a fitting planned for later in the day, you're going to want to go with the quart. And if you do have a fitting planned for later in the day, you might want to cancel and reschedule.) And there's more to Al's than just frys. They serve up brilliant, classic diner-style burgers, beautiful hot dogs with crispy skins that have just the right pop to them, some awfully tasty soft-serve ice cream, and a wide range of soda fountain beverages.

For all these reasons, and their quirky spelling of "fries," Al's was officially inducted into the America's Classics pantheon by the James Beard Foundation last week, and we salute them.

Al's French Frys, 1251 Williston Rd., South Burlington, VT, (802) 862-9203



Christine said...

I love Al's French Fries. ;-)

asta said...

Thank you for the tip.
Because of this post we stopped at Al's on the way to the airport-- It's everything you said it was and a whole lot of fun.
The fries can also be purchased by the cup.
We had also hoped to stop at the Bluebird on out way back, but it doesn't open until 4pm