51 Main Street, Middlebury 388-8209
Sometimes, we do things simply for the love of the game. Visiting 51 Main in Middlebury is one of them. The tapas menu is appealing, but so is the wall packed with board games.
Created by Middlebury College as a wholesome social space for its students, the café is open to the public, and most of its patrons when I visited were more in the parent-of-college-student age range. Many were likely there to enjoy the strains of gypsy jazz outfit, Swing Noire.
The international menu is composed mostly of small plates and nibbles, but diners will find it easy to assemble a hearty meal. We started with the Tapas Platter, a giant square plate filled with North Country chorizo and chicken, basil and sun-dried tomato sausage, along with little glass cups of spanish almonds, pinchos, toasted pita points and chimichurri. The chorizo was extraordinarily mild, but very tasty, as was the chicken sausage. The other offerings were also on the bland side for Spanish food, but still satisfying.
A $5.50 plate of tourtière with balsamic-coated mixed greens was far larger than the price would indicate. It was also lacking the cinnamon-y bite I expect from a spiced meat pie, but a pleasingly chewy crust made up for it. The meal's greatest hit was Moroccan Spiced Lamb Kebabs. The middle eastern spice mix was authentic tasting, the lamb optimally tender and the sides were gorgeous surprises. Though listed as cous cous on the menu, a mound of far more substantial Israeli cous cous was wonderfully seasoned and filled with golden raisins and almond slices. Carrot salad was made ultra-refreshing with lots of cilantro and slices of orange.
The chocolate shake was huge, creamy but not too thick and perfectly chocolaty. The dessert case offers an indulgent chocolate mousse (with tropical fruit on the side) and crème brûlée specials, but I was more enticed by truffles from Vergennes' Daily Chocolate. There were lots of choices, but I made what I called a "Salt and Pepper Plate" – a deep, dark salted truffle, and one spiced with three kinds of peppers.
We passed the time between bites with a game of This & That! a trivia game in which each answer is a pair. My review of that? Poorly conceived. Next time, I'll stick with mah jong.