3182 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, 802-985-2232
Not every business in the Vermont Fresh Network is fine dining. Scouring the list of restaurants that are members of the localvore association, I came across numerous joints that one might never guess would focus on serving local produce. Buono Appetito Italian Restaurant in Shelburne, better known as Buono's, was one of them. Who knew the family who owns the red-sauce Italian place had a passion for keeping things fresh? I had to give it a try
The dimly lit dining room was filled with grandmotherly types Sunday night. A mural on one wall depicted a Venetian scene, complete with a scarf-sporting gondolier. Our server brought menus and asked if we would like a cocktail before dinner, an invitation I heard repeated as each party arrived at the restaurant. She also made note of the special, a burger made of beef from LaPlatte River Angus Farm and Cabot cheddar. It was $14. Seriously. The Burlington area is rife with overpriced local burgers, but this was the most expensive I've seen yet.
I was shocked to see that the regular menu reflected the same pricing. Chicken parmigiana was $24. Four pieces of fried chicken with fries, $18. Even a plate of spaghetti with butter on it was $9. What the hell was going on?
The entrées each came with a salad and basket of fresh dinner rolls that resembled Dunkin' Donuts munchkins in size and shape. I dipped mine in the dressing from my Caesar salad (top right). The light, citrusy vinaigrette was not exactly what I expect on a Caesar but was delicious, coating the big, fresh romaine leaves on the plate. A dusting of grated Parmesan added just enough of the expected creamy Caesar taste.
The dinners appeared small for their price. If I'm paying $24 for chicken parmigiana, I at least want to get a couple of meals out of it. The breading on the breast was smooth and visually very pleasing, a picture-perfect crust. It tasted good, too, and was surprisingly juicy, gushing liquid as I cut each slice. The spaghetti on the side was al dente and covered in an unconventional red sauce. A peppery finish lightly burned my throat with each swallow. The sauce was really more puttanesca than marinara, not an unwelcome change.
The fried chicken featured some of the weirdest butchering I've ever seen. At first glance, I couldn't tell which piece was which. There was a leg, a wing, a nugget and ... a bigger nugget. One of these nuggets was on the bone, the other was not. Despite the fact that these turned out to be breast meat, they were both wonderfully moist and tender. Too bad the breading wasn't more flavorful. When I was a kid, my mom used to coat chicken breasts with plain breadcrumbs, then fry them. This "Southern" fried chicken was clearly a result of the same method. Great Proustian throwback, not so great for an $18 restaurant meal. Further thumbs down for limp fries.
The food at Buono's wasn't bad. In fact, I really enjoyed my parm. Will I go back for it? Maybe if someone else is paying. But I don't think the folks at Buono's will mind. Both dining rooms were full the night I was there. Folks with more disposable income than I have, godspeed.