by Alice Levitt
1705 Williston Road, South Burlington, 802-860-2009
I believe in second chances. If I try a new restaurant and it's less than great, I give it some time to grow before deciding its place on my very busy dining dance card. Often, there's not much change. Luckily, that was not the case when I made my second visit to the Vermont Sports Grill this Saturday.
The major attraction of the Sports Grill that night was simply that it was open. It was 10:30 p.m. and I was hungry. I asked the hostess how late they served food, expecting her to say they had already stopped. "Until around one a.m." she said. Who does that? Barely any downtown Burlington restaurants serve past 10, let alone those in suburban South Burlington.
Most late night food is strictly of the "open a bag and throw something in the fryer variety." Not at Vermont Sports Grill. My meal started with a bowl of freshly-popped corn, which my server happily refilled as needed. Most entrées at the Sports Grill fall somewhere between $6.99 and $11.95. That includes soup or a trip to the salad bar, and of course, unlimited popcorn.
Though it was hard to resist chicken pot pie soup, I chose to hit the salad bar. It might not be the most inspiring array of veggies I've seen, but the mix of greens, fresh cucumbers and both orange and yellow carrots did the trick, especially when lightly splashed with tangy Italian dressing.
It was hard to decide on an entrée. Since NECI Commons closed, it's been tough to find a Hot Brown, a Louisville-born open-faced sandwich of turkey, bacon and tomatoes. The classic version is slathered in Mornay sauce, but I can't argue with Vermont Sports Grill's cheese sauce until I try it. I was also enticed by "Meatloaf Mountain," a slab of loaf on sourdough piled with smashed potatoes, gravy, tomatoes, onions and bacon.
It was late enough, though, that I decided to exercise a little restraint. I ordered chicken fricassee (above right) and was glad I did. Though fricassée refers to a stew, this take on chicken 'n' biscuits featured slices of chicken breast that appeared to have been grilled. No matter, they were tender and well-seasoned. The light cream sauce had a base of dry white wine. The mushrooms, peas, carrots and corn were either very fresh or very fresh when they were frozen. Either way, their vivid tastes added a wonderful dimension to the rich sauce.
This pile of deliciousness sat atop several split biscuits. The pieces of dough not covered in sauce were a bit dry, but those that were were a melty delight. It's hard to find good chicken 'n' biscuits up north, and this one had me whistling "Dixie" and "Sweet Home Alabama." And I'll get to do so again. I was able to eat a little more than half of the massive dish. Rarely have I been more excited about leftovers.
The shepherd's pie was another hit, if a little less wholeheartedly so. The mix of ground beef and the same vegetables as above (sans 'shrooms) was nicely spiced, if a bit heavy on the Worcestershire sauce. However, the garlicky smashed potatoes on top took the dish from slightly better than mom's to restaurant quality. The creamy, slightly acidic spuds were baked to a lovely crispness on top, then dressed with paprika and fresh parsley. A blob of brown gravy in the middle was unnecessary, but a pleasant addition nonetheless.
I didn't have even a shadow of empty belly, but we ordered a slice of caramel apple pie, anyway. The dessert was not so much crust and filling as a clafoutis made with a generous portion caramel-coated apples. The single bite I was able to eat was lovely. I suppose next time, I'll have to save room.