by Alice Levitt
260 North Street, Burlington, 658-8800
I liked the old O.N.E. Pepper Grill. Previous owner Sam Lai clearly put his soul into creating the Chinese/Mexican fusion menu, and even built his own tables and chairs.
Others didn't feel the same way I did, apparently, and now the folks from T.J.'s Dawg House in Williston have taken over the space, though they retained the name. The new owners replaced the fusion menu with something hard to find in Vermont: a varied bill of fare based around sausages, mostly Vienna Beef hot dogs.
The breezy, beach feel created by the indoor wooden deck that spans one side of the restaurant is now matched by the presence of a gigantic Vienna Beef umbrella over one of the tables. This is where I chose to sit.
The other customers, mostly college age, all gravitated to the bar, where there are a few seats and a small menu of local beers. This is also where all customers order, though a man I believe was T.J. himself brought my food to the table. Prices were so low, I felt slightly embarrassed. It also gave me incentive to order a lot.
We started with a garden salad so large two people could not come close to finishing it. The unevenly chopped romaine lettuce was covered with mushrooms, diced tomatoes, shredded carrots, chunks of grilled red peppers, and funny little confetti-like pieces of orange cheese.
The menu said that all dressings were homemade, so we ordered two. The balsamic vinaigrette tasted more of maple and olive oil than vinegar. T.J. admitted that the mayo-thick ranch was not yet his own, dill-filled version, which is apparently soon to come.
Another growing pain associated with a new restaurant: The kitchen staff hadn't noticed they were out of slider buns. Instead of three very small burgers, T.J. asked for our blessing to make two sort of small ones.
That was more than fine. Each patty was juicy and greasy in exactly the right way. The lightly charred meat reminded me of the best snack-bar burgers. I should have ordered two plates.
Then came the dogs. We ordered the Beantown, a quarter-pound beef dog smothered with baked beans and melted cheddar. Instead, we were presented with a Chicago dog (right). "It's what I do best," said T.J. Despite the fact that he had reversed our order with another table's, he let us keep it, along with the onion rings we had ordered sharing its plate. I'm not a fan of the Chicago dog myself. The pickle-on-pickle action seems like pregnant-lady food to me.
The rings reminded me of the ones generally only found at the fair. As with those, the beer batter was tasty but the onions were nearly raw.
I was much happier when our Beantown came. The beans were only mildly sweet, with a tantalizing touch of cumin. The dog itself was juicy, garlicky and wonderfully salty.
I also enjoyed the fat, mighty bratwurst (right). Boiled in beer, the light-colored sausage's flavor paired delectably with mild sauerkraut and a liberal slathering of tangy, spicy horseradish mustard. Like the other dogs, this came on a thick, nicely toasted bun.
After all that food, plus a Diet Coke, the final bill before tip was an even $20. I am not kidding. Even a snack bar would be stunned at the amount we ate for that price. Next time I'm craving a giant hot dog meal and want to spend about what I would for a bag of chips anywhere else, I know where to go.