by Alice Levitt
10805 Main St., Hinesburg, 482-4444
When updating the 7 Nights guide each year, I've always felt an aura of mystery surrounding Good Times Café. Passing it while driving through Hinesburg, the feeling is the same. What's the deal with the little café that serves Italian, Cajun and American cuisine and homemade ravioli?
I finally found out this weekend. Entering from the back parking lot, the first glimpse of inside was a case filled with ready-made pizza crusts. I ordered at the counter and grabbed an Adirondack grape soda from the beverage fridge. The bright front area reminded me of a deli.
The dimly lit dining room, decorated with eclectic portraits, including Russian novelists and horses, had nothing deli about it.
Since I wasn't in the mood for pizza, I got an idea of its flavors by starting with an order of "Old World Bread Dippers" (above right). The crisp and slightly chewy crust was covered in an herbaceous cheese blend. This was nice enough, but the sauce was what really sang. The very acidic, but also sweet, tomato purée was powerful — and addictive.
The Greek salad (right) was good, too. There were plenty of cucumbers, so there was no fighting over two measly slices, often the case when I share a salad. Fluffy clumps of feta added a salty zip to the greens and olives. The thick balsamic vinaigrette completed the pleasantly sweet-and-sour picture.
There aren't many places to get gumbo in Vermont. Points rewarded for offering it, and for the fact that Good Times Café also has jambalaya on the menu, though it was sold out when I visited.
Points deducted, unfortunately, for muted flavor. What should be three- or even four-dimensional was startlingly bland. I'm not just talking about heat. As opposed to the Cajun variety, Creole gumbo isn't traditionally very spicy. This dark red sauce seemed to be in the latter style and had stirrings of earthy spice, like warning shots, but never declared the war my taste buds were hoping for.
The tender, stewed vegetables were tasty on their own. Peppers, onions and even gigantic kernels of corn were sweet and savory. Chunks of chicken and andouille soaked up the mild flavors nicely, though, like the sauce, the sausage lacked bite.
Judging the dish boring, I ate more than my share of my boyfriend's fantastic chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich (right). Imagine the perfect fast-food fried-chicken sandwich, but handcrafted with care. Can't picture it? You'll just have to try this baby.
It starts with a hearty slab of focaccia — or two, apparently, if you order a large. It's spread with creamy Dijon mustard that combines extremely pleasurably with mild cheese, which tastes more like melting than any particular flavor.
The lightly fried chicken is nicely seasoned with dried herbs as well as salt. Slices of ham on top caramelize at their exposed edges, along with the bubbly, crusty fromage.
By the end of the sandwich's life (yes, we did finish it), we didn't have room for the home-baked cookies or Key lime pie. That was lucky, since the cookies, like the jambalaya, were gone for the day. If they're anything like the Cordon Bleu sandwich, though, I'll be sure to save room next time.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.