by Alice Levitt
149 South Champlain St., Burlington, 540-0060
Years ago, when my boyfriend worked at Pizza Hut, the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet there was one of my greatest guilty pleasures. CiCi's Pizza Buffet commercials make me salivate, even though the food is notoriously awful. So is there such a thing as good all-you-can-eat pizza? Actually, yes: every Friday at Burlington's August First.
At 6 p.m. each week, the bakery's staff pushes the tables into three long rows; diners are seated family-style. I had heard that the experience is a raucous free-for-all, but co-owner Jodi Whalen explained that the Wild West ambiance has calmed since they replaced the buffet with table service at the beginning of this year.
The new system works well. Servers deliver breads as they're baked. When your table is done with one variety, you pass it on to the next group. Sometimes lazy diners gum up the works, but as long as you're proactive about it, you shouldn't have any trouble trying around 10 different pizzas in a sitting.
Big bowls of salad wait at the tables, along with paper plates and plastic cutlery. The wood bowls reminded me of the family-style dining at my elementary school, but the mixed greens were far better, in a light balsamic dressing. I would have dressed them a bit more heavily, but I understand why the staff didn't: Languishing on the table, the delicate lettuces would have drowned with more.
The pizza at right, a bacon-broccoli-potato specimen, was not among my favorites, but was the only one I could photograph before most of the slices were gone.
A handful of flatbreads missed the mark — the white pizza with potatoes was a starch overload — but most were among the best I've had in the area.
The crust was simply irresistible. Slightly crisp at the edges and delightfully chewy throughout, the flatbread perfectly straddled the line between skinny, floppy New York-style and doughy Vermont pies. Forget about the toppings, I could have eaten the hot-out-of-the-oven crusts all night. My boyfriend prefers his "pizza bones" with peanut butter, which our server provided at no extra charge. He was right, it was a great combo.
Of course, the sometimes creative, sometimes downright delicious toppings are kind of the point.
The first slice I tried was covered in jalapeño and bacon. The oils from the hot peppers blended with the mild tomato sauce for a subtle burn. The crunchy Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon was salty, porky and a surprisingly apt match for the peppers. This bread was my favorite, until I tried the basic pepperoni pie.
As decadently greasy as anything from a Spring Street pizzeria, it was among the best pepperoni pies I've had in Vermont. The high-quality mozzarella was part of its success, but it was the spicy pepperoni that defined the slice.
Garlicky pesto dressed a few flatbreads, including an elegant, almost ladylike version topped only with cheese, tomato and tender chunks of chicken. Even white pies were full of flavor, such as the sweet and nutty one with sweet potatoes, apples, walnuts and caramelized onions, as well as both blue and mozzarella cheeses. Even a plain flatbread covered only in a mix of cheeses was appealingly salty, chewy and fatty.
But the pièce de résistance was the chocolate flatbread (at right). Imagine an uncommonly light, chocolaty pan cookie baked into a pizza crust and you've got the idea. It's the only reason not to overindulge in the other slices. Believe me, you need to save room for a taste — or five.
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.