by Alice Levitt
Burlington Farmers Market, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at City Hall Park. Info, 310-5172.
My affection for this year's new-and-improved Burlington Farmers Market is no secret. With 90 vendors this year, the lunch selection is almost overwhelming. Still, there's been a break-out hit for me.
It doesn't have a sign yet. The vendors are incorporated as MPT, but they'll soon be advertising themselves as Peace & Love Catering. The motives for the name aren't as hippy-dippy as they sound — Mayllet Paz and Wilfredo Amor run the stand. Their last names translate to peace and love, respectively.
Paz and Amor are both Panama natives, but they didn't meet until immigrating to the United States. Each is from a different region so their native flavors differ from one another.
The couple's wide selection of dishes changes each week. I was particularly impressed a few weeks ago by Amor's spice-rubbed, smoked-then-fried chicken thighs. Each week, a Mexican friend prepares tamales for the stand — their flavorful pork and creamy masa filling is steamed in banana leaves, giving the packages a slightly tea-like flavor. Last week, that same friend also made a braised chicken dish using guajillo chiles. Amor worked at Souza's Brazilian Steakhouse, which introduced flavors from South America's largest country into his repertoire.
Last week, my boyfriend and I both ordered the $10 lunch deal, which includes rice and beans, two meats, two sides and a chilled bottle of water.
Neither of us could resist the lime corn. Its buttery kernels tasted only slightly citrusy, but it was still a refreshing foil to the meats. Fried plantains were somewhat greasy, but in a pleasant way, popping with hot fat as I bit into them.
The lime flavor I was looking for was more prominent in a braised chicken thigh that Amor called "lime chicken." Herbaceous and tangy, the tender meat paired beautifully with the spiced, nutty-tasting rice and beans.
Marinated steak also had a refreshing hint of citrus to counter its earthy spice rub. I got two pieces of the beef. One was tough and difficult to eat, the other was tender enough to eat straight from the fork, lollipop-style.
I was fascinated by the chicken leg at top left, which Paz told me was the invention of a Brazilian friend. It's hard to see in the photo, but the meat was covered in cheese, wrapped in bacon and inlaid with peas, corn and carrots. It could have been a fat bomb. Instead, the cook's deft hand with spices made this a smoky, cheesey delight. Similarly, it took just a hint of spice and a squeeze of lime to make the conventional-looking pasta salad sing.
But last week's greatest discovery may have been the ham. Sweet and clove-scented, the flavor profile wasn't drastically different from a slab from Harrington's of Vermont. The wonders were in the preparation.
The meat was braised, not baked, resulting in a full-on assault of ham flavor. It was so good, I didn't mind missing the other braised pork dish Paz and Amor were proffering that day. Well, not too much. And chances are, if they're not serving it this weekend, I'll still be able to try it soon.