176 College Street, Burlington, 860-9401
It was a rainy Saturday. After a full day of judging cupcakes at Northern Decadence, hanging with my pals at Pride and seeing the excellent Robot & Frank at Merrill's Roxy Cinema, it was time for some whiskey. Or, rather, a room full of it.
I prefer to leave the drinking to Corin, but when I recently passed by the Whiskey Room at Rí Rá, the menu popped. I was doubly surprised: Not only was there food, it sounded creative, with a local bent.
Once inside, I found the next surprise: The shadowy bar is as transporting as Rí Rá next door, and the dark wood is a far cry from Anything's Pastable. Around 9 p.m., only a couple of tables were free; most were filled with college-age drinkers perusing the fat notebook of whiskey selections.
But to our server's surprise, we ordered water and dove into the food menu. Though sliders with house brisket, smoked provolone and kimchee sounded fabulous, the obvious first order of business in these environs was the Scotch egg.
The dish isn't easy to find in Vermont, but frankly, it's hard to go wrong with an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried.
In this case, the yolk was just south of hard-boiled. It's best runny, but this was still spreadable. A thin layer of sausage meant that the pork was more of a seasoning than the main event. The sage-flavored meat paired deliciously with a creamy Guinness-mustard sauce.
Jewel-toned arugula and carrots weren't dressed, but they got sufficient flavor from a combination of the sauce and the juice that drained from their thick-cut, pickled-onion companions.
The description for the Daily Bread said that it was composed of "grilled Red Hen baguette, topped with the chef's fresh market find." To me, that meant an open-faced sandwich. To them, it meant four teeny crostini. At $10, this wasn't quite the steal I had expected.
However, the combination was fresh in more ways than one. Meaty seared tuna rested on a bed of sweet roasted red peppers and a sliver of watermelon carpaccio. The pile of green on top was chimichurri, a great idea if it had been the tangy, garlicky sauce it should have been. Unfortunately, this blend, more like a pesto, had an unpleasant touch of bitterness.
But the crown jewel was yet to come.
Sometimes you read a menu description and you just know a dish has to be good. Meet the WR Burger, one of the best you'll find in Burlington.
It began with juicy house-ground beef, cooked exactly to my specified medium. A single farm egg sat on top, slightly crisp at the edges, with a yolk soft enough to be creamy, but hard enough not to make a mess. A thick, salty Irish rasher stood in for crisp, American bacon with a welcome, full-bodied flavor. It was all held together with a layer of sharp Shelburne Farms cheddar.
On the bottom, the sweet, egg-washed bun was spread with relish from the Rutland hot dog cart Big Lenny's. The sweet, cinnamon-redolent onions and peppers melded surprisingly well with the salty, fatty flavors of everything else.
At $13, it's not the cheapest burger in town, but its local ingredients and unique taste make up for the price. I just wish that we'd gotten a few more fries. They were nicely salted, and some were delightfully crisp with a creamy center and crunchy edges. Others wilted on the plate.
Still, when I'm in search of an uncommon ambiance and a specimen of beefy excellence, I know I can head to the Whiskey Room. But hold the whiskey.