by Alice Levitt
131 Main Street, Burlington, 863-2244
Remember Glori Nori Market & Café? The take-out spot at 131 Main Street in Burlington closed almost a decade ago, but at the time it had a novel concept: To offer a mix of international foods, with an emphasis on Jamaican and Asian flavors.
Well, it's back — sort of. Esperanto, which occupies the very same space, feels like a blast from Burlington's past. It has a stoner vibe and a menu that cherry picks quick, casual dishes from all over the world.
But the new restaurant has had bad luck. Just after opening on September 29, construction workers descended on the sidewalk right in front, making it difficult for passersby to see the eatery was open for business. I went in last night to see if it was worth braving the construction.
A portion of Esperanto's menu offerings are kept in a heated bakery case, so there was no wait to try the franchise's — there's one in Saratoga Springs, as well — signature item, the Dough-Boy.
It would probably take two or three of the $3.75 pizza-dough wraps to make a meal; they're heavy but petite.
The menu describes the contents as a blend of cheeses. As far as I could tell, it was mostly cream cheese, which squeezed out of the dough like toothpaste from a tube — hot, scallion-flavored toothpaste. A few dry cubes of chicken breast weren't enough to mitigate the unpleasant taste and texture. I was able to take only a few bites.
I preferred another ready-to-eat dish, the twice-baked potato. The mashed insides were flavored with garlic butter, sour cream and strands of yellow cheese, and a heavy layer of paprika gave it a unique shock of heat.
The wait was a little longer, though probably less than 10 minutes, for two prepared-to-order dishes.
Since the menu identifies Esperanto as "Your California Style Burrito Joint," it was a no-brainer to try one.
First, the good news: I loved the red, white and blue tortilla chips.
The bad news: Except for an oversweet, vaguely ketchupy flavor that blanketed the dry pulled pork, the burrito, filled with rice, black beans, salsa and sour cream (which seemingly curdled around the other hot contents), was more or less flavorless. A trip to the salsa bar didn't help. I tried three of the half-dozen options. None of them appeared to have been seasoned. Unfortunately, no matter how fresh they are, chopped tomatoes and onions do not a salsa make.
But then there was more good news. The very helpful counter staffer recommended the Thai Chicken Curry when I waffled between that and a gyro.
He was probably right. At first, I was taken aback by the presentation: The dish looked like dip for its surrounding wall of chips. But as soon as I tasted it, the coconut-based stew burst with gingery flavor.
Only slightly sweet, the comforting dish had just enough heat to leave my lips burning. Once again, the pre-cooked chicken was on the dry side, but the potatoes and carrots were tender. Despite myself, though, my favorite part of was scooping up sauce-drenched rice with the salty chips. It shouldn't have worked, but it did, to my great satisfaction.
Perhaps Esperanto will catch on better in Burlington than the international language for which it's named ever did. But unless I'm in the market for curry with chips, when I'm next invited there, my answer is likely to be, "Ne, dankon."
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.