by Alice Levitt
951 Main Street, Fairfax, 849-0599
When I first visited the Burlington area in 1996, the first place I ate was Alfredo's on Church Street. My second Vermont meal was lunch at the Country Pantry.
Since then, I've always had a special place in my heart for the rural diner.
I've stuck with it through multiple owners, the latest of whom, Ermin Jukic and Nihad Basic, took over the restaurant at the end of September.
When I visited for brunch this past Sunday, the first thing I noticed was an abbreviated menu. Gone were the S.O.S.; biscuits and gravy; and hot turkey sandwiches of the old days.
Perfecting a few dishes on a focused menu is always a good idea, but I feared that the small crowd of just four or five other parties might have been due to the lack of the classic Country Pantry dishes locals craved. Sundays used to mean lines out the door.
To fill that comfort-food hole, I began with a cup of homemade butternut squash soup. Though it could have used a bit of extra straining to remove chunks of squash and caramelized onion, the sweet, creamy soup hit the spot. It was a little light on salt, but oyster crackers, straight from the Westminster Crackers bag, added just enough to sufficiently flavor the soup.
Since it was brunch, we tried both breakfast and lunch options.
My blackened chicken sandwich didn't appear to have any blackening spice on it, but that wasn't the worst of its problems.
That honor belonged to the light, fluffy bun. It was lovely on top, but so airy that tomato, lettuce and chicken juice completely soaked through its bottom. It may not have looked like a fork-and-knife sandwich, but it was.
The flavor of the ingredients atop the nicely seared but bland chicken was pleasant enough and somewhat uncommon. Mayonnaise combined with roasted red peppers and garlic complemented its bedfellow, stretchy Swiss cheese. The best part of the plate, though, were the crisp, hand-cut fries. They were tossed with a surprising, bright red mix of spices, a strange contrast to the sandwich, but a delicious one.
Breakfast skillets take up a chunk of the brunch menu. Our friendly server pushed the dishes hard, and we were glad that we tried the Country Skillet.
Over-easy eggs were covered in a hot blanket of paprika-dusted Hollandaise. The molten yolks added their own sauce to a bed of onions and home fries mixed with smoky chunks of ham and sweet maple sausage.
Call it overkill, but it was exactly the sort of brunch dish that left me feeling satisfied, comforted and ready for a nap.
It might no longer be the Country Pantry where I enjoyed hot turkey sandwiches and big, afternoon breakfasts as I watched farmers celebrate their 80th birthdays, but with dishes like the Country Skillet, the little diner that could might still have a chance. I wish them the best.
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 email@example.com.