by Corin Hirsch
Chef Michel Mahe has found a novel way to make the grey winter months pass quickly: He's working on two new eateries, one each for Vergennes and Middlebury, that will open in coming months.
In Vergennes, Mahe — who already owns three restaurants, in Shelburne, Bristol and Vergennes — is busy transforming the former Park Squeeze on Main Street into a 60-seat burger, flatbread and local-beer joint that he expects will be open by April under the same name.
The place will be similar in feel to his Bobcat Café & Brewery in Bristol, sans an on-site brewery. "I think what the Bobcat has shown me is if you create a local place that is affordable, accessible and casual enough, people will show up in droves," he says. "This will be a sort of 'let's go out and not make a big deal about it' kind of place." He'll leave up the Park Squeeze's iconic neon sign, with its yellow arrow guiding people in.
Though a menu is still a few weeks off, Mahe emphasizes that the fare will be limited to local-beef burgers and "flatbreads with flair." The upstairs bar — which will share the same antique Irish feel of the Bobcat — will offer local brews on tap and be a replacement of sorts for Vergennes' Up Top Tavern, which Mahe closed two months ago.
Down in Middlebury, Mahe has taken over the former Jackson's on the River location on Bakery Lane and will import the same concept — though because it's a larger space, the kitchen will also offer entreés. "Vergennes will feel more like the Bobcat, and Middlebury will feel more like the Frog," notes Mahe.
Mahe is referring to The Bearded Frog, in Shelburne, which he also owns, along with Vergennes' Black Sheep Bistro. Reminded that these new ventures will bring to five the number of eateries he'll oversee — possibly the most of any single Vermont restaurateur — he says, "I couldn't help myself."