Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in Montpelier as the City’s Restaurants Rebuild | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in Montpelier as the City’s Restaurants Rebuild


Published September 5, 2023 at 2:21 p.m.
Updated September 6, 2023 at 10:08 a.m.

Noah Hodgdon with a Hotel California and a roast beef sub at Yellow Mustard Deli & Sandwich Shop - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Noah Hodgdon with a Hotel California and a roast beef sub at Yellow Mustard Deli & Sandwich Shop

Our occasional series "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner" recommends a day's worth of meals in one Vermont city or town. Shortly after July flooding inundated downtown Montpelier, I spent a different kind of day walking from one wrecked restaurant to the next and talking with shell-shocked owners who were just beginning to grapple with the financial and psychological toll of rebuilding.

None of them was close to being able to serve a meal. It was hard to project when a visitor to the capital would again have the chance to sip steaming soup fragrant with basil at Pho Capital, grab a sub piled with house-roasted beef at Yellow Mustard Deli & Sandwich Shop, sit down for an elegant dinner at Oakes & Evelyn, or grab a beer at Three Penny Taproom.

With an immense amount of work and community support, Montpelier's downtown is gradually returning to life. On August 24, I headed there to eat three meals and check in with a number of eateries that are still working toward reopening (see "Fortitude and Fatigue").

Until I sat down to write, I didn't realize that the most recent "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner," published on February 18, 2020, was, coincidentally, also in Montpelier. (Make that a very occasional series.) And, yes, the story came out shortly before another seismic event that temporarily shuttered restaurants and had enduring industry-wide effects.

The downtown dining venues featured in 2020 — J. Morgan's Steakhouse, the Hippie Chickpea and Sarducci's — all survived the pandemic. But only Sarducci's escaped this summer's flooding and is currently open. According to Hitesh Patel, owner of J. Morgan's and the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center in which it operates, both of his State Street businesses are undergoing repairs, with reopening planned for November.

Vince Muraco, the Hippie Chickpea's chef and co-owner with his wife, Vania, said the couple are at a crossroads. Their small Mediterranean restaurant at 41 Elm Street, which would have marked its fifth anniversary in September, was decimated.

"We cannot continue in that location," Muraco said. "To build back in a flood zone and take on loans to pay for it — it just doesn't make sense."

The Muracos remain committed to Montpelier, where they live with their family, and "Cooking is all I know how to do," Vince said. They are seeking another location in town. Whether they reopen the Hippie Chickpea there or start a new food business depends on how the space "speaks to us," he added.

Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive, estimates that about half of the capital's roughly 50 food and drink establishments were directly affected by the flood. All have suffered indirect effects of the disaster: shuttered government buildings, retail shops and entertainment venues; streets intermittently closed for construction; piles of debris lingering on sidewalks.

Trautz, who has been working overtime to support Montpelier businesses, noted that the city has "always been proud of our culinary scene." Home for 40 years to the New England Culinary Institute (which closed in late 2020), the smallest state capital by population has a history of punching above its gastronomic weight.

Restaurants alone may not make a vibrant downtown, but they are a "focal point" for visitors and locals, Trautz said. Whether people come to shop, recreate or work, they go out to eat and drink. "It's all knit together," she said.

The Montpelier Alive team is coordinating a rescheduled third annual Taste of Montpelier event on October 7, part of a weekend-long city reopening celebration.

Some downtown storefronts will likely still be dark then, but every week brings good news. As I finished this article last Friday, the Duong family had just reopened Pho Capital off the corner of State Street and Governor Davis Avenue, and Main Street fixture Bear Pond Books was again ringing up customers. Besides my meal destinations for this story, those are two more excellent reasons to head back to Montpelier.

Brisket for Breakfast

Café NOA, 8 Putnam St., 223-1130,
Egg sandwich with brisket, cheddar and kimchi on a house-baked English muffin and a cider doughnut at Café NOA - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Egg sandwich with brisket, cheddar and kimchi on a house-baked English muffin and a cider doughnut at Café NOA

The scent of caramelized onions swirled through the air around 9:30 a.m. as I bit into my house-smoked brisket, cheddar and kimchi breakfast sandwich on a freshly baked English muffin ($6.50) at Café NOA. It made for a one-two punch of sensory deliciousness.

Joe Buley and Lori Martin Buley opened the breakfast and lunch spot next to their soup production kitchen across the railroad tracks from Hunger Mountain Co-op at the end of February. As I ate breakfast, Joe Buley told me that the onion aroma came from the couple's main business, which produces Joe's Kitchen soups and stews for sale through Vermont retailers.

The breakfast sandwich is a perfect introduction to the café's from-scratch, regionally sourced menu, which benefits from the buying power of the Buleys' packaged products and catering operation. The tender, smoky, grass-fed brisket and the café's pastrami both use the same cut from New Hampshire's Robie Farm. New England- and New York-raised pork goes into the breakfast sausage and the thick-cut pork belly for the bánh mì.

Buley said he easily goes through 40 dozen eggs a week from Barre's Perfect Circle Farm. In addition to the English muffins, the team bakes its own focaccia and is working on bulkie rolls. I also highly recommend the cider doughnuts ($1), for which Buley developed the dough, eschewing commonly used prepackaged mixes. The perfectly imperfect hand-shaped doughnuts are sweetened with equal amounts of maple syrup and sugar.

The Buleys moved to Montpelier more than two decades ago when Joe, a chef, left high-pressure restaurant work to teach at New England Culinary Institute. They launched the soup business in 2007. Eight years ago, when they were ready for a dedicated production facility, Buley said he checked flood zone maps before committing to the Putnam Street spot.

Nodding through the open door to a spot about 75 feet beyond the café's deck, Buley said, "The water was literally two inches below the grass beyond the tracks." The café and production kitchen are both on three-foot-tall concrete foundations. "The big word is 'no basement,'" Buley said.

A downside is that the café is a little off the beaten track. Mapping apps have not quite figured out where it is, Buley said, so he puts out a sandwich board on Barre Street.

He feels a little guilty, he said, that the closure of other restaurants has prompted more people to seek out Café NOA. In a gesture of recompense, Buley has made his kitchens available on weekends for a nominal fee to Shannon Bates of the flooded downtown deli Enna, who uses the space for catering.

Two-Course Lunch

Arandas Mexican Cuisine, 108 State St., 223-6817,
Yellow Mustard Deli & Sandwich Shop, 28 State St.,
Arandas Mexican Cuisine - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Arandas Mexican Cuisine

Before heading to lunch, I had a few minutes to check out the newest branch of Barre-based Arandas Mexican Cuisine, where I sampled a crispy chicken taco (three for $8.99) as an appetizer.

Lu Sola-Thomas and her husband, David Thomas, opened their Montpelier outpost 29 days before the flood. Located in a gas station convenience store on the corner of State and Taylor streets, Arandas serves scratch-made, takeout food from Sola-Thomas' native Mexico, ranging from the crunchy, savory chicken tacos to hefty burritos filled with beans, cheese and a choice of meat filling (from $16.79).

When I arrived, the kitchen crew had just finished making a big pot of pork carnitas and moved on to sautéing onions, which was turning into a theme of my day. Employee Luis Dominguez took out a tape measure to show me how high the floodwaters had come inside the store — about three feet. "It was a big mess," Dominguez said, with a cleanup that lasted three weeks.

Roast beef sub at Yellow Mustard - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Roast beef sub at Yellow Mustard

That was also exactly how long it took for Yellow Mustard to reopen, said owner Brian Lewis, who did much of the repair work himself with an eye to future flood resiliency. Two factors that helped him reopen quickly, he said, were that he doesn't use the building's basement and the deli's tile floor survived the flood.

We chatted over a horseradish-mayo-slathered roast beef sub ($11.50), swiftly and expertly stacked on a pillow-soft grinder roll. Although my go-to sub is a classic Italian, I ordered the roast beef at the suggestion of the very friendly sandwich maker, deli manager Noah Hodgdon, who volunteered that he is vegetarian. "But we make our own roast beef, so I like to recommend it," he said.

Yellow Mustard owner Brian Lewis in the dining room of his Filibuster Café across the street - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Yellow Mustard owner Brian Lewis in the dining room of his Filibuster Café across the street

Over the course of my half hour in the deli, I heard Hodgdon repeatedly joking with customers about how he was appropriately named to survive a flood of biblical proportions — and getting a kick out of it each time.

Hodgdon knows all the regulars and greets some with hugs. He came with the business when Lewis, who also owns the Filling Station in Middlesex and the Parkway Diner in South Burlington, bought it in late December 2022.

When Lewis purchased the deli, he switched to sourcing the rolls from a local commercial baker and roasting the beef in-house, which he believes makes for a more tender result. He added a toaster for toasted sandwich options, such as the Hotel California ($10.50), featuring roast turkey, bacon, Swiss and fresh guacamole. I'd lean toward ordering that one next time even if he hadn't nearly named it Stairway to Heaven, a favorite song of my youth.

A Hotel California at Yellow Mustard - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • A Hotel California at Yellow Mustard

Since the deli reopened on July 31, business has gradually increased. But summer sales will be significantly lower than projected, Lewis said. Still, he's more concerned about being forced to delay the opening of his new sit-down breakfast and lunch restaurant, Filibuster Café. It will occupy the 43 State Street space across the street from the deli that has been vacant since Asiana House closed several years ago.

Filibuster was due to open the week of the flood. "We were staffed and everything, ready to go," Lewis said. While the upstairs was unscathed, the basement — which houses the prep kitchen, restaurant bathrooms and dry storage — needs a complete overhaul.

Lewis hopes to open during foliage season, but he's not counting on it.

Get in My Belly

Woodbelly Pizza, 79 Barre St., 225-6568,
Farm + Forage pizza - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Farm + Forage pizza

I've driven past Woodbelly Pizza numerous times since late winter 2021, when the well-established mobile pizza provider set down roots on Barre Street near its commercial prep kitchen. It was finally time to stop and eat the pizza.

The casual order-at-the-counter spot exudes a warmth as cozy as its wood-fired oven. There are shelves full of board games, an old TV/VCR with videos and hand-drawn posters offering "free food to trans folx" every Monday. I wasn't surprised when customers came in and hugged the guy behind the bar.

Sadie Mikovitz slicing a Farm + Forage pizza - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sadie Mikovitz slicing a Farm + Forage pizza

I soon learned they knew recently hired bar manager Matthew McCarthy from his former job at Hugo's Bar & Grill, one of the currently shuttered city center restaurants (see "Fortitude and Fatigue"). Another former Hugo's employee, Derek Temple, was hanging at the bar. He said he'd joined the Woodbelly crew when "someone here checked in to see if I wanted work."

Catering manager Hailey Cohn said Woodbelly escaped serious damage and was up and running within a week, although the restaurant and catering kitchen basements flooded and the company lost some equipment.

  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Woodbelly Pizza

Woodbelly's menu offers pizza and creemees, plus local beer, prosecco and Rookie's Root Beer, all on tap. What more does one need?

The hand-mixed pizza dough is made with locally grown and milled wheat and a well-pedigreed Italian-born sourdough starter dating back a century, Cohn said. It yields an excellently chewy, tangy crust, which can be topped with creative meat or veggie combos or build-your-own options, featuring many ingredients from local farms. Slices are available.

Matthew McCarthy (left) and Derek Temple at Woodbelly Pizza - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Matthew McCarthy (left) and Derek Temple at Woodbelly Pizza

I chose an 18-inch pie to go: half Ijaeda Potata and half Farm + Forage ($36). The two shared a base of white ricotta sauce and mozzarella. The first included thinly sliced potatoes, bacon, garlic, pickled red onion and cheddar; the second, roasted yellow tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and a drizzle of balsamic. Both sides looked so good, I had no choice but to eat a slice of each before heading home.

I regret not getting a creemee for the road. Woodbelly sources its base from East Hardwick's Kingdom Creamery of Vermont. Maple ($3) and a second house-created flavor ($4.50), such as sweet corn or caramel-tahini, are always on offer.

Starting with a maple-sweetened cider doughnut and ending with a maple creemee would have tied my day with a sweet Vermont bow. But that's a good excuse to go back and do it all over again.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Capital Menu | A day of meals in Montpelier as the city's restaurants rebuild"

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