Dining on a Dime: Pioneer Lakeshore Café Serves Big Flavors for Small Prices in Colchester | Dining on a Dime | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Dining on a Dime: Pioneer Lakeshore Café Serves Big Flavors for Small Prices in Colchester


Published February 21, 2023 at 1:28 p.m.
Updated March 7, 2023 at 4:39 p.m.

Crispy chicken sandwich, dirty fries and barbecue brisket melt sandwich - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Crispy chicken sandwich, dirty fries and barbecue brisket melt sandwich

I am anti-American — specifically when it comes to those plasticky American slices so far removed from real cheese that they must be labeled "prepared cheese product." My distaste for the stuff, I recently learned, is shared by Jean-Luc Matecat of Colchester's Pioneer Lakeshore Café. But after discovering some redeeming qualities to American cheese, he doesn't hold back from slapping slices of it on the top-notch griddled Bay burger ($11.95) and the barbecue brisket melt sandwich ($12.85) that he serves at the small eatery he opened with his wife, Lindsay, in May 2021.

For about three seconds during a weekend lunch visit to the unfancy spot, located behind a row of gas pumps at 824 West Lakeshore Drive, I debated replacing the American cheese on the brisket sandwich with cheddar. I'm glad I resisted. The tender house-smoked beef, caramelized onions, sweet-tangy-creamy-mustardy Pioneer sauce, and housemade bread-and-butter pickles in the sandwich unite into a blissful whole, due in large part to the engineered melting prowess of American cheese.

Jean-Luc and Lindsay Matecat - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Jean-Luc and Lindsay Matecat

"That melty, gooey texture just brings a nice mouthfeel," Jean-Luc said. "With a piece of cheddar, it's delicious, but it's just not the same."

Thanks to a French chef father, Jean-Luc, 41, grew up steeped in the European culinary tradition. But you wouldn't know it from Pioneer Lakeshore Café's all-American menu of rib-sticking sandwiches and burgers. Each item is a strong contender for best in its class, and almost all cost between $11 and $13 — no mean feat in the face of steep food inflation.

"We wanted to be a community eatery offering a quality bite of food," Jean-Luc said. "Colchester's a very cost-conscious town."

"We want people to feel welcome," Lindsay, 31, emphasized.

Vegetable pita - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Vegetable pita

Jean-Luc followed his father into the cooking profession and worked for others for many years. In May 2018, he and Lindsay launched the Pioneer food truck. They still offer their original chicken sandwich ($11.95) in all of its buttermilk-brined, crunch-coated, pepper honey-drizzled glory. "In a sea of chicken sandwiches, it will always be there for you," Jean-Luc joked.

Lindsay manages the front of the house and the books, while Jean-Luc runs the kitchen and the smoker out back, where the excellent brisket and pork shoulder cook for hours.

For the smoked pork sandwich ($11.80), the kitchen team crisps rough-chopped meat on the flat-top and dresses it with maple-pepper barbecue sauce, cider vinegar-and-mayo slaw, crunchy fried onions, and housemade pickles. The pork also crowns ample servings of dirty fries ($9.95), laced with Pioneer sauce and dusted with fresh herbs and Parmesan.

Offering only counter service, using versatile ingredients and minimizing waste help the couple keep prices low and food quality high, they said.

Smoked pork sandwich - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Smoked pork sandwich

Trim from the smoked brisket goes to good use in the smoked beef gravy for gravy fries ($7.50) and poutine ($9.95). The vegetable pita ($11) accommodates any veg on hand — eggplant to red bell pepper to corn — with crunchy fried chickpeas, a creamy roast garlic sauce and the signature house pickles.

Jean-Luc crafts those pickles, which top many of the sandwiches, using his maternal grandmother's recipe. At 94, she still makes them for Christmas gifts, he said. They are the chef's "No. 1 favorite cucumber pickle," and — unlike with American cheese — he's unequivocally delighted to use them on Pioneer's menu.

Dining on a Dime is a series featuring well-made, filling bites (something substantial enough to qualify as a small meal or better) for around $12 or less. Know of a tasty dish we should feature? Drop us a line: [email protected].

The original print version of this article was headlined "Penny-Wise Pioneer | A Colchester café serves big flavors for small prices"

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