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Entrées and Updates

Side Dishes: Southern-fried Spanish, samosas and sourdough


Published August 18, 2009 at 5:49 p.m.

Fatu Kankolongo and Fuad Ndibalema - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Fatu Kankolongo and Fuad Ndibalema

Pancake-battered catfish fingers and smoky pulled pork may not often share space on a menu with tapas, but they soon will at River Run in Plainfield. Jimmy Kennedy, owner since 1991 of the Mississippi-style restaurant — voted one of USA Today’s Top 10 Catfish Restaurants in the country — recently sold to Ignacio Ruiz. Kennedy will stay on as chef.

Ruiz, who says his grandmother, Nelly Blanco, was the first female chef on Spanish-language television, fell in love with River Run’s Southern-style fare when he brought his wife there to celebrate Mother’s Day this May. “I was looking around the Montpelier area for restaurants,” he says.

For his part, Kennedy “needed a little bit of help with managerial and bookkeeping,” he says, though he assures that “everything was OK” with the restaurant’s financial status.

Though Ruiz is eager to add his own touch to the menu, he stresses, “My first thing is to keep it the way it has been, and people have been enjoying it all this time. The last thing I want to do is alienate people.” In a move that could maintain that status quo or even expand the restaurant’s clientele, Ruiz recently applied for membership in the Vermont Fresh Network. New relationships with local farmers will facilitate the addition of more veggie-friendly menu items, he says.

But what about Ruiz’s Spanish flair? On Saturday, August 22, Kennedy will debut paella, albóndigas (veal and pork meatballs), tortilla de patatas (potato omelet), Spanish cheeses and jamón ibérico. That last item, the ham, is a rare treat, made from black Iberian pigs finished on acorns. Some cultural fusion is in the works, too. Says Ruiz, “We’ll run Jimmy’s catfish with saffron.”

Crave curried potatoes between farmers markets? Fuad Ndibalema is happy to oblige. The Samosaman Café opened last Friday on Main Street in Montpelier. Ndibalema promises a rotating cast of nine different fillings encased in golden fried dough made from King Arthur Flour.

Priding himself on using local products, Ndibalema pours brews from Montpelier-based Love and Tea Company alongside Fair Trade coffee and fresh-squeezed mango juice. Popular steak-and-cheese samosas incorporate grass-fed meat from Hardwick Beef and Maple Wind Farm.

New additions to the menu include egg-and-cheese breakfast samosas. And, for those who aren’t eager to load up on fried food, the café serves Samosaman’s chickpea and chicken curries (popular at the likes of City Market and Healthy Living) hot and fresh over “premium” coconut rice. African peanut-butter chicken soup provides a taste of Ndibalema’s native Congo. Snacks include breads served with pesto or a choice of “four or five” varieties of homemade hummus.

Not long after we touted the Cambodian noodle soup at newcomer LeeLaWaDee in Winooski, the space went dark. Just a week after opening at the end of June, the Asian café lowered its shutters, but they went up again last Saturday. Co-owner Snow Dinh cites family problems as the reason for closing, but says she’s eager to ply customers with her inventive Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai entrées, all priced at $8 or less.

August First bakery opened Monday, 16 days after its eponymous date. Besides baker Phil Merrick’s sourdough boules and kalamata olive loaves, look for Greek salad with olives and feta. Merrick recommends chicken-curry-salad and salmon-salad sandwiches on seven-grain or sourdough bread. Of the spot’s soft opening on Friday he exclaims, “Everyone loved the cinnamon rolls!”

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