In a New Burlington Spot, Pascolo Refreshes Its Menu and Its Historic Home | First Bite | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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In a New Burlington Spot, Pascolo Refreshes Its Menu and Its Historic Home


Published April 4, 2023 at 3:27 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2023 at 10:29 a.m.

Chef de cuisine Andrea Battipaglia holding the housemade rigatoni Bolognese at Pascolo Ristorante - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Chef de cuisine Andrea Battipaglia holding the housemade rigatoni Bolognese at Pascolo Ristorante

Before you even open the impressive marble-framed door of the recently relocated Pascolo Ristorante at 120 Church Street in Burlington, it's clear that the restaurant's new home will feel radically different from its original subterranean quarters.

Part of the Farmhouse Group, along with the Farmhouse Tap & Grill and El Cortijo Taqueria in Burlington and Guild Tavern in South Burlington, Pascolo had spent nearly nine years at 83 Church Street. Last summer, Farmhouse announced that the Italian restaurant would move into the historic Burlington Trust bank building that hosted Sweetwaters restaurant for 41 years.

Sweetwaters closed permanently on Labor Day. After a major renovation, Pascolo reopened for dinner service in its new spot on January 25.

Former Seven Days food writer Alice Levitt named Pascolo her best new local restaurant of the year when it opened in 2014. She praised the "crowd-pleaser" in a "brick-laden basement space" for its pizza, housemade pasta, seasonal salads and all-Italian wine list. Now, as the restaurant approaches its tweens and graduates from the basement, its evolution is under way.

Stepping into the double-story, copper-painted room with crown molding and huge windows feels like entering a big, bright new world. It's a fresh era both for Pascolo and for the landmark building it occupies.

The overhanging second level of seating has been removed, providing a clear view through to the rear of the restaurant, where the skylighted, arched seating area is now hung with large glass mosaic globe lights. Rustic Italian tile has replaced the atrium's quirky mural, which blended mythical Greek and Burlington figures in various stages of dress and undress. "That was a page that needed to be turned," Farmhouse Group owner Jed Davis said dryly.

The bar at Pascolo Ristorante - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • The bar at Pascolo Ristorante

As during Sweetwaters' tenure, a large 17-seat bar anchors the left side of the room, but it's now beautifully refurbished with a glowing Danby marble top. To the right sit tables and newly constructed deep leather booths. Davis also added an accessible entrance and bathroom and other behind-the-scenes upgrades.

The restaurateur has had his eye on the space for a long time. "I've loved this building forever," Davis, 47, said. When he was growing up in Sudbury, "My mom would take my brother and me to lunch here."

Just as the experience made a lifelong impression on him, Davis said, "People will know and remember this restaurant forever."

The new Pascolo has a total of 140 seats, including glassed-in patio tables. Davis said lunch service will start in late spring or early summer, when outdoor seating will add another 50 to 60 seats. The team, which absorbed a number of Sweetwaters employees, is already about double that of Pascolo's former 100-seat home and growing.

Much of the original menu has traveled down Church Street. Notably left behind is the popular pizza, because the new kitchen lacks a wood-fired oven. "That was a hard 'let go' for me," admitted longtime chef de cuisine Andrea Battipaglia, 32, who began her Pascolo career as a server soon after the restaurant opened.

Under Battipaglia's leadership, the kitchen team continues to turn out Italian American chicken, eggplant or meatball Parms ($18 to $22); handmade pastas ranging from ribbons of pappardelle to pillowy gnocchi ($18 to $28); and salads, such as the popular arugula with shaved fennel and honey vinaigrette ($11).

The menu does have some additions to match the "more elegant" ambience of the new space, Battipaglia said. Diners will find expanded sections of snacks (spuntini) and fried appetizers (fritti) suited for nibbling with a well-made cocktail or glass of wine at the bar. Bar patrons receive a trio of free snacks, such as Castelvetrano olives, housemade potato chips and small, twisted, chile-flecked crackers.

Bar snacks and anchovy toasts - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Bar snacks and anchovy toasts

"It opens up the vibe for people to come hang at the bar," Battipaglia said — as if anyone needed an excuse.

Several main dishes take advantage of the kitchen's new grill, such as a sirloin steak with anchovy butter and sweet-and-sour peppers ($36) and a whole trout stuffed with mustard greens, amaro-soaked golden raisins and pine nuts ($28). "We're still a family restaurant, but we've added some different flavors from Italian cuisine," Battipaglia said.

The chef, whose surname is also that of a small city south of Naples from which her family emigrated, said she is especially fond of "anything with escarole, anchovies and golden raisins." When it comes to food, Battipaglia speaks my language; several of my favorite dishes over three recent meals featured those ingredients.

During my first meal, with a friend on an early February evening, we stuck mostly with Pascolo classics, each choosing a hearty pasta for the cold night and ordering the arugula salad to share.

We did venture into fresh territory with appetizers. A generous portion of eight very large fried olives ($14) came packed with pork sausage and served on a swirl of chile-lemon-garlic yogurt, with tomato sauce for dipping. The best kind of bar snack, this app is best shared with a crowd if one plans to eat anything else.

The anchovy toasts ($12) were a little mysterious, especially the one described as a "soft egg 'Caesar.'" But, as anchovy lovers, we were game. Each thin triangle of white toast, it turned out, was topped with a mound of something delicious — sweet-and-sour peppers, good butter, sweet oil-roasted cherry tomatoes, slices of jammy-yolked egg on housemade lemon aioli — plus anchovies. We beamed with every bite.

Pappardelle funghi ($22) and rigatoni Bolognese ($24) were as reliably good as I've come to expect from Pascolo: fresh pasta cooked al dente with rich, multilayered sauces. The salad brought welcome lightness and acidity, and it came split into two portions without our asking — a sign of the generally high level of service guided by general manager Caitrin Roesler.

The surprise hit of my second meal, which I had with another friend, was not the spaghetti with large, sweet shrimp swimming in a spicy tomato sauce ($28) or the sturdy pork saltimbocca wrapped in crisp prosciutto with fried sage and a creamy, citrusy sauce ($30) — though both were very good.

Chef de cuisine Andrea Battipaglia grating Parmesan on the chopped salad - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Chef de cuisine Andrea Battipaglia grating Parmesan on the chopped salad

As an afterthought, I ordered a side of escarole ($7) because I have a soft spot for bitter greens. I would go back any night to hang at the bar with a glass of Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Le Orme ($11) and a bowl of those silky, lemony, garlicky braised greens. Maybe I'd add an order of the excellent-looking (and -smelling) garlic Parmesan bread ($6). I almost begged a taste of it from neighbors at the bar on my third visit, in late March.

During that meal, I finally sampled a pair of the grilled dishes, as well as a new chopped salad ($16), which features housemade soppressata along with provolone, olives, chickpeas, two kinds of greens and chopped pepperoncini.

"Why don't we always put pepperoncini in our salads at home?" my husband pondered between bites of crunchy, briny, salty goodness.

When it came to our mains, the fish was the one disappointment of everything I tried. A whole, butterflied trout was stuffed with mustard greens, golden raisins and pine nuts, dressed with a bright, herby, chile-flecked sauce, topped with charred lemon slices and served with a side of arugula, farro and roasted tomatoes. The constellation of flavors and textures was interesting and appealing, but it simply overwhelmed the mild, soft fish.

In contrast, the steak dish was straightforward and balanced. The meat was cooked perfectly medium-rare and juicy, presented with a disk of anchovy butter softening on its charred exterior and a side of the compelling raisin-studded sweet-and-sour peppers and garlicky broccolini.

My husband and I jockeyed over the last bite of steak before crunching into a pair of housemade cannoli ($8) freshly filled with lightly sweetened, lemon zest-flavored ricotta, their ends dipped in dark chocolate chips and pistachios.

We relinquished our bar seats to a couple who had been sitting patiently in the waiting area tucked in the back corner. On the way out, we passed the wood-sided curing cabinet, which will eventually hold house-cured meats.

"There's something about being in this space that is its own experience," I overheard a bar customer marvel as we made our way to that grand front door.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Moving Up | In a new Burlington spot, Pascolo refreshes its menu and its historic home"

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