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Best Place to Meet a Stranger (08)

Handy's Lunch

Published August 5, 2008 at 6:05 p.m.

Counter Intuitive

Eating out solo can be lonely — unless you're one of the lucky lunchers sitting around the horseshoe bar at Handy's. Every day, proprietor Earl Handy puts himself in the middle of the little diner that's open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the corner of Maple and South Champlain streets in Burlington. He works the counter: greeting customers, taking orders, serving food, ringing up checks. But his Olympic multitasking, while impressive, is the least of it. Handy is also the social lubricant for everyone eating in the place, whether they're creative types from local advertising agencies, student athletes, blue-collar workers or nattily dressed lawyers.

Anything goes at the retro restaurant festooned with autographed pictures of local sports teams. There's also an autographed picture of Phish. You can immerse yourself in a newspaper and a $2.25 hamburger with fries; Handy will leave you alone. You can pretend to be reading and eavesdrop; the place is small enough to let you hear conversations clearly. Or you can take a chance and engage the stranger sitting across the counter — directly or with Handy as intermediary. Pretty soon the whole semi-circle is involved. It's just like family, only without the annoying relatives.

- Paula Routly