St. Albans’ Cosmic Bakery & Café is embracing the last part of its name: The staff has begun serving dinner Thursday through Saturday evenings, accompanied by live music, readings, wine and local craft beers.
“We’re calling it comfort food with an upscale flair,” says co-owner Mike McCarthy, who tapped a friend, chef Nicholas Smith, to whip up “night bites.” They include a Grafton Cheddar mac and cheese, twice-baked mashed-potato bites, and grilled sandwiches on homemade foccaccia, such as chicken and bacon with sweet chile-garlic mayonnaise. Also on offer are entrées such as chicken and biscuits and seared ahi tuna.
Along with a variety of local craft beers on tap — Trapp Vienna Amber Lager and Wolaver’s Alta Gracia Coffee Porter among them — the dinners have quickly attracted a following, and McCarthy hopes to add more nights come spring. “Just to get people through the door for this kind of thing is very cool,” he says.
Since Don Pedro’s Authentic Mexican Taqueria opened last summer in Winooski, buzz has been building around its well-stocked salsa bar, filled with housemade sauces and pickled veggies. Starting next week, diners will be able to purchase and bring home their favorites, including avocado and peach-habañero salsas and pickled jalapeños. All flavors will be sold in 8-ounce containers for $3.50.
Co-owner Pierre Mesa says these in-store sales are just a way of dipping Don Pedro’s toe into bottling in preparation for a larger venture. Later this spring, he’ll begin bottling the restaurant’s El Diablo sauce, used in its notorious eating challenge, for sale outside the restaurant. “I want to get it out in bottles, get it out to people around the country who want to try it,” says Mesa. “I think it might be among the top five hottest hot sauces on the market.” Once it is FDA approved, Mesa plans to sell the sauce through online vendors such as Amazon and eBay.
Blocks away, at Winooski’s 135 East Allen Street, Jin Chinese Restaurant opened on February 8. Manager Nick Lin says Americanized Chinese dishes such as General Tso’s chicken and crab Rangoon have been popular at the two-table, mostly take-out eatery, but notes that spicy Szechuan mala dishes have quickly gained fans.
Chalk up more accolades for Vermont craft brews: Two local breweries received top honors when the website RateBeer recently released its “best of” lists for 2011. Hill Farmstead Brewery was rated No. 6 of the Best Brewers in the World, out of a field of 12,000; and Heady Topper, the beloved IPA from the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, was fêted in the Imperial/Double IPA category.