- Sally Pollak ©️ Seven Days
- Salmon platter at Penny Cluse
Maybe by then, the day that never seems to end — in this case, the pandemic — will be over. And we'll be eating at the Penny Cluse counter again, with its endless refills and stool-by-stool camaraderie.
Meanwhile, for $12, I got to eat Penny Cluse’s riff on my childhood birthday meal: smoked salmon, chèvre, sliced tomato, red onion, capers and buttered, grilled baguette. I drank a spicy bloody Mary ($8) from a plastic cup with my to-go salmon platter — 'cause I’m no longer nine and because these days could use a little oomph.
My birthday lunch — smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, dill pickles, potato salad — was sourced from a Jewish deli. For a lot of my life, I thought Nova, aka smoked salmon, originated from a place like Barney Greengrass the Sturgeon King on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
One day a few years ago, I caught a glimpse of Maura O’Sullivan, Penny Cluse chef, slicing a salmon filet with a very sharp knife. It got me thinking about the fish and what happens to it at the Burlington café.
I found out Friday, when I was scanning the online menu at Penny Cluse for a meal that costs $12 or less. Spotting the salmon plate, I remembered that glistening filet and rejoiced that a piece of smoked fish could be mine with the click of a computer.
“Happy birthday!” I told myself, placing an online order — though my birthday is actually a few months away. Twenty minutes later, after a drive downtown to fetch my food from the pickup window, I was sitting at our table in private celebration.
I smeared chèvre on a length of baguette, placed smoked salmon on the cheese, laid sliced tomato on top of that and crowned the open-faced sandwich with red onions and capers. Times two.
The salmon, I learned from Penny Cluse owner Charles Reeves, is cured, dried and smoked in-house. Barney Greengrass has nothing to do with it.
“We have a really cool smoker,” Reeves told me.
The salmon and tomatoes — from Pomykala Farm in Grand Isle — match each other in consistency: fleshy but firm. The capers, not a thing when I was a kid, add a little zing.
AOC ate scrambled eggs and rye toast when she and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ate together at Penny Cluse last year. Next time, she should indulge in a meal fit for a kid on her birthday — and possibly a prez.