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Feeling at Home at Fox Market and Bar in East Montpelier


Published September 20, 2022 at 1:40 p.m.
Updated September 21, 2022 at 10:21 a.m.

Liv Dunton and Doni Cain - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Liv Dunton and Doni Cain

I love an impromptu dinner party. Planned in little time, they're often low-key; I throw together whatever's in the fridge, chill a fun bottle of wine and don't fret if the napkins don't match.

I love them even more when I don't have to host. A meal at Fox Market and Bar in East Montpelier feels like a cool, casual dinner party with friends — one that's likely to end with a board game, tarot reading or late-night dance party.

Co-owners Liv Dunton and Doni Cain opened their specialty food market and beer-and-wine bar on Route 2 in June 2021. The only gay bar in Vermont, it's been a safe space for the queer community since day one.

Fox Market has also grown into a delightful place to eat and drink. It has a clever bar-snack menu, weekly themed dinners that travel the globe, local beers and some of the most affordable natural wine in the state. It's the place to go for drag karaoke or a queer dance party, and for dinner and a glass of pét-nat in the cozy, living room-like den upstairs.

"We imagined it as somewhere that our friends and family would want to spend time and as a space where people can come as a refuge, to feel loved and cared for," Dunton said. "But the food is our fastest-growing category when we run numbers."

Fox Market and Bar - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Fox Market and Bar

The market side does a brisk morning business with coffee, piles of pastries, and grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches. There's usually a lunch rush, Dunton said, and a steady stream of people stop in to say hi and grab a few essentials throughout the day.

Cain and Dunton both worked at local food co-ops prior to opening their multifaceted market. That natural food influence shows up in Fox Market's wide array of local and organic produce, meats, cheeses and pantry goods.

"But we also love gummy bears," Dunton said. "We like to have a little fun with it."

Around 3:30 p.m., the focus shifts to the bar side of the building. I rolled in with friends mid-evening on a quiet, rainy Tuesday. A few folks dodged the drizzle at tables out back, and several shoppers picked up the night's grab-and-go dinner special: tofu curry.

From the doorway, the 30-plus wine, cider, beer, ready-to-drink cocktail and nonalcoholic bottles and cans above the central bar caught my eye. Dunton and Cain made a conscious choice to stick to wine and beer, rather than hard liquor, to keep the space comfortable for people who don't drink. In the market and bar, their deeply researched wine lineup features everything from orange wine and piquette to accessible pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon.

I chose a sparkling chenin blanc from South Africa ($9 per glass), thanks to Dunton's detailed and enthusiastic description. Two of my dining companions joined me; the third ordered Dirt Church Brewing's Brut IPA ($5).

The whole experience had a casual ease: Order drinks and food at the bar, take your table marker — ours was Billy Porter — and find a seat at the booth near the bar or a cozy couch, armchair or table upstairs.

Self-serve shelves overflowed with a variety of tableware for customers to grab, all from the local ReStore. I was drawn to an elegant crystal water carafe and tiny amber glasses. Some napkins were floral, others embroidered or plain. The plates were the surviving members of many different china sets.

Go Go Nuts (coconut fried chicken) - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Go Go Nuts (coconut fried chicken)

Our table quickly filled with the curry, dolmas, fried chicken and onigiri we'd ordered from the short and sweet bar menu. With a gluten-avoider in tow, we'd skipped some of the bar's staples: cheesy pretzel blobs, pork-filled bao and savory hand pies called Fox Pockets.

But the JFC — karaage-style fried chicken thighs ($8) — was a gluten-free treat for our long-suffering celiac friend, and it paired perfectly with the bubbly chenin. We also fawned over the onigiri — Dunton's favorite snack from their travels in Japan. The heat of the garlic-chile crisp filling ($5) hid inside tightly wrapped nori but cooled quickly when slathered in a yuzu aioli. I dipped the smoked salmon version ($5) in a tangy housemade barbecue sauce that came with the fried chicken.

Even the summer salad ($8) is like something you'd eat at a friend's house; each one is assembled according to the maker's whim with whatever exciting seasonal produce is in stock. Ours was topped with pickled onions and slices of apple; together with the various small plates we ordered, it made for a full meal. We lingered over the last bites and finished the bottle of wine before browsing the market on our way out.

The Fox Market team offers more substantial dinners on Saturdays, often exploring cuisine and wine flights from regions around the world, from Austria to North India. It also hosts ticketed five-course dinners every other month. Saturday, September 24, will be Basque Night.

People from around the state head to Fox Market for its queer dance parties — the next of which is scheduled for October 29. The community-focused side of the business is central to what Cain and Dunton are building, but the food and drink are worthy of the same draw.

Either way, it feels like home.

Fox Market and Bar, 3070 Route 2, East Montpelier, 522-2322, foxmarket.store. Call, text, email or message on social media to reserve a spot for Basque Night on Saturday, September 24.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Dinner in the Den | Feeling at home at Fox Market and Bar"