- Sally Pollak
- Tapas plates at the Hippie Chickpea
A new restaurant has filled the small storefront in Montpelier most recently vacated by Banchan, a Korean restaurant that was in and out in less than six months. The Hippie Chickpea, which opened last month at 41 Elm Street, is a family-run business with tapas-style Middle Eastern fare that highlights local farm food.
Chef-owner Vince Muraco, who most recently worked as a caterer, has put together a rotating menu of dishes that are flavorful and affordable, such as roasted cauliflower with tahini, beets and goat cheese; roasted root vegetables; hummus; and falafel.
Muraco is a veteran chef who worked for Hyatt hotels and resort locations for about two decades, running restaurant kitchens in cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Muraco also did stage work — or specialized chef training — in Europe.
"I became a chef because I love to cook, I love to eat and I love to travel," Muraco said. But eventually he and his wife, Vania, who met in a restaurant in Los Angeles, wanted to settle down and raise their two young sons. "We fell in love with Montpelier and decided to plant some roots," Muraco said.
Though Muraco has opened restaurants for Hyatt, including one at Andaz 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the Hippie Chickpea is the first one he has owned. He created it guided by the kitchen equipment already available at the site and his sense that Montpelier could use a falafel place.
- Sally Pollak
- Vania and Vince Muraco of the Hippie Chickpea
Muraco plans to keep certain items, such as the cauliflower, on the menu. Others will vary with seasonal availability, he said, noting that Montpelier farm Ananda Gardens is his go-to source.
Muraco's falafel, made from organic chickpeas, is shaped into small patties and packed with flavor and crunch; he serves it with tahini and yogurt sauce and tops it with chopped scallion and cucumber. Pasta and flatbread are available for kids. Baklava is made by Vania, who works at the front counter and serves food to the restaurant's five tables.
The name Hippie Chickpea is a nod to San Francisco, where Muraco lived for 11 years, and to his current hometown — "Montpelier is kind of a hippie town," he said. It's also a reference to Vania. "I think my wife's a hip chick," Muraco said.
The Hippie Chickpea, with its outdoor menu printed on tie-dyed paper, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. "We've got to make it through the winter together," Vania said, "as a community."