- Daria Bishop
- A cheese and charcuterie plate, marinated olives, whipped ricotta with Trent's Bread, and a flight of wine
Salt & Bubbles Wine Bar and Market has been on my radar since I met its owner, hospitality powerhouse and wine wonder woman Kayla Silver, at a networking event. This summer, I watched on Instagram as Silver got her fledgling combination wine bar and retail shop up and running, hiring talented cheesemonger Emma Harvey and Shelburne Vineyard alum Taylor Hochstin as the assistant general manager.
The gorgeous late-summer Vermont weather just happened to coincide with Salt & Bubbles' three-month anniversary. I couldn't wait to get to the Essex Experience and try it for a second time, after an initial August visit.
It's annoying to have to say it up front, but because these are the times we live in, I'll note that Salt & Bubbles is exceptionally friendly to the pandemic-wary. I visited the shop twice with friends who are a little more conscientious about health safety than I am. (I'm vaccinated but constantly forgetting or losing my masks lately). We found plenty of outdoor seating, and the indoor space is high-ceilinged, bright and airy, with fully masked staff, tables spaced wide apart and hand sanitizer at the ready.
On a Thursday evening, my friend Julia and I parked the car and headed for Salt & Bubbles' lights, a beacon in the darkness of surrounding shops, most of which cater to daytime clientele.
A table of four young women toasted each other on the outdoor patio as we walked through the glass doors. Friendly staff sat us down inside for a light dinner and a glass of wine or two.
Silver, who works most nights the shop is open, soon came over to welcome us. Though the night was moderately busy, she and a staff of three had things well in hand.
As the restaurant's name indicates, the menu offers plenty of sparkling wines and crispy, salty snacks. Diners can choose from a dozen Salty Bites on the menu, which include things like tapenade and Marcona almonds — plus several choices of cheese and charcuterie combinations and sandwich and salad options.
- Daria Bishop
- Kayla Silver
Silver's original plan for the business, she told me later, was more like an Irish pub. A restaurant veteran who has worked at Burlington's Honey Road and Dedalus Wine Shop, Market and Wine Bar, she envisioned a fully staffed kitchen celebrating natural wine and locally sourced ingredients, situated just a mile from the home she shares with her husband, Trenton Endres, the executive chef at Pro Pig Restaurant and Brewery.
But a full restaurant is a more expensive undertaking, one that Silver didn't envision for long in the pandemic context. Once she'd made an investment in kitchen equipment, she would still face the looming problem of staffing, which is affecting restaurants worldwide. She decided instead to start with just a few employees — two to four servers a night — who are compensated not just fairly but competitively.
Silver designed a payment structure that would reward staff who stick with her over time. Turnover, she said, is "expensive in terms of time and effort. It's expensive in every way, shape and form." She wants her employees to feel not just happy but "cared for. It's important for our staff to feel respected," she said.
The server quickly guided Julia and me toward our choices. I noticed Harvey behind the bar and wanted to make sure we didn't leave without sampling one of her cheese and charcuterie boards ($33), composed just for us. In addition to the burrata and the board, we ordered two glasses of wine divided in half so we could taste both, and soon I was knocking over glasses with my elbows.
Harvey's board featured Shelburne Farms Three-Year Cheddar; the nutty Neal's Yard Dairy Cornish Kern from Cornwall, England; a creamy chèvre from Sage Farm Goat Dairy in Stowe; dry-cured Saucisson Sec Basquese by Salumeria Biellese; and Marcona almonds, which I always eat so compulsively that it makes conversation difficult. Luckily, Julia was focused on the burrata with heirloom tomatoes and Maldon Sea Salt ($18), so we got on just fine.
The wine, as promised, was delicious, affordable and entirely compatible with the food. We shared the Galognano Il Rosso sangiovese ($15) from Tuscany, which tasted of earth and dark cherries, and a dry, delightful sparkling Avinyo Cava Brut ($10) from Spain.
That night and through September, Salt & Bubbles is donating $1 for every glass sold to Kate Wise's #drinkitforward initiative honoring Vermont Pride Month — part of the shop's program to raise money for local nonprofits.
A light dinner was fine for that night, but if we'd decided to hang out another hour and sample more of the menu, we would have found a lot more on offer — easily a full dinner's worth. As a die-hard sandwich fan, I'm looking forward to trying the Shelburne Farms Three-Year Cheddar Grilled Cheese ($13); I recently ended seven years as a vegetarian, so I'd probably add Jambon de Paris ham for $4. Also on my list is the muffuletta ($14) and the octopus conserva with Trent's Bread ($17).
Since the menu changes "hyperseasonally," Silver said, fall and winter will bring other dishes, such as raclette and more creative sandwiches, as well as an ever-changing wine list.
- Daria Bishop
- Clockwise from left: Katie McCabe, Janet and Andy Watts, and Sathya Amouretti on the patio at Salt & Bubbles
On my earlier visit, in late August, with another friend, we sat on the patio and made a late-summer feast of the Italian Flag — heirloom tomatoes, whipped ricotta and pesto on focaccia ($13) — and a fresh, hearty Caesar salad ($13) to which we saw no reason not to add salty Matiz Spanish sardines ($5). On that visit, a percentage of our tab went to the Humane Society of Chittenden County.
We sampled two delicious wines by the glass for an affordable $12 each, both courtesy of the Loire Valley in France. The Pascal Biotteau chenin blanc was a dry white tasting of fresh, young orchard fruit with mouthwatering acidity. Domaine de la Chanteleuserie's cabernet franc rosé was a light yet earthy red redolent of cherries and herbs.
Later, I asked Silver how she curates her wine selection, particularly with regard to affordability. "The beer world has done a fabulous job of literally painting the picture that craft beer is an everyman/everywoman's dream," she said. "You can have it with dinner. You can have it on the beach. You can have it anywhere, and you can afford it."
In her view, "The wine world has done less of a good job at making wine feel fun and accessible. Just look at Napa Valley, which is this expensive, over-the-top tourism experience. It's too expensive for the average person to ever access. It was important to me that we had a simple, well-executed menu and wine list that basically would highlight small producers."
My two visits bore this out. Salt & Bubbles' wines by the glass come from all over the world, and all of them run between $10 and $15. In a flight ($15), you could try everything from a traditionally crafted dry lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna to a pinot grigio/Riesling combo from Maloof Wines in Oregon called Where Ya PJs At?
Silver hopes to offer members of the Essex community opportunities to learn about wine at their own pace and price point. "I want this to be a place where people can come and have their favorite wine and beautiful plate of food and feel that comfort," she said.
When she was drawing up plans for the shop, Silver said, "I used this slogan — drink wine, break bread, share community. I'm not even sure I really knew what that meant at the time. It just sounded like what I wanted. And now we are actually creating that community."