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From CBD to ABV-Free: The Year in Food and Drink in Vermont

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Published December 23, 2019 at 6:00 a.m.

A nonalcoholic drink at Deli 126 - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • A nonalcoholic drink at Deli 126

In a year in which "trending" has often meant climate disasters and #ImpeachmentVote, being a food writer has brought us a lot of joy. Sure, we covered our share of bad news — favorite restaurants closing their doors, floods putting farmers' livelihoods at risk — but, for the most part, we get to tell stories about things that make people happy.

That's the great thing about food: It's communal, it sustains us and, especially in Vermont, so much of it is freaking good. While we were out and about, dining on a dime, being barflies, and digging up (and in) the dirt, the trends we noticed were a whole lot more feel-good than bummers.

We saw farmers working together to create transition plans and keep agricultural land in production, entrepreneurs sharing spaces and ideas, coffee shops in action, increasing inclusivity with vegan and nonalcoholic options appearing on menus, CBD in everything, and successful food trucks swapping wheels for walls.

What follows is the Seven Days food team's look back at the trends of 2019 — the good, the great and the delicious.

— J.B.

Staying Put

Former food trucks pull over and park
Seared octopus with fingerling potatoes, harissa and chile oil at Poco - FILE: GLENN RUSSELL
  • File: Glenn Russell
  • Seared octopus with fingerling potatoes, harissa and chile oil at Poco

When it opened last spring on Main Street, Poco enhanced Burlington's dining scene. The little restaurant sprang from a popular food truck, DolceVT, which had parked on Pine Street and served truffle fries and fried chicken sandwiches.

Chef-owner Stefano Cicirello, who owns the restaurant with his sister, Susie Ely, told Seven Days he'll keep those items on the lunch menu: People want them from the truck days.

Plenty more comes out of Poco's permanent kitchen, which serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, offering a changing lineup of excellent small plates. These include crispy pork belly with grilled plums, maple grilled carrots, braised short ribs with parsnips and cauliflower, and smashed fingerling potatoes.

"Whatever I have here, I owe it to the truck," Cicirello said in a May interview with Seven Days. "I learned firsthand, on my dime, everything."

Other road warriors came to a stop, too.

At ArtsRiot, after chef/co-owner George Lambertson hit the highway last fall for a cross-country trip, a pair of chefs came off the road to run his kitchen.

Chris Donnelly and Mojo Hancy-Davis, chefs who met at Misery Loves Co., ran a mobile food cart for two summers, Carte Blanche, before their ArtsRiot gig. On Pine Street, they've kept old favorites on the menu, such as the 400 Burger and popcorn chicken, and added a veggie influence with dishes including beet toast and chicories.

"It's a different set of challenges," Hancy-Davis said of mobile versus restaurant cooking. "It's nice to come in and have everything be in the same place, instead of essentially doing a mini pop-up every day. We're absolutely enjoying what we're able to do at ArtsRiot."

In Craftsbury, Leanne Kinsey opened Blackbird Bistro, a restaurant that grew out of her mobile bar business, Blackbird Bar Catering. The bistro serves burgers, salads, grilled cheese sandwiches and apps, and it offers craft cocktails in keeping with the bar on wheels (which is still running).

Looking back a year to December 2018, Taco Gordo — a onetime food cart — launched its restaurant in the Old North End. A counter-service taqueria with tequila cocktails, sides of guac and jicama salad, and tamale specials, Taco Gordo became a go-to spot in 2019.

Up next: Petite Forest, a French bistro on wheels, plans to roll into action next spring in Waterbury. The couple starting the business, Will Durst and Ashley Wolf, are already looking ahead. They hope the food truck will lead to a restaurant, Durst told Seven Days.

— S.P.

Mo Joe

Coffee shops create a buzz
A Gibraltar being poured at Royal Oak Coffee - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • A Gibraltar being poured at Royal Oak Coffee

It was a heavily caffeinated year in Vermont food news. What with all the café openings, closings, ownership changes and industry events, we almost ran out of coffee puns.

While a certain number of comings and goings are to be expected, 2019's coffee landscape seemed to have had an extra shot or two. The most surprising news was the loss of high-profile Church Street Marketplace stalwart Uncommon Grounds, which closed December 23 after 25 years in business. Owner Brenda Nadeau, who is retiring, said that, while the marketplace was a great location for her café, "the hole in the ground and Macy's leaving has definitely been challenging." (She was referring to the as-yet-unbuilt CityPlace Burlington.)

Uncommon Grounds manager Maya Crowley considered buying the café but decided instead to open her own coffee shop, bakery and roastery, to be called Uncommon Coffee, in the spring at the Essex Experience. Crowley is a driving force in the Vermont coffee community, managing the Instagram account along with pro barista Gianni Paradiso.

Uncommon Grounds - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Uncommon Grounds

The pair, along with Lisa Espenshade, director of donor relations at Grounds for Health, put together a fundraising event for International Coffee Day in September. Coffee shops around town developed unique "Vermonttes," with flavors that included strawberry cheesecake (Brio Coffeeworks), Japanese sweet potato (Scout & Co.) and carrot (the Great Northern) — all to benefit Vermont-based coffee nonprofits Food 4 Farmers and Grounds for Health.

If coffee shops opening can be considered a trend, the underlying reason might be the strength and quality of the industry here in Vermont. Whether it's baristas getting together and throwing down latte art, creative consumer-focused events, roasters focusing on sustainable sourcing, or national press — Onyx Tonics in Burlington and Middlebury's Royal Oak Coffee both landed on Food & Wine's "Best Coffee Shops in America" list this year — the coffee scene is robust.

Other shops also spilled the beans.

New cafés popped up in St. Johnsbury (Central Café), Hardwick (Front Seat Coffee), Bradford (Vittles Espresso & Eatery) and on St. Paul Street in Burlington (Perky Planet Coffee). These spots are fueling commuters and giving locals places to connect — with each other and to reliable Wi-Fi. As Central Café co-owner Jerome Balmes told Seven Days, "Everything starts in a coffee shop."

Two new coffee businesses went the extra mile, opening second shops: Aless and Matt Delia-Lôbo opened Royal Oak and Lost Monarch Coffee (in Middlebury's Stone Mill Public Market) six months apart; and Charlotte and Johnny Steverson transformed the former Maglianero Café into a downtown location for their Kestrel Coffee Roasters.

Up next: Northfield's Carrier Roasting will head to North Winooski Avenue in Burlington to be part of Jake's ONE Market. Kru Coffee, a family-run business based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will move into the corner of Church and Pearl streets in Burlington early in 2020.

— J.B.

Farming Futures

Next steps for next-generation agriculture
From left: Mara and Spencer Welton with Emily and Sean Mitchell - FILE: DARIA BISHOP
  • File: Daria Bishop
  • From left: Mara and Spencer Welton with Emily and Sean Mitchell

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue prompted strong reactions within the farming community this fall when he said, "In America, the big get bigger, and the small go out."

In Vermont, the small refocus, double down and get innovative.

This year, several of the state's newer generation of farms celebrated milestones, faced challenges, pivoted and kept on chugging.

After 16 years, Half Pint Farm in Burlington's Intervale transitioned its two-and-a-half-acre specialty vegetable farm to new ownership. And it did so during a season of suboptimal weather and when all involved faced a steep learning curve as the summer farmers market moved from City Hall Park to Pine Street.

Diversified, pasture-based livestock operation Maple Wind Farm threw a 20th-anniversary bash at its Richmond location and made some hard decisions about how to move forward.

Jasper Hill Farm, a trailblazer in artisanal cheesemaking founded in 2003, launched a new goat dairy partnership called Bridgman Hill Farm.

Other farmers boldly went where few have gone before.

Of course, it doesn't always work out. Despite the support of successful serial entrepreneur Alan Newman, the world wasn't quite ready for Flourish Farm's Vermont-grown crickets, which closed its doors in April.

Other endeavors show delicious promise.

Greg Kelly (left) and Jacob Isham harvesting greens beneath colored LED lights at Ceres Greens - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Greg Kelly (left) and Jacob Isham harvesting greens beneath colored LED lights at Ceres Greens

Ceres Greens moved its indoor, year-round greens operation into a renovated 12,500-square-foot granite shed in Barre.

Cate Farm in East Montpelier found a new outlet for burdock as the base for Caledonia Spirits' newly launched GOBO, the only commercially available alcohol distilled from the root so far.

And Sweet Sound Aquaculture, part of the mixed farm/food/beverage enterprise at Nordic Farms in Charlotte (see "Strength in Numbers" below), sold its first Vermont-raised shrimp to Burlington restaurants.

Up next: Emily and Sean Mitchell of Half Pint Farm also grew a one-of-a-kind variety this year. The couple just welcomed their own next generation to the family. Expect to see their "new mascot," in Sean's words, at the Burlington Farmers Market next summer.

— M.P.

Strength in Numbers

Foodie enterprises join forces
Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co. in Montpelier - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co. in Montpelier

The term "food joint" conjures an image of a roadside eatery that dishes up fries, shakes and hot dogs, or slings wings and slices. Flip the words, and the phrase takes on new meaning: joint food. It means a place where several food producers or purveyors come together to work in a shared space — a phenomenon that gained momentum in 2019.

At Nordic Farms in Charlotte, farmers raise livestock and grow vegetables and flowers for Burlington restaurants Juniper and Bleu Northeast Seafood. Indoors at the same location, John Brawley of Sweet Sound Aquaculture raises shrimp for local restaurants in saltwater tanks that occupy an old calf barn, and the House of Fermentology barrel-ages its beer.

Up next at this farm/food/beverage collaboration: full production and operation of the malt house run by Peterson Quality Malt, the anchor of Nordic Farms, and Slowfire Bakery setting up shop.

The year brought other multipurpose food sites, as well.

In Middlebury at the Stone Mill Public Market, visitors can start the day with coffee and sweets at Lost Monarch Coffee; pick up a to-go meat or veggie sandwich on a housemade baguette from an outpost of the Arcadian, a local Italian restaurant; and shop for wine and cheese at Dedalus Wine and Cheese.

The rebranding of Nutty Steph's in Middlesex coincided with the chocolatier opening a second location, Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co. The spacious shop on Main Street in Montpelier is part chocolate factory (the main focus, according to founder Jaquelyn Fernandez Rieke) and other parts café, bar, florist and Jamaican food vendor. This last business, Kool Runninz, will pull up stakes at the end of the year, and new local vendors will fill the spot, Rieke said.

These joint arrangements accelerated a trend that kicked in at Burlington's Soda Plant in late 2018: Tomgirl Kitchen, Brio Coffeeworks and CO Cellars (a collaboration of ZAFA Wines and Shacksbury Cider) launched retail and production spaces in the renovated Pine Street space. Early this year, Pitchfork Farm's fermentation shop, Pitchfork Farm & Pickle, joined the trio of other businesses.

It would be hard to top this trend alert: Time magazine named CO Cellars, a barroom decked out with vessels of fermenting fruit, one of the 100 greatest places in the world to eat and drink.

— S.P.

Plant Power

Vegan-friendly vittles expand
Earl Handy with a plant-based Beyond Burger at Handy's Lunch - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Earl Handy with a plant-based Beyond Burger at Handy's Lunch

At Drifters in Burlington's Old North End, the vegan chickpea burger special recently earned an enthusiastic Seven Days review. The restaurant's several vegan menu options and specials are increasingly popular, said server/bartender Maddy McKenna.

"Everyone deserves to be able to eat out," she said. "You can get creative with vegan food, and you can make it delicious, [with] an appreciation for plants."

In August, a special report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fueled plant-based-diet momentum when it highlighted the negative impacts of industrial animal agriculture.

More people are choosing to eat at least some purely plant-based meals — whether for environmental, ethical or health reasons — and Vermont seems to be ahead of the curve in meeting their needs.

A 2019 research survey commissioned by British-based travel company Hayes & Jarvis found that Vermont is the most vegan-friendly state in the U.S. The analysis drew from restaurant-submitted TripAdvisor information to conclude that 15 percent of the dining destinations in Vermont's top five cities had vegan menu options.

Beyond bricks and mortar, a new vegan food cart, the Little Green Wagon from Vegan2U catering, launched in Barre in the summer. And a Seven Days reporter found plenty of animal-free prepared foods in a stroll through the summer Burlington Farmers Market.

Even the state's most high-profile food company made a splashy entrance into the vegan market.

Leaving its iconic cow mascot in the barn, Ben & Jerry's celebrated the launch of its dairy-free frozen desserts line with a veganpalooza at ArtsRiot in July. Guests chowed down on nondairy Cherry Garcia and Peanut Butter Half Baked. Among other plant-based menu items were bite-size versions of the Impossible Burger, the high-profile faux meat.

Those mock meats are popping up on local menus from national chains to Burlington landmark Handy's Lunch — the latter is better known for creations such as the Macho Man, a patty melt and pastrami Reuben fused into one meaty monster.

Third-generation owner Earl Handy began offering the beef patty doppelgänger Beyond Burger this December. He had seen it around town and on TV, Handy told Seven Days.

"It's definitely a trend," he said. "My wife said, 'You should get in front of this now.'"

OK, you can eat vegan in Vermont, but did you know you can also buy veganic fruits and vegetables?

Seven Days visited a Grand Isle farm that practices veganic agriculture. At Arbor Farmstead, the goal is to grow plants with the least possible impact on animals. This includes eschewing the use of livestock by-products used commonly as fertilizers, such as bone, blood, fish and feather meals, as well as manure or manure-based compost.

Up next: Scheduled to open in March 2020, Deep City, the new restaurant from Foam Brewers near Burlington's Waterfront Park, will serve "the butcher to the vegan and everything in between," co-owner Jon Farmer told Seven Days.

— M.P.


CBD in beer, burgers and marshmallows
Monarch & the Milkweed CBD confections - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Monarch & the Milkweed CBD confections

In the summer of 2017, Monarch & the Milkweed introduced CBD confections with two varieties of truffles at its downtown pastry shop/restaurant.

Last summer, Monarch released a new product: the Milkweed mini-fridge. As the name suggests, it's a small refrigerator that contains CBD sweet treats. The fridge and its contents can be found in 30 locations around Vermont, according to Monarch owner Andrew LeStourgeon. Each one holds 130 confections and contains 16 of the 22 varieties Monarch now produces. The confectionery makes about 2,000 CBD candies a week using CBD derived from Vermont-grown hemp, LeStourgeon said.

He attributes the company's growth to the "synergy" and partnerships Monarch has formed with other Vermont food and beverage producers, including Adam's Berry Farm and Foam Brewers. These producers make ingredients that Milkweed uses in its confections. (Foam also brewed a hemp beer, Supernature.) One candy, called Little Chocolate Smoke Toke, was created to invoke the vibe and flavor of Waterbury's Hen of the Wood. (It works.)

"We collaborate with partners that we love," LeStourgeon said.

In the name of love or money, or maybe some other element, hemp is the fastest-growing agricultural product in Vermont, as Seven Days' Kevin McCallum reported in his October article "Sow Much Hemp: A Large Harvest Prompts Fears of Oversupply." Registered acreage has increased from 3,290 in 2018 to more than 8,880 in 2019, he wrote.

In Waterbury, Zenbarn grows its own hemp, which makes its way onto the food and cocktail menu as CBD. The 420 burger sits on a CBD-buttered bun and is dressed with CBD-infused aioli; the Gin & Chronic ingredient list includes hemp syrup.

Alexx Shuman of South Burlington started her craft marshmallow business, Nomadic Kitchen, a year ago. She incorporates CBD oil into seasonal varieties of her treats. Last summer, Shuman made a strawberry-basil marshmallow; for the holidays, she's offering gingerbread marshmallows. The bitterness of the molasses "plays really nicely with that hemp flavor," Shuman said.

"Hemp is hemp, and I didn't want it to be something I was hiding," she continued. "I like it as a culinary challenge: This is a flavor that I have to make approachable and desirable to anyone."

Hemp-seed patty melt at Juniper - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Hemp-seed patty melt at Juniper

Juniper in Burlington seems to have beaten the crowd to the hemp punch. Its vegetarian hemp-seed patty melt has been on the menu since the Hotel Vermont restaurant opened six and a half years ago. This is a terrific sandwich — the proportions are spot-on — with Red Hen Baking's Crosset Hill bread, Jasper Hill Farm cheese (a blend of hard cheeses called chef's shreds), caramelized onions and roasted mushrooms.

The hulled hemp seed is part of a whole-grain patty that contains bulgur, chickpeas, carrots, onions, herbs and garlic. Chef Doug Paine said he's long favored hemp seeds for their nutritional value, including as a source of nonmeat protein. The sandwich comes in a vegan version, satisfying two foodie trends (CBD and vegan) in a meal that's fit for an omnivore.

— S.P.

Where's the Proof?

Nonalcoholic and low-ABV drinks hit the menu
A nonalcoholic drink at Deli 126 - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • A nonalcoholic drink at Deli 126

Whether you call them "spirit-free," "zero proof," "no-ABV," "temperance" or simply "nonalcoholic" cocktails, the drinks formerly known as "mocktails" made their presence known at bars and restaurants around the state this year.

During a late lunch at the Copper Grouse in Manchester's Taconic Hotel, food writer Melissa Pasanen indulged in a pomegranate and pineapple drink from the "spirit-free" part of the menu. She wrote, "I much prefer that term to the tired 'mocktail,' which seems to have fallen out of favor in reverse proportion to the rise of sophisticated, alcohol-free bar offerings."

The drink included the British botanical mixer Seedlip Spice 94, which brings a complexity to alcohol-free drinks. Special ingredients are increasingly common — even outside of international hotel groups such as Kimpton, which operates the Taconic.

Burlington's Deli 126 uses Seedlip, as well as a multitude of other creative ingredients — tea, verjus, apple cider vinegar, the bitter Italian soda Sanbitter, fruit juices, saline and housemade syrups — in their full-page "temperance cocktail" menu. General manager and bartender Emily Morton said the bar's attention to nonalcoholic drinks is twofold: They fit with the 1920s-inspired jazz-lounge feel of the place, and customers are increasingly seeking out no- and low-ABV options.

"Speakeasies existed because of the temperance movement," Morton said. "That's what people drank during Prohibition, or at least it's what they were seen drinking. We felt like we had to address that side of history."

As far as the modern trend goes, Morton sees customers ordering temperance drinks for myriad reasons. "People are pregnant, and people are sober, or people want to take a break, or people are the [designated driver]," she said. "We're trying to create a community that's super inclusive, and these drinks make it so people can feel like they're not missing out, no matter why they're not drinking."

The temperance cocktails at Deli 126 are created with the same attention to detail and creativity that the bar's spirit-full drinks receive. After all, "A cocktail is just three ingredients or more in a drink," Morton said. "Mint berry lemonade? Cocktail. Seltzer with cran and lime? Cocktail. No matter what's in it, you want flavor balance; you want something that packs a punch, something to give body to the drink, a bit of sweetness, and something savory."

Lincoln Peak Vineyard's Piquette - JORDAN BARRY
  • Jordan Barry
  • Lincoln Peak Vineyard's Piquette

The zero-proof cocktail trend is the antidote to the unfortunate concurrent trend of pounding White Claw hard seltzer waters. Vermont winemakers and brewers are getting in on the action, too, with low-ABV and nonalcoholic options. Session beers at 3 or 4 percent ABV scoff at the 8 or 9 percent Double IPAs. Lincoln Peak Vineyard's Piquette — made from a second pressing of the pomace left over from the winemaking process, rehydrated and re-fermented — clocks in at 7.4 percent ABV, which is about half of the typical ABV for the winery's reds. Lincoln Peak's website says it's "not really" wine, but it's refreshing, a little bit sour and the same price as a four-pack of hard seltzer at $9.99 a bottle.

"More people are drinking to enjoy and drinking to savor, rather than drinking to get drunk," Morton said. She sees it as a victory for the craft cocktail movement, which is now established enough that even people who don't drink want to be involved.

"That means we've made it. People want to be included in it, which is the basis of any trend," Morton said.

Up next: Citizen Cider cofounder and co-owner Kris Nelson has left his day job at the cidery to create an alcohol-free beer with Zero Gravity Craft Brewery. It's still under development but is expected in early 2020. Zero Gravity co-owner Matt Wilson said, "We're trying to apply our level of painstaking detail and craft brewing into a space that's previously been an afterthought."

— J.B.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Trending Tastes | The year in food and drink"

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