The Harbor Terrace at the Marriott Courtyard Burlington Harbor was the place to be this evening. Gov. Peter Shumlin was there to cut the ribbon at the ground-breaking ceremony for Hotel Vermont.
Mortimer and Mauve, the mascots of WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey, were there, too, in no less official a capacity. Dressed in a miniature tuxedo and a paillette-bedecked ball gown, respectively, the pigs were the ideal spokespeople for the drinks being served. But more on that later.
Hotel Vermont will open on Cherry Street between the Marriott and Macy's in April 2013. Its 7700 square feet and LEED-certification are notable, but the food is what many Burlingtonians are buzzing about. When Hotel Vermont opens, so will Hen of the Wood Burlington. One of the hotel's owners, Westport Hospitality founder Jay Canning, was able to convince his friend, HotW chef-owner Eric Warnstedt, that two restaurants are better than one.
To help with the expansion, Warnstedt has brought back his former general manager, William McNeil, as co-owner. Warnstedt says he'll be able to balance two locations with McNeil's help and because the two Hens of the Wood will have different focuses. "It won't be so special-occasion, not by a long shot," said Warnstedt of the new location.
With 4000 square feet of room to play with in the Burlington space, the chef said that "all the things we ever wanted to do, we have the staff to do and the space to do." Though details are still sketchy, Warnstedt said the things he wants will likely include a wood-fired spit, oven and grill. Breads, and perhaps pizza and flatbreads, will emerge from the oven. Small plates will also draw in the bar crowd he hopes to build with the help of sommelier-in-training McNeil.
Downstairs at the Hotel Vermont's Juniper Lounge, breakfast with "coffee art" and a hip late-night scene are the goals. Warnstedt's level of involvement in the second project is still up in the air, said Canning. He has, however, enticed another friend to consult on the cocktails. Tim Dempsey, perhaps best known for his culinarily focused drinks at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, was behind the bar for the ground breaking, previewing the carbon-negative cocktails that will be served at Hotel Vermont when it opens. What does that mean? "They're so fresh, they actually suck carbon out of the air, I guess," said Canning.
Dempsey was serving three different all-local cocktails that evening, but none was more popular than the "Dirty Little Pig." The concoction of WhistlePig, Vermont Sapling maple liqueur and Urban Moonshine bitters was topped with chunks of pork belly and cassis-soaked cherries that Dempsey is shown smoking at right.
Look for more information on plans for Hotel Vermont and its food in Seven Days next Wednesday.