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New 'Cue

So long Souza's; hello Big Fatty's


Published December 12, 2006 at 9:10 p.m.

Burlington's Brazilian-style barbecue place is being replaced by one that serves U.S.-style pulled pork, pit-roasted chicken and collard greens. Big Fatty's BBQ, a branch of Maple Street Catering of Hartford, Vermont, is scheduled to open March 1 in the Main Street space currently occupied by Souza's restaurant.

Chef-owner Kelly Dietrich says Souza's will stay open through the end of the year. Beginning in January, he plans to "transition" to a larger, more centrally located Burlington building. Since he hasn't yet finalized the lease, he won't disclose the exact coordinates.

Dietrich didn't plan to move - he claims that a dispute over the rent pushed him out. "I was under the assumption that we would re-negotiate the lease," he says, "but the landlord doubled the rent. I told her I was absolutely unable to do that." Though he's sad to vacate the kitchen he's occupied for 10 years - he ran his kids' cooking academy there before opening Souza's - he says, "things happen for a reason; I believe in that."

Clay Vagnini, Big Fatty's pitmaster and husband of Maple Street Catering proprietor Bethany Lewis, might feel the same way about his opportunity to get Queen City residents hooked on "real Southern barbecue." After the success of Big Fatty's in Hartford, he set his sights on Burlington. He says the Main Street space is one he's "lusted after for a long time." For Vagnini, barbecue began as a hobby that became "an avocation." He's been cooking 'cue for 50 years, ever since he was a youngster in Florida.

Some are willing to duel to the death over which state has the best barbecue, but Vagnini doesn't play favorites. He says he employs whatever technique makes the food taste best. His pulled pork is Carolina, the ribs Kentucky-Georgia style, and the brisket pure Texas. He also serves up sides such as old-school-style hushpuppies. The cornbread's made with real corn.

Vagnini, who's not yet sure what kind of hours Big Fatty's will keep, plans to have a bunch of microbrews on tap and to feature blues bands on Friday and Saturday nights. "Nothing goes better with barbecue than blues," he says. But his main goal is clear from the Big Fatty's slogan. Vagnini wants you to "put some South in your mouth."