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People's Palates: 2008 Edition

7 Nights readers weigh in on where to eat

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Everyone’s a food critic on the 7 Nights website. In our online dining guide, readers can leave “comment cards” touting their favorite restaurants or warning others away from places they dislike. While many of the comments are short and (sometimes) sweet, we prefer it when folks wax poetic about their favorite places. The more juicy details readers can soak up about an eatery’s culinary offerings and its service, the better: If the scallops were scrumptious or the ribs rip-roarin’ good, we all wanna know about it.

Luckily, a handful of 7 Nights users really like to dish, and we think it’s time to share the love. Seven Days has scoured an entire year’s worth of comments to help tip people off to dining spots that someone, somewhere, swooned over in 2008. Self-appointed taste makers are indicated by their chosen screen names. Bear in mind, we can’t — and don’t — corroborate their dining experiences, and we’ve only minimally corrected their grammar and spelling. Want to disagree, chime in, or review your own favorite local spot? Visit 7 Nights and tell us all about it.

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Alchemist Pub & Brewery - 4 stars

23 South Main Street, Waterbury, 244-4120

“Pintpounder” says: “We drive all the way from Boston on a monthly basis just to come here and it has never disappointed. Last visit was Columbus Day weekend and we had a great leaf-peeping/pub-crawling time. My wife had a panini and fries (the garlic mayo rocks!!!), and I had a roast chicken dish. Both were excellent — all local ingredients were a HUGE plus! As good as the food is, we are coming for the beer, hands down the best in New England. I could drink Holy Cow IPA all day long — and I have! We are always treated like locals, and were shocked when our waitress remembered our names . . . It is easy to see why this place is always so crowded. Get there early if you don’t want to wait, but the wait isn’t bad at all when you’re passing time with a pint of Heady Topper!”

Black Sheep Bistro - 4 stars

253 Main Street, Vergennes, 877-9991

“RealVermonter” says: “As a student who works full-time, days off are precious. My girlfriend and I decided to make the most of a perfect sunny day. After a long stint at our favorite swimming hole, we were ravenous for perfect food and cocktails. We tried our luck at the Black Sheep Bistro, and were rewarded with a most memorable experience. We were seated on the patio, which was gorgeous, but after a long day in the sun we needed some shade . . . the hostess, who was clearly very busy, was extremely accommodating in finding us a different table. I ordered a dirty martini, which was before my eyes before I had chosen my meal. It was perfect (I AM picky about my cocktails) and when I asked the server to thank the bartender, she informed me that the waitstaff mixes their own drinks. I couldn’t believe it! So fast! It was so busy! Our meal was spectacular, and the server even took the liberty of sending complimentary spring rolls simply because she heard us discussing them, yet we had decided on other apps. My steak was perfect, dessert was divine, and I will be back as often as I can! I wish I could give a 6-star rating! Thank you, Black Sheep!”

Caribbean Buffet - 3 stars

12 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington, 865-4514

“BigEasy” says: “I had decided to stop one evening to check out the buffet here. The only other person was the owner, Patrick [Brown]. He had just set up the buffet table . . . Once I tried the food, I was sold. Best collard greens I’ve had since I moved back north from New Orleans. I could have cleaned up the whole pan. The chicken was extremely tender and flavorful, if not overly spicy. The rice, covered with a few spoonfuls of the chicken drippings, was very flavorful. The green beans were crisp, tender and perfect. The ambience is limited; it’s sort of a storefront with a few tables. However, Patrick made me very welcome. He even fixed a ginger drink that was great for cleaning the palate. It’s one of those places you’d drive by a hundred times, wondering, ‘Should I give it a try?’ My answer: a resounding ‘yes.’ It ain’t purty, but it sure is some excellent down-home cookin’ at a reasonable price.”

Claire’s Restaurant and Bar - 4 stars

41 Main Street, Hardwick, 472-7053

“CycleStu” says: “While it was a long trip to get there from Burlington, the four in our party were glad we made the trek. Neat-looking place, although a bit on the noisy side. Wonderful bread to start, four perfect entrées, the couscous being out of this world. When asked about the contents of the meatballs and if the trout was boned, the answers came back in a flash and in detail. Portion sizes ranged from big to enormous, but all were finished with no take-home. An interesting wine selection (I used to sell wine and this is not a run-of-the-mill list) served in what looked like jelly jars, and a draft beer list which seemed to match the dinner menu (looks like some thought was used). Only complaint, and it is really a quibble, was with the apple and blueberry crisp. I like the apples soft and close to applesauce, and these were firm. Also, you can never put enough blueberries in the dish and they didn’t. The oatmeal topping was wonderful as was the homemade ice cream. Coffee was excellent, and we sampled four kinds between us. All in all, this was a wonderful dining experience, and the price was well within the range of reasonable.”

Cucina Antica - 3 stars

43 Shelburne Shopping Park, Shelburne, 985-1117

“Las” says: “Arrived before the dinner crowd and waitresses triple-teamed us; lots of attention that didn’t stop even as the place filled up. We ordered an individual pizza and a meatball sub on toasted garlic bread. The meal started with great French bread and a seasoned olive oil for dipping. The tomato sauce was from fresh (hand-crushed) tomatoes with great seasonings; the color, taste and texture was fantastic. Even though the meatball was well-seasoned, light in texture, and the fresh baguette toasted with garlic butter, it was the sauce that made the meal. The individual pizza was a generous 6-inch pizza with a wheat crust (you can have lamb as a topping!). I asked the waitress if they made the sauce fresh; she got the chef/owner William [Wisell] to come out and talk to me, very pleasant experience . . . With one beer and a soda the meal was just under $20. Table was small but chairs comfortable, décor was nice; only downside was take-out orders walk through the dining area. It is really nice to take a family here; the kids can have a small pizza, sub or sandwich, and parents can have a fine Greek or Italian dinner.”

Espresso Bueno - 5 stars

136 North Main Street, Barre, 479-0896

“Hubert Cumberdale” says: “I had quite possibly the best coffee drink of my life here. They make their mochas with ganache, some of which never melts and stays on the bottom of your gigantic mug so that when your drink is nearly gone you get a mouthful of ganache-y goodness. Mine was flavored with pumpkin syrup, which even the people working there thought was weird, but it turned out to be a surprisingly delicious taste. I don’t go to Barre too often, but when I do I’m always tempted to stop here.”

Euro Restaurant - 4 stars

1 Towne Marketplace, Essex Junction, 878-9299

“Professor D” says: “The food is scrumptious and absolutely mouth-watering! My family and I go there often and were just there . . . It was a busy night but we have learned to take our time eating, and the staff was joyous and very helpful. This is not your average night at a chain food restaurant where you receive oversized water glasses, bland salad dressing and perhaps food that has been frozen for long . . . My family and I had a selection of meals from veal marsala to lamb chops. The salads are always crisp and fresh, and their homemade dressing is just amazing! The owner is very kind and welcoming. And the charming staff is always helpful and interested in each diner. When compared to the traditional European experience in Europe, this is as close as it can get in the States . . . Don’t forget to ask to see their new homemade desserts! The presentation and the taste is mouth-watering! Enjoy!”

Food 88 - 4 stars

28 Main Street, Winooski, 654-8888

“Glenn&Elly” say: “We were very pleasantly surprised. The décor is minimalist, and utilizes the brick from the structure itself, with funky tables and art . . . The music was progressive jazz, which definitely went well with the décor. We had Thai spring rolls and a calamari for an appetizer, and both were well done, although different than one might expect as the spring rolls were not in fried skins as usual, and the calamari was not in small rings . . . My wife’s mom had a green curry with shrimp, asparagus and other veggies, along with rice, and she loved it. My wife had Pad Thai, which she likes to order at most Thai restaurants so that she can compare, and she thought it was great, with a lot of chicken and shrimp. I had the Teriyaki Salmon, and had expected it to be a small portion, as it was only $8.50. When it came, it was a good-sized piece of salmon accompanied by some steamed squash, carrots and broccoli, which were cooked perfectly . . . Teriyaki sauce was good . . . If you find yourself in that area, try FOOD 88. You’ll probably add it to your favorites list.”

Hen of the Wood at the Grist Mill - 5 stars

92 Stowe Street, Waterbury, 244-7300

“SarahB” says: “I had no idea this restaurant existed, and it surprised me when we pulled in the dirt parking lot and walked down the stairs what a cozy, peaceful space lay in front of us. The sound of the jazz being played and the waterfall splashing outside played with my senses. I am originally from RI, so I had to order the RI-style calamari. They were seasoned perfectly, extremely tender, and had the right amount of spices to give a little kick. Then came the chicken. I usually don’t order chicken, but it was sooo tempting, especially because it came with chanterelle mushrooms. I have never tasted something so delicious. The sauce was delightful, the mushrooms were woodsy, and the chicken melted in my mouth . . . To top off the meal, the honey crème brûlée was the sweetest touch to end the evening. The service was impeccable, the food was mouth-watering, and the room was magical.”

On the Rise Bakery - 4 stars

Corner of Bridge and Esplanade, Richmond, 434-7787

“LBMotown” says: “I recently discovered OTR bakery and am IN LOVE!!! I go as often as possible and am always recommending it to friends as THE BEST breakfast spot. The food is all amazing and completely homemade (they make their own tortillas, English muffins, bagels . . . everything!) and wood-fired. The ambience is wholesome and family-friendly as there are always many cute children roaming the floor [smiley face]. I cannot say it enough; it is the best weekend brunch spot in the greater Burlington area.”

Open Arms Café - 5 stars

52 Harbor Road, Shelburne, 985-9844

“Giada de la Burlington” says: “I checked out this new place this morning on my way to work and was quite impressed. It is so cute inside . . . sunny and comfortable. It kind of feels like you are in someone’s house, and I mean that in a positive way. I had an egg sandwich with veggie sausage, tomato, spinach and cheese on a sprouted whole-grain English muffin . . . I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It was well toasted, which is key . . . Veggie sausages can be pretty hit or miss, but this one was tasty. Their coffee is all French pressed and it is dark and delicious. They have lots of yummy-sounding, fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies which I didn’t try but [that] I am looking forward to. My only complaints . . . they don’t take credit cards and are closed on Sundays, which is only a complaint because it seems like a great spot to sit and read the Sunday Times while drinking good coffee and eating great food.”

Rozzi’s Lakeshore Tavern - 3 stars

1022 West Lakeshore Drive, Colchester, 863-2342

“MBackstrom” says: “When my husband and I first moved to Vermont, we were looking at a place to possibly live in Malletts Bay. After we looked at it, there was this little ol’ place called Rozzi’s that we decided to have a beer at. Little did we know this would soon be our regular go-to spot! We were always greeted by name. The locals are fun to talk to; they always have something homemade to eat for a happy hour. The eggs Benedict is AWESOME! Becky is the best bartender, good sports watchin’, and now we’re back in Minnesota and miss our tavern so much. We even named our cat Rozzi.”

Sadie Katz Delicatessen - 5 stars

189 Bank Street, Burlington, 864-5308

“Yva” says: “I’ve eaten at Sadie Katz a couple of times now, and I love this place. The first couple of times I wanted a beef-tongue sandwich, but they were out so I opted for a turkey club. Consistently magnificent! They are huge, the bacon is crispy, the veggies fresh, and the turkey perfect. When I finally did get to try the beef tongue, I was not disappointed: very tender, rich and just sublime. I was almost in tears from happiness (sorry, Grandma, but this is better than your beef tongue). I also love that they offer a wonderful potato salad with the sandwiches. The only possible downside is the prices, a bit steep, but certainly worth it when you want to splurge on some darn fine deli food.”

Sapa’s Coffee and Tea - 5 stars

9 Center Street, Burlington, 318-4888

“Seion” says: “From the first time I saw Sapa’s, I knew it was different and just right. The staff is the friendliest I have found in downtown Burlington, and their hospitality not only reflects traits of their culture, but their willingness to share their joy with you. The selection of teas is fantastic, and served in such an individual way that it is always a different experience even if you always order the same kind of tea. The coffee is strong . . . but its flavor is heavenly . . . look for that condensed milk touch! The pastries and sweets are delicious and just right to enjoy with coffee. Ambiance and atmosphere is unique and so relaxing you forget you are in Burlington; feels [like] you are in another country. For me this place is Zen in disguise . . .”

Thai House - 4 stars

359 Lake Road, St. Albans, 524-0999

“VTMom” says: “The staff is incredibly warm and friendly. They’re happy to help you with spice-level modifications and the likes if needed. Bring your own beer or wine. They do have a nice selection of non-alcoholic drinks, including fruit juices, coconut juice, teas, coffees and sodas. In the appetizers, the chicken satay and calamari are fabulous. The calamari is cut into strips rather than rings and dipped in a very light tempura batter. Drunken Noodles, Pad Thai and even the Pad Si Ew are great. The curries are spicy but incredibly rich and satisfying. Their fried-rice dishes are all great. I’ve never enjoyed duck before, but the Honeyed Duck is exquisite. There is a dish with lime leaves rated one star for heat, and I would give it two stars. Definitely made my eyes water; also, the lime leaves, even though they are sliced thin and incorporated in the dish, are a little fibrous to chew. The red snapper is a little tangy but very good. Scallops, Shrimp and Asparagus is one of the best dishes on the menu. My husband adores their Garlic Salmon. If you make it to dessert, the fried ice cream is sinful. It’s a scoop of vanilla ice cream wrapped in pound cake, battered in tempura batter and fried until golden. They top it with mint leaves, whipped cream and fudge sauce. The wonton-wrapped, fried bananas are unique, but very tasty.”

Tommy’s City Grill - 3 stars

580 Shelburne Road, South Burlington, 652-0111

“MBrownVT” says: “Tommy’s restaurant is by far my favorite place to eat in Burlington. The place really does have character, very unique! It is kind of like a diner atmosphere, not the most comfortable seating, but boy is the food great. They serve breakfast, Mexican and great sandwiches (chix sandwich is awesome) all day long. It’s real authentic stuff at real affordable prices. Not the place to go if you are in a fine dining mood, but great for any other time. Don’t pass this place up; trust me, you won’t be disappointed. I generally go there once a week . . .”

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