- Matthew Thorsen
- Bluebird Tavern in Burlington
It's easy for new restaurateurs to play it safe with their menus, piling on dishes that are crowd pleasing and easy for servers to sell. Once established, they figure, the chef can branch out and play.
When Burlington's Bluebird Tavern opened in July of 2009, it was immediately evident that caution wasn't part of the equation. The Riverside Avenue eatery quickly became the center of the biggest love-it-or-hate-it debate the local dining scene has ever seen.
Why? Start with a pork-centric menu that left scads of vegetarians griping. Add portion sizes many found small for the price — while fans countered that nearly all the fare is local, and even the ketchup and mayonnaise are made from scratch. Top it all off with cockscombs, kidneys, bone marrow and other bits of offal that freak out even some diners who dig readily into a bloody-rare steak.
What's to love? Plenty. For adventurous eaters, most of the aforementioned subjects of complaint are bona fide delights, and the petite portions allow them to sample more of the flavorful and exotic fare. Bluebird is one of the few greater Burlington restos that always have raw oysters on the menu. And, to palates jaded by too many plates of chewy chicken and slabs of salmon, receiving a perfectly fried sardine or a trio of tender goat meatballs with spicy harissa is a beautiful thing.
Eight months after it opened, the Bluebird Tavern was rewarded for its uncompromising made-from-scratch ethos and creative cuisine: The James Beard Foundation placed the eatery on the short list for its national Best New Restaurant Award.
The Bluebird still caters to carnivores and still has its critics, but the debate is calming down. And its fans? They're busy eating.