The food-cart clientele on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace must have been hungry for new fare. Both new ventures that opened there on Friday — the Handsome Potato and Muzo’s Cay Bahce — sold out way before closing time.
In front of Sox Market, Mike Beaulieu and Katie O’Neil fielded an opening-day crush at the Handsome Potato. The pair grilled so many flattened patties of “smashed” potatoes — topped with chives, bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream or barbecue sauce — that they had to close up shop early.
The idea was born when Beaulieu and O’Neil attended a wedding featuring a “mashed potato bar,” with the whipped stuff served in wine glasses. “People loved it. And we thought, This would be a great food cart,” says Beaulieu. He began working on a business plan in one of his classes at Champlain College. “And I thought, This could work.”
The couple began working out a recipe in their home kitchen in Burlington. But they were stymied by the challenge of heating their mashed russets on a Church Street cart. They decided to use a griddle on a propane-fired grill. “Keeping the potatoes at 160 degrees all day is difficult without power. But heating it up on the griddle gives it a lot of flavor,” says Beaulieu. The pair melt butter, flatten the potato-and-milk mixture onto the griddle and fold in condiments as they work the edges toward “a nice, crispy brown.”
The cart’s debut marks a new chapter in the life of Beaulieu, an Army National Guardsman with three tours of duty under his belt, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, from which he returned last December. “There’s always a chance of going back, but after three deployments, they tend to leave you alone,” he says.
He and O’Neil plan to marry on June 18, and Beaulieu will graduate with his bachelor’s in business later this year. Depending on weather, they plan to run their cart Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., and later on Friday and Saturday nights.
Burlington is a long way from Istanbul. In that city’s Tophane neighborhood, Muzo Vurgun owns a café where patrons gather around a lemon tree to drink tea and smoke a hookah. Though love carried him afar — Vurgun married a native Vermonter, and the two moved here to raise their family — cooking and brewing are in his blood. This spring, Vurgun landed a permit for a Church Street food cart serving tea, Turkish coffee and light, savory dishes from his native land.
His trio of opening lunch items includes mercimek koftë, a red-lentil burger with bulgur and herbs rolled up in lavash bread; tantuni, a mélange of seasoned ground beef, tomatoes, parsley and onions, also served in lavash; and börek, a pastry filled with white cheese, scallions, herbs and spices.
Though customers can grab and go, Vurgun’s cart invites lingering: Turkish coffee is served in real ceramic cups swirled with ornate designs; his black tea and apple tea come in tear-shaped glasses. Like his fellow newcomers up the street, Vurgun sold out of his treats long before closing time, and he hopes his cart will eventually grow into a brick-and-mortar café.