South Burlington’s Parkway Diner Reopens Under New Ownership | First Bite | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Food + Drink » First Bite

South Burlington’s Parkway Diner Reopens Under New Ownership

By

Published May 24, 2022 at 2:27 p.m.
Updated May 25, 2022 at 10:04 a.m.


Natalie Sheils delivering food at the Parkway Diner - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Natalie Sheils delivering food at the Parkway Diner

The Parkway Diner is back and bustling. After a closure of almost two years, servers are once again pouring endless streams of coffee into thick white mugs while cooks flip sizzling home fries, bacon and patty melts on the flattop grill.

The South Burlington restaurant's eye-catching red-and-white sign has been rehabbed and rehung, beckoning drivers on Williston Road. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, customers settle into booths and onto counter stools — all freshly reupholstered. A new outdoor eating area is ringed with flower planters.

Happily, not everything in the classic 1950s-era Worcester lunch car has been gussied up. The beige counter still bears its uneven patina of wear like a badge of honor. Who could count how many sturdy plates of over-easy eggs, pancakes and hot turkey sandwiches have grazed its surface in nearly seven decades?

"We didn't want to lose what makes the Parkway the Parkway," said Brian Lewis, the diner's new owner.

The 44-year-old chef-restaurateur said he took on the vintage diner with care and respect for its past. Lewis grew up going to the similarly treasured Zip's Diner in Dayville, Conn. "It's where we'd all go for breakfast," he said. "I love diners."

But the experienced restaurant professional also saw room to update and expand the Parkway's business. Along with classics from buttermilk pancakes ($8 for two) to steak and eggs ($18), patrons can order a falafel wrap ($14) or a close ringer for the much-loved Chipotle Mexican Grill barbacoa burrito ($12). They can even pair their meal with a Fiddlehead Brewing IPA ($8) or a Bloody Mary ($10).

While Lewis acknowledged that a full bar, Vermont beer on draft and some new menu items are not purist diner fare, everything on offer meets one criterion. "They are all gonna appeal to a broad base of people," he explained. "That's diner food."

Lewis moved to Vermont about four years ago to work as executive chef at Sugarbush Resort before deciding to go out on his own. In 2018, he opened Toast & Eggs in Waitsfield. In early 2021, Lewis launched the Filling Station, a Middlesex burger and sushi spot. He sold his Waitsfield restaurant later that year to his front-of-house manager, Malcolm Piper.

When Lewis learned that the Parkway lease was up for grabs, he was intrigued, he told Seven Days in early March. "It's an iconic location," he said. "It's a really big and exciting opportunity in a larger market where we can really serve the locals."

After a little more than a month, the new Parkway team seems to be making both locals and nonlocals very happy.

Outdoor dining at the Parkway Diner - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Outdoor dining at the Parkway Diner

On a recent Wednesday morning, a man in a pilot uniform sitting at the counter said he was glad to find the spot open for a quick breakfast between flights. Soon after, an older man took a stool and declared, "It's great to have the diner back."

At lunch a few days later, John Dasaro and Charlie Thomas, friends from Fairfield, were seated in a booth and tucking into burgers that they proclaimed "excellent." Dasaro had tried the 50/50 Burger ($15), made with half pork and half beef and topped with roasted mushrooms, Swiss cheese and garlic aioli. He'd not been disappointed, Dasaro said.

Thomas said it was his fourth time at the Parkway since it reopened. "I love the diner vibe," he said. "It feels alive in here." Thomas highly recommended the barbacoa eggs Benedict ($16), which he'd ordered twice. His daughter had also enjoyed her Belgian-style waffle ($10), he said.

Thomas, who grew up south of Boston in Dorchester, said diners remind him of his childhood. "I love diners," he said, "but if the food sucked, I wouldn't come."

As Thomas' repeat visits testify, the food at the new Parkway bats well above average.

Corey Bolton, the Parkway's executive chef, previously worked for Lewis at the Filling Station. The old changeable letter board sign on the wall states that the diner "features a scratch kitchen," and that applies to almost everything on the menu. All bread — white, wheat and rye — is baked in-house, as are the yeasty English muffins. The corned beef for the hash is brined on-site, and the excellent, deeply spiced barbacoa beef is marinated and then slow-cooked until it's fall-apart tender.

My go-to diner breakfast is corned-beef hash with poached eggs. I give extra credit for housemade hash and perfectly poached eggs. The Parkway's version ($14) scored high for egg technique and for the craggy, house-baked English muffin. The finely grained, crisp patty of hash diverged from the more common chunky hash but was very good in its own way.

Other breakfast highlights included fat, flaky biscuits blanketed with a well-peppered sausage gravy ($12) and a generously sized, cloud-fluffy, lightly tangy buttermilk pancake ($4). A side of rough-cut home fries was deeply browned, crunchy and oniony ($4). I could see ordering those topped with an egg or two and a side of the diner's rich, dark, red-eye gravy ($4).

Despite being quintessentially English rather than American, the classic Brit breakfast — from-scratch baked beans, roasted tomato and mushrooms, sausage, ham, eggs, and toast ($13) — has been a sleeper hit, Lewis said. It's his own morning favorite.

At lunch, I could barely get my mouth around my BLT ($14), which was layered high with crisp lettuce and bacon on thick slices of house rye. It came with a generous pile of fresh-cut, beautifully golden fries.

Blueberry pancakes, biscuits and the barbacoa burrito with home fries at the Parkway Diner - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Blueberry pancakes, biscuits and the barbacoa burrito with home fries at the Parkway Diner

The dessert menu includes housemade ice cream. I really wished for a milkshake to go with my sandwich, but it will have to wait, because the machine that makes them is pricey. (As Thomas, the regular from Fairfield, said, "If they serve beer, they should serve milkshakes.")

It was probably a good thing, though, because when I overheard a server tell another customer about an open-faced hot turkey sandwich special ($15), I had to order that, too. The ample portion of house-roasted turkey, closer to slabs than slices, served over the Parkway's white bread and chunky mashed potato with gobs of caramel-colored gravy was like a hug on a plate. Lewis told me later that it will soon be a regular menu item.

Sadly, the diner was out of pie that day. I had previously ordered slices of banana cream and key lime to go ($7 each). Though they weren't winning any prizes for beauty, I particularly enjoyed the custardy banana cream and looked forward to sampling the chocolate cream pie.

Lewis noted that the diner team is still getting its new-restaurant sea legs and promised that the pie game will become more consistent. He'll also be bringing in locally made doughnuts. Other plans include adding dinner hours in the coming months when staffing allows, as well as more cocktails. Those will be developed by Megan Mcginn, the Parkway's co-assistant manager. She brings expert bartending chops, having served as opening bar manager for Honey Road on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace.

I can't say I ever expected to head to the Parkway for a serious cocktail and barbacoa eggs Benedict, but I don't see any reason why I won't enjoy that meal in a diner booth.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Old Dog, New Tricks"

Related Locations