Burlington Vermont: Capital of the Northeast Kingdom
Burlington Vermont, the 42,000-person city is the state’s capital, largest city and its largest college town (University of Vermont) and technology hub. Like many well-to-do college/tourist towns, is home to a number of clubs and hip restaurants, and being Vermont, of creameries and microbreweries.
The Europeans first settled it in the mid-1700s. It was home to patriot and “Green Mountain Boys” leader Ethan Allen. Its real growth, however, came in the late 19th century when the completion of a railroad allowed it to serve as the major port for the shipping of North Midwestern lumber (primarily from Michigan) through the Great Lakes, down Lake Champlain and to the rapidly growing Northeast, which had long ago been denuded of its large stands of timber.
Located in a valley on the bank of the Lake Champlain, the city lies on a plateau that is surrounded by the Green Mountains to the east and, over the lake to the east to New York State’s Adirondack Mountains.
We spent most of our time in downtown Burlington browsing through the Church Street Mall, at the center of the city’s historic district. It is the center of the city’s activity and is lined with boutiques, galleries, restaurants and lounges. A pleasant stroll, day or night. Night also sees the opening of a few music spots—both live and DJ, including Red Square, were we spent one evening listening to a local live band.
We strolled the city’s lovely Waterfront Park, home to Burlington’s sailing center, fishing pier, numerous festivals and ECHO Museum, a science and nature center (which we visited on previous trips to the city) that includes an aquarium and exhibits on the lake’s ecology.
Finally came a drive through the pretty University of Vermont campus and the hilltop mansions, many of which have been lovingly converted into fraternities and sororities.
Burlington’s South End
We spent much of our Burlington time, however, exploring another section of the city that we had not previously visited. The South End is a post-industrial neighborhood that is now the center of the city’s art community. It is, among other things, home to:
- A number of artist studios and galleries;
- Burlington Record Plant, which presses and also sells a huge selection of classic vinyl records, including some that sell for well over $200;
- Three craft breweries including Zero Gravity (some of which Tom had for lunch) and Switchback (at which Tom tasted two IPAs and two smoky ales, including a nicely-smoked bourbon barrel-aged, Blackstrap Ale).
- Public art pieces, including the painted silos of Dealer.com (South Burlington’s own tech-based unicorn (a company valued at $1 billion or more at IPO) and the 40 foot-tall stack of file cabinets (the tallest in the world) that was meant to satirize the urban planning bureaucracy;
- Burlington Earth Clock, a solar clock made of granite slabs;
- Burlington Bike Path, which tracks a lovely, 7.6-mile route along the lake from well south of South Burlington to well north of the city’s lovely Waterfront Park;
- Lake Champlain Chocolate Company, a 35 year-0old, family-owned chocolatier, at which we took a tour, before sampling some of its wares. We watched them making chocolate Eater Bunnies by hand pouring into molds. We were told they needed to start early to meet the demand.
The chocolate tour began with a discussion of the chocolate-making process, beginning with the cocoa beans (that are grown only within an eight degree band–four degrees either side—of the equator), fermented, dried, roasted and then shelled to yield the nibs which are ground and separated into liquor (cocoa butter) and solids (the base of chocolate candies). After explaining that it uses the cocoa butter in its own chocolates (in contrast to some chocolatiers who sell the pricey cocoa butter to cosmetic companies and use less expensive vegetable oil in their own products), they described the different chocolate-making processes (especially the differing amounts of solids, sugar, milk and cocoa butter used in making white, milk and dark chocolate) and gave us tastes of each, along with some of their signature, dark chocolate Five Star bars.
The plant still makes its confections by hand, with only basic machinery. They showed us the processes for making three different types of products: bars (in this case, their Five Star bars); chocolate-covered toffee and in preparation for the particularly busy Easter season, both solid and hollow (made with a magnetic tumbler) chocolate bunnies. And since we felt that we needed more samples to truly judge the company’s confections, we had to buy a few of their additional products including peanut butter, maple sugar and almond sea salt chocolates.
Hen of the Woods
This is the Burlington branch of the Waterbury restaurant at which we have eaten years before. Our big challenge was to score a table at the packed restaurant (at least on Columbus Day weekend). It was enjoyable after that, with good service, food and wine. We began with the signature appetizer of wild Hen of the Woods Mushroom toast with house-made bacon and poached egg (very good, but better with more mushrooms and egg yolk). Entrees were a delicious rye tagliatelle with hen of the woods mushrooms and broccoli and a very nice hanger steak with roasted acorn squash and grilled radicchio. Dessert was a plate of two very nice Vermont cheeses: Boston Post Dairy’s Eleven Brothers natural rind goat milk cheese and our favorite, von Trapp Mad River Blue. (Von Trapp, of course, is the Austrian Sound of Music family that moved to Stowe Vermont and opened a lodge that continues to operate as well as a cremery.) Our wine worked with all: a 2014 Right Bank Beausesour Fentimento Bordeaux.
This is a small plate restaurant where we shared Tahini hummus and pita, toasted corn fondue with Delicata squash, Kale, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds and lamb kofta (the only disappointment of the evening). Wine was a 2014 Bethel Hills Estate Willamette Valley pinot.
Burlington Hearth is a very popular flatbread specialist that just happens to house a three-tank subset of the local Zero Gravity Brewery. We shared a flatbread (Vermont maple sausage with sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs) and, after small tastes of four beers, Tom choose a pint of the strong (8.00 ABV), Forty Thieves Double IPA.
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