Did you know Burlington, Vermont is considered one of the top 10 foodie cities in the country? That’s right, #3, baby. Okay, I’ll admit, that surprised even me–and I love the food scene in Burlington. We are ridiculously blessed with a large number of excellent restaurants serving up locally-grown fare. Up until recently, what we’ve been missing is the educational component. You could come to Burlington and enjoy the food, but would you know where it came from—could you meet the people who grew it?
Enter Joe Haedrich, founder of Burlington Food Tours and its predecessor, Saratoga Food Tours of Saratoga, NY. Joe has embraced the Burlington food scene with a passion, connecting with local farmers and restaurateurs in his mission to educate visitors and locals alike about the food of Burlington and Vermont. Joe invited me on one of his tours recently, and I was thrilled to take him up on it.
The tour started at East Shore Vineyard Tasting Room on Church Street. This storefront is so new, I hadn’t seen it before, but I certainly will be going back. It’s a great addition to Church Street.
Our small group of about 12 sat outside at patio tables and sampled 3 wines from East Shores’ varieties. The first, Louise Swenson (a white), was paired with a soft cheddar cheese. The second white wine, LaCrescent (my favorite, a sweet wine), was paired with a delicious Vermont Butter and Cheese Goat Cheese. The third wine, the Frontenac Rosé, was tart, with hints of cherry flavor. It was paired with a very tasty pepperoni. Abby, who was pouring our wine, said it goes well with BBQ, pizza, and dark chocolate.
While we sampled, Joe set the stage for the tour by talking about the slow food movement in Vermont. This provided a natural segue to our next stop: The Burlington Farmers Market. Burlington has one of the biggest farmers markets in New England, with 90 vendors now and, according to Joe, 6,500 visitors per day. (By comparison, he said Saratoga’s Farmer’s Market has 50 vendors and about 1,500 visitors per day.) During the summer months, the Market takes place in City Hall Park and during the winter, it moves indoors to Memorial Auditorium. It only operates on Saturdays.
Whether or not you take the food tour, you should definitely make time to visit the farmer’s market when visiting Burlington. It’s a gathering place for locals (including local chefs), college students and tourists. The serious shoppers go early, to get the best offerings from their favorite vendors. All day, locals and tourists alike come to do their shopping, sample locally produced treats, grab some street food for an inexpensive lunch, and listen to live music–all while people-watching, walking their dogs and just enjoying a sunny Saturday.
At the Farmer’s Market, we sampled nuts flavored with cinnamon, maple, and chipolte at The Nutty Vermonter; granola from Green Mountain Granola; cranberry from Vermont Cranberry Company (I dug their cranberry horseradish, but they also make a cranberry maple grilling sauce that looks great); hummus at Vermont Hummus Company (the curried sweet potato hummus is fantastic); blueberries from Adams Berry Farm; maple candy at Sunny Brook Maple; and a refreshing maple lemonade from Dragonfly Sugarworks to wash it all down.
But it wasn’t all food sampling. There was an educational component, too. At Urban Moonshine, we learned about the uses of bitters. At the “Crickets Delight” booth, we were educated about what an excellent source of protein crickets are. (And yes, we sampled some.) Several vendors took the time to talk with us about their specialties, and how and where they grow them.
Our next stop was Pistou, a cute little French restaurant which opened in the past year on lower Main Street. Max Mackinnon, the impossibly youthful chef and owner of Pistou (who is already a James Beard Award nominee, believe it or not), came out and spoke with us while he served up plates of pork and chicken liver pate, celery root and brown butter mustard, and pickled cucumber bites. Everything was delicious.
From Pistou, Joe led us back up to Church Street and into Saratoga Olive Oil Co., another newcomer to the Church Street scene. This was the highlight of the trip for me. It’s one of the most unique concepts I’ve seen for a store. Here, you can sample and purchase olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and sea salts—in numerous creative flavors. My favorites were the Butternut Squash and Blood Orange olive oils and the Dark Chocolate balsamic. The owner, Chad Braidwood, gave the group a brief tutorial on how to tell when olive oil is not fresh and how they create their oils and balsamics. Then he set us loose to sample whatever we wanted. I could have spent the whole afternoon here.
Finally, to cap off this foodie extravaganza, we stopped at the Skinny Pancake cart for dessert crepes of banana and nutella, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It was a hot mess but oh-so-good.
In short, taking a Burlington Food Tour is a worthwhile investment for anyone who loves food and wants to not only sample some of Burlington’s best, but also get a “behind-the-scenes” look at what, where and how food is produced in Vermont. And it’s not just for visitors. I’m a native Vermonter, and I still learned things on this tour that I didn’t know before. I had no idea that there were cranberry bogs in Vermont or that anyone in Vermont was producing bitters. I’d never visited East Shore Vineyards Tasting Room, Pistou, or the Saratoga Olive Oil Company. At times, it felt like I was touring a brand new city.
What you need to know:
- Wear comfortable shoes. The walking is easy, but you’ll be on your feet a lot.
- Cost: $45. Included in the tour is all food and drinks sampled plus a bottle of water to keep you hydrated.
- When: Saturdays, 12:30-3pm, rain or shine, through October 13. Next year, they hope to expand to Fridays and Sundays as well.
- Meeting Point: East Shore Vineyards Tasting Room, 28 Church Street
- While you will be sampling a lot of different kinds of foods, the amounts are small and spread out over 2.5 hours. For a light eater like me, it served as lunch. A big strapping guy with a hearty appetite might consider stopping for a burger afterwards. Do not skip breakfast beforehand.
- There is little time for shopping on this tour, so if you try something you like, you’ll need to make a very quick decision to buy or not—especially at the Farmer’s Market, which you’ll be visiting right before they close. You can always return to East Shore Vineyards or Saratoga Olive Oil for purchases after the tour.
Note: I received a complimentary tour from Burlington Food Tours. As always, my opinions, though, are 100% my own. As is my enthusiasm.