Burlington, Vermont is irresistible. Surrounded by the Green Mountains and nestled on the shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington feels like a small town with its pastoral landscape, and yet it boasts the cultural amenities of a vibrant city. Church Street provides a hip pedestrian marketplace with wonderful shops and restaurants, and a shady bike path skirts Lake Champlain. This is a beautiful place to visit year-round, but I especially love Burlington in the summer.
Vermont is the number one state on the Locavore Index, and for good reason. Michael Pollan has said that Vermont is decades ahead of the rest of the country in its focus on local food systems. Local food is becoming the norm here, with many restaurants and markets highlighting local ingredients to feed their customers. There are so many wonderful choices, so if you visit for just a few days, you won’t be able to try it all.
My husband grew up in Burlington, and he used to enjoy a Big Mac and orange drink with his friends at the McDonald’s in downtown Burlington. A few years ago, that McDonald’s went out of business, and it was replaced by an incredible farm-to-table restaurant called the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. This one business turnover helps paint the picture of the food landscape in Burlington. There wasn’t enough demand to maintain a McDonald’s, but the Farmhouse is thriving. Vermont really is ahead of the game when it comes to high-quality, local food.
Shelburne Farms: If you’re on vacation in the Burlington area, you cannot miss a visit to Shelburne Farms. This 1400-acre working farm is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and its focus is on inspiring a culture of sustainability. During the summer, 75 percent of the food served at the Inn and the Farm Cart comes directly from the farm. Breakfast at the Shelburne Farms Inn is the best deal in town for high-quality, locally-sourced food. The view of Lake Champlain beyond the manicured fields and breathtaking gardens is like something out of a movie. The food at the Inn is affordable and amazing. We enjoyed pancakes with berries from the garden, a frittata with produce from the garden, house-made chicken sausage, and bread baked at an on-site bakery. My daughter declared the pancakes were the best she’s ever had, which says a lot. We also enjoyed several lunch items at the Farm Cart, including a delicious salad straight from the market garden and a grilled cheese with Shelburne Farms’ own aged cheddar and toast from the bakery. This is what a grilled cheese should be.
Farmhouse Tap & Grill: In downtown Burlington, this is the premier place to go for local, farm-to-table food. We visited for brunch and enjoyed their homemade challah French toast with local jam, yogurt parfaits, homemade biscuits, and burgers. The Farmhouse is famous for their burgers, which have won the Best Burger distinction for three years in a row from Seven Days. Their burgers are made with grass-fed beef and served with local cheese, pickled red onions, and homemade condiments. I haven’t tasted a better burger before, and I think the building’s history as a former MacDonald’s made me love the burger even more. The staff at the Farmhouse is friendly and knowledgeable, and it has a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere. The beer garden out back is a pretty spot for adults to hang out away from the busy streets. You can even get one of the Farmhouse’s fabulous craft brews through the old takeout window.
Skinny Pancake: My family has eaten crepes at the Skinny Pancake many times over the years, and there’s so much to love here. They make crepes to order from a choice of grains, and many of the filling options come from local Vermont farms and cheese-making establishments. They also have a cart on Church Street so you can grab a quick crepe while you’re out and about.
Magnolia Bistro: This breakfast and lunch bistro was Vermont’s first certified green restaurant. They work closely with local farms and producers to put together a menu with great options for vegans and vegetarians as well as carnivores. They use organic grains, corn, and soy to avoid GMO’s, and they have several gluten-free options on the menu.
Sugar Snap: Sugar Snap has been preparing farm-to-table food since 2003. They have three takeout locations where you can pick up prepared food that comes from locally-sourced ingredients. If you visit the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center along the Burlington waterfront, you can get a delicious lunch at Sugar Snap’s kiosk from Thursday to Sunday.
Bluebird Tavern: This modern New England tavern uses ingredients from local farms to provide a wide variety of menu items that highlight each season. Summer bounty is pickled and preserved to enjoy in the winter months, and the tavern prides itself on its craft beer offerings. (Update: Bluebird Tavern closed in May 2015.)
American Flatbread: You may have seen these higher-quality flatbread pizzas in your grocery store freezer. American Flatbread also has a few restaurant locations, and the one in Burlington is a great place to get a bite to eat. Their flatbreads are made with organic wheat flour and tomatoes, and they source ingredients from local farmers and producers.
Pistou: This classy restaurant in downtown Burlington offers a two course, prix fixe menu based on the best fresh ingredients available. Their well-regarded wine menu complements the food, and this is a wonderful place to linger and enjoy the fine food. I haven’t been to Pistou, but it looks like a place to enjoy an evening without the kids, unless you have very sophisticated children.
Hen of the Wood: This renowned farm-to-table restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont will be opening a second location in Burlington later this summer. Known for its unique ability to showcase Vermont’s finest local food, many people in Burlington are excited about this new restaurant. I haven’t eaten at Hen of the Wood yet, but it will definitely be on my list to try once the Burlington location is open.
Hindquarter Food Truck: With Burlington’s locavore focus, it’s no surprise that a food truck is following the trend. This vintage fire truck makes its way around Burlington with an ever-changing menu focusing on fresh, local ingredients. Food trucks are a great, affordable option for healthy food on the go.
Markets & Bakeries
City Market Co-op: This downtown market is full of locally grown and Vermont-made products, and they stock lots of local fruits and vegetables. They also have a full selection of bulk food items, local cheese and dairy products, bakery items, wellness items, beer and wine, and a hot and cold salad bar offering fresh meals daily. City Market is cooperatively owned with 9,000 members, but anyone can shop here. This is a great place to stock up on food for a picnic or pick up a quick bite while you’re shopping in the Church Street area.
Healthy Living Market and Café: If you find yourself in South Burlington, stop by the Healthy Living Market. This family-run business is full of local, organic groceries, and they have the largest selection of gluten-free items in Vermont. Their café boasts an eclectic mix of ethnic foods, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, dishes featuring local meat, custom-built salads and sandwiches, and Sunday brunch with live music.
August First Bakery: This bakery serves up organic, hearth baked bread, including a whole wheat option. Their menu includes sandwiches, salads, soups, and pastries, so it’s another wonderful place to stop for something to eat while you’re shopping on Church Street.
Great Harvest: Bread from Great Harvest is made daily from fresh ground whole wheat and their honey whole wheat loaf is one of our favorites. The Burlington Great Harvest offers delicious sandwiches, and we like to stop here on our way back to Boston if we need a sandwich for the road.
Farmers’ Markets & Farm Stands
The Burlington Farmers’ Market is a year-round market with a vast collection of local farmers and producers that you won’t want to miss. It takes place on City Hall Plaza on Saturdays during the warmer months of the year, and it moves indoors for the winter. The market features fresh, locally grown produce, handmade crafts, sweet and savory treats, and meats and cheeses from Vermont’s pastures. You can also find farmers’ markets in Winooski, Essex, Shelburne, and several other area towns. Check the details at Edible Green Mountains to see the hours of each market.
Shadow Cross Farm in Colchester is a great place to stop for local maple syrup. You can buy their syrup for $41 a gallon, which is the best price I’ve been able to find when we travel to Vermont. They also sell eggs and dairy products in their shop.
Homeport: This multi-level store on Church Street has a little bit of everything for the home, including a huge collection of anything you might want for your kitchen. You can send your children to check out the toy section upstairs while you browse through the fun kitchen stuff. I could spend hours in this store.
Kiss the Cook: A few doors down from Homeport, Kiss the Cook is a great little shop full of kitchen gadgets, linens, and other supplies. They’re known for their large selection of cutlery, but I like looking at the dish towels and small kitchen gadgets.
Gardeners’ Supply: If you like to garden, you’re probably familiar with the Gardeners’ Supply catalog. This company is committed to organic, earth-friendly gardening, and their retail store in Burlington is a great place to find goodies for your garden.
Maplefield’s Convenience Store: Only in Vermont would I recommend you stop at a gas station to buy something. We like to stock up on maple syrup by the gallon when we’re in Vermont because I use it in a lot of my baking. Maplefield’s is a chain of Mobil stations that sell Vermont maple syrup for $47.50 a gallon. Here in Massachusetts, maple syrup costs around $70 a gallon.
Eat Local Week: Vermont’s annual Eat Local Week will take place this year from October 5-13, 2013. It’s a week full of great events that celebrate local farms and local food. The biggest event is the Harvest Celebration, now in its eleventh year, which brings 40 farmers and producers under one big tent with free samples and music. The week also includes classes, a movie night, a farm tour, and the Harvest Fun Run/Walk for Sustainability. Several restaurants around town will offer a dish that is made up of only local ingredients. It also coincides with prime leaf peeping season, so this would be a great time to plan a trip to Burlington.
Summervale: The Intervale is a unique community resource in Burlington made up of 350 acres of bottomland along the Winooski River. On Thursday evenings throughout the summer, you can bring your family to the Intervale for great food, music, and community. Summervale includes tastings by Slow Food Vermont, plus more food available for purchase.
Visit the Vermont Fresh Network’s website to find even more options for fresh, local food in Vermont. I know I’ve missed some great places, so if you have other suggestions about where to get real food in Burlington, share them in the comments!
Check out the other posts in my Real Food Travel Series for inspiration for your next vacation.
Disclosure: My family was hosted at the Shelburne Farms Inn, the Shelburne Farms Farm Cart, and the Farmhouse Tap and Grill, where we received complimentary food for the purposes of review. All the opinions stated here are my own. The food was real and it was spectacular!