From upscale to French fries, takeout options give Vermonters a taste of normalcy

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The past few weeks of living in a world of COVID-19 have featured one unsettling turn of events after another. As we try to hold onto shreds of our daily lives while being all-but shut in our homes, one of the things we miss the most is the freedom to go out and enjoy a really satisfying meal.

Sit-down restaurants are verboten these days. Takeout and delivery, however, are permitted. Hallelujah! Full speed ahead and pass the napkins.

Some restaurants that would otherwise have to shut down completely and lay off their entire workforce have adapted to a new way of operating on a limited scale. Others with a more casual structure are sliding into this mentality with relative ease. The Burlington Free Press sampled three Chittenden County eateries this week offering takeout food just to give you an idea how it works. Dig in!

Duino Duende

What’s the place? Duino Duende, 10 N. Winooski Ave., Burlington

What’s on the menu? The day I ordered from Duino Duende the menu included chicken shawarma, a vegetarian burger, a variety of poutine options and small plates including green curry and vegan beet poke.

How is it ordered? By phone or online

How do you get the food? Pick up at the sidewalk service counter, contact-less curbside drive-up or delivery in the Old North End and downtown Burlington. 

What’s the experience like? You have to appreciate what perpetually-creative owner Lee Anderson has done with the restaurant that’s between his two other community-centered ventures, the Radio Bean coffee shop/music venue and the Light Club Lamp Shop bar/music venue. He has temporarily changed the name of the eatery, Duino Duende, to the play-on-words Do We Know?, as in, “Do We Know Takeout?” or perhaps “Do We Know When These Crazy Times Are Going to End?”

I called in my dinner order and credit card number Wednesday and reached a very courteous and pleasant server who exuded patience as my phone cut out twice and I had to call back. I drove to Burlington and walked to the front door, where I encountered a podium with a “Please ring bell for service” sign. I pushed the button to ring the bell inside and within seconds the server came out with an oversize paper bag containing my order. She urged me to enjoy my Korean cheesesteak sandwich. (We had bonded over that sandwich on the phone, as she had it for lunch that day and raved about it.)

The food stayed mostly warm inside compostable containers by the time I made the nearly 20-minute drive back to my southern Chittenden County home. My server was right – the Korean cheesesteak, on a compact round bun, was deliciously savory. My wife said her cheeseburger maintained enough warmth to satisfy. The fries we worried would be cold and clammy by the time we ate them were mighty fine. The side order of Buffalo cauliflower bites was hearty and healthy.

The premise of Duino Duende is sit-down street food, so a segue to takeaway street food is within easy reach for Do We Know?

Hatchet Tap & Table

Hours/contact: 2-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. (802) 660-9346, www.radiobean.com.

What’s the place? Hatchet Tap & Table, 30 Bridge St., Richmond

What’s on the menu? This is normally an upscale comfort-food sit-down restaurant with a full menu and a sprawling beer list. All of that (including beer) is available for takeout. Food options include peanut sesame noodles, a half rack of ribs and a brisket sandwich.

How is it ordered? By phone and online.

How do you get the food? Available for pickup at the restaurant’s creemee window.

What’s the experience like? This time I avoided having my cell phone cut off and used Hatchet’s online ordering form – easy-peasy. Half an hour later I was driving back from Richmond on a more-ghosts-than-cars Interstate 89, being driven crazy by the smell of savory sustenance wafting from the large paper bag on the passenger-side floor.

I fetched the bag at Hatchet’s street-side creemee window from a helpful server whom I thanked for the work she and the other employees at the restaurant were doing. She said these are strange times. I told her I appreciated that she and her co-workers are bringing a sense of normalcy to the strangeness.

Back home, I joined my wife for more much-needed normalcy – sitting down to dinner in time to watch “Jeopardy!” Generally we both like cooking, and we’re pretty good at it IMHO, but sometimes you just need to enjoy a meal made by professionals. That’s especially true these weird days, when warmth and comfort are so key to our psyches.

So is good food. My shrimp and broccoli fried rice made my mouth water from love-at-first-sniff to the very last bite. Tamarind sauce gave the dish a playfully combative sweet-and-sour tenacity. Stellar.

My wife ordered General Jewell’s chicken. Not knowing who General Jewell is, she really appreciated his chicken, which I sampled as well. That General made the grilled chicken, jasmine rice, peppers, onions, broccoli, peas, Szechuan sauce and sesame seed work like a perfectly trained unit.

The bottom of my receipt read, “Be Excellent to Each Other.” Stellar, again.

Hours/contact: 4-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. (802) 434-3663, www.hatchetvermont.com

Al’s French Frys

What’s the place? Al’s French Frys, 1251 Williston Road, South Burlington

What’s on the menu? If you’ve lived in the Burlington area for at least two weeks, you probably know: Al’s is a fried-food fantasy – clam strips, mozzarella sticks and the like – plus grub off the grill ranging from burgers and hot dogs to Philly cheese sandwiches and grilled cheese. Healthier options include a garden salad and a turkey ranch wrap.

How is it ordered? By phone

How do you get the food? Pickup at the creemee window, or delivery in parts of Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski and Williston.

What’s the experience like? As a fast food place with a creemee window, Al’s is built for this kind of situation. The phone call was a snap, and off I went to pick up Friday lunch for me and my wife.

I gathered two lunch-bag-sized sacks at the creemee window. The only traffic jam I encountered on my way home came when I had to slow down for a family of turkeys strutting across the road, oblivious to the stay-at-home order the governor issued to Vermont humans earlier in the week (an order that, thankfully, permits Vermont humans leaving home to pick up food).

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The turkeys might appreciate that we bypassed the turkey ranch wrap and ordered chicken. My wife said her chicken Caesar wrap hit the spot.

Al’s fried chicken always hits the spot for me. I’m a huge fried chicken fan, and while I love all the trendy stuff from Korean fried chicken to Nashville hot chicken, the fried chicken from Al’s doesn’t have to try hard to do its job. It’s crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. When it comes to fried chicken it is not, as they say, rocket science.

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of Al’s titular, misspelled French fries – they’re floppier than is my preference – but I don’t remember them ever tasting better than they did this time. Maybe that hint of the familiar in such an unfamiliar world carried with it a heightened sense of power. Plus, I was really, really hungry.

Hours/contact: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily for pickup, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily for delivery. (802) 862-9203, www.alsfrenchfrys.com.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.

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