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Brunchin’ boozy: Honey Road’s take on a classic pastime

Lamb+and+cabbage+sarma
Lamb and cabbage sarma

Lamb and cabbage sarma

Seven Days

Seven Days

Lamb and cabbage sarma

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There are plenty of places to have brunch, but where in Vermont can you get crab brik benedict, tahini French toast and shakshuka? More importantly, where can you get Mediterranean-inspired food done right? Honey Road restaurant in Burlington delivers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes on a level beyond anything you can get in the state. Occasionally, they serve Sunday brunch, and it is a meal you don’t want to miss.

Honey Road is co-owned by Allison Gibson, formerly of Shelburne Farms and the Hen of the Wood Restaurant group, and Cara Chigazola Tobin, former chef de cuisine at Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Translation: these women know what they’re doing. Honey Road regularly serves dinner and their menu is a mixture of inspired small plates and sharable large entrees. Their dining style is what they call “mezze,” which means several small dishes meant to fulfill your appetite, a concept similar to Spanish tapas. While their dinner menu can excite your palate, I believe their brunch menu is where they really shine. Brunch is only available on certain dates, so when they announce it, you want to make a reservation.

From the moment you walk through the door, the atmosphere is friendly, comfortable and bright. In the early afternoon, the bar was full and there were a number of diners filling the moderately-sized space. Honey Road is located on the corner of Church Street and Main Street, with plenty of windows looking out on the street. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, the space was open and well lit.

Many of the walls are brick and adorned with small Mediterranean inspired tile art, lanterns and small plants. The larger tables are separated by thin white curtains that allow a feeling of intimacy without being separated from the energy of the restaurant in front of you. Though they take a minimalistic approach, there is a certain coziness to this space. The brick walls accompanied by the plain painted walls on the other side work in contrast with the well-polished dark wood bar and fairly modern lighting fixtures. There are two funny quirks to this restaurant: the choice of neon lighting and the music. Their sign is pink neon, matching the pink neon flamingo above the bar, and for Sunday brunch they chose 90s R&B classics. Like the dining atmosphere, the food is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

I attended brunch with three friends, which was a smart choice because we wanted to order one of everything. The menu consisted of 10 items, ranging in price from $7 Walnut Rose Granola to $18 pide with lamb sausage, béchamel and farm egg. We began, appropriately, with their pastries, accompanied by blood orange mimosas and Turkish Bloody Marys. A hammered copper plate arrived with small spiced chocolate donuts topped with hazelnuts, sugar donuts filled with Turkish coffee cream, slices of chocolate date cake and sticky buns topped with honey and pistachios. Each one I tried was better than the last, but my favorite moment was cutting into the sugar-coated donut and exclaiming in delight as the Turkish coffee cream came bursting out. I could have stopped there and been happy, but the dishes kept coming.

Next came the hummus with fava beans, pickled egg and simit cracker. It was delicious, of course, but ended up being overshadowed by the more memorable dishes over the course of the meal. Our favorite one by far was the one I was most skeptical about on the menu. On paper it was described as “poached eggs, yogurt, chili butter, pita.” You can understand my hesitation when it comes to poached eggs and yogurt in the same dish, but it was one of the most unexpectedly light, flavorful and well-balanced dishes I have ever had. It came in a small red bowl and would have been very white and plain looking if it wasn’t for the colorful dashes of yellow chili oil and red pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. It was served with a spoon that we used to scoop the perfectly poached egg and yogurt onto house made pita as the vehicle for getting it all in one bite. The egg was creamy, the yogurt just the right amount of tangy, the chili oil barely spicy and the pomegranate seeds adding just the right amount of sweetness.

As each new dish arrived at the table, we all commented excitedly. As we took our first bites, there was a notable silence as we took a moment to savor the experience. Then came the comments of, “Wow, you need to try this,” and the occasional, “Holy shit” (from me when I tried the poached egg and yogurt).

The presentation is simple: white plates, small clay bowls, metal platters and share plates for everyone that encourage the mezze style of dining. With four diners, we each got a bite of everything and that was just enough to delight our palates. Another favorite was the spanikopita with feta, spinach and dill, topped with a poached egg. It was not bigger than a dinner roll, but the phyllo dough was warm and flaky, and the combination of spinach and feta yielded the perfect texture. I would have preferred it without the poached egg on top, because it took away from the perfection underneath.

Somewhere along the way, I ordered a brass camel, which is a can of rosé with a grapefruit juice back. Yes, a can of rosé. This combination was a perfect pairing with the tahini French toast topped with tahini butter, grapefruit slices and mint leaves. After my first bite, my words were, “Excuse me, I’m having a moment with this French toast.” The portion wasn’t excessive: a single slice of fluffy toast that I am proud to say I ate in its entirety. Everyone must have been distracted, because our table was full of a variety of plates at this point. While they happily snacked on shakshuka (eggs poached in tomatoes, chili peppers and onions) and pide (a Turkish version of a flatbread), I delighted in the bright flavors of the tahini French toast as I sipped my can of rosé with Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” playing in the background.

I finished the meal with their spring pools cocktail: a mixture of citrus vodka, ginger and banana pepper. I was full beyond belief, but this drink had sparked my curiosity and I couldn’t pass it up. As with everything else at Honey Road, it did not disappoint. I was thoroughly impressed with my experience, from the atmosphere to our interactions with the friendly, knowledgeable and attentive server to the drinks, and down to every dish that arrived at our table.

When the bill came, it was an expected $140 considering we had ordered almost everything on the menu and done a fair sampling of their cocktail offerings. The bottom of the bill reads “Judge for Yourself,” a subtle hint to Murad Turkish Cigarettes and the roots of the restaurants Mediterranean inspiration. Well, Honey Road, I think it is a fair judgement to say that I want to attend every brunch you serve.

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Brunchin’ boozy: Honey Road’s take on a classic pastime