As a Southerner, I believe the South has the best culinary traditions in America. I know some people will disagree; they’ll say we fry too many things. And that’s true. We do fry just about anything edible. I grew up on my grandmama’s and my mama’s cooking; both were fabulous cooks. I use the past tense because my grandmama passed away, and these days, mama doesn’t cook a whole lot. In fact, when I’m home, I usually do the cooking. But what I cook, I learned from them. Also, I used to watch the Food Network religiously when it was more informative programs and not cooking game shows like it is now.
When I moved to Vermont, what Vermonters call food was a shock. It is often bland and poorly cooked. The fact is, when Vermonters make anything “fancy,” it has at least one of four ingredients in it: maple syrup, apples, cheddar cheese, or kale. I like apples, especially hard apple cider which they make exceptionally well. I also think Vermont cheddar cheese is some of the best you can eat. However, I prefer turnips or collards to kale, and I like thick cane syrup instead of runny maple syrup.
Many restaurants have a dish called “The Vermonter,” and they are all different; each one usually has at least two of the four ingredients mentioned above—if not all four. For me, those ingredients do not necessarily go together. For example, take this Vermonter: raisin bread, sliced ham, Vermont cheddar cheese, apple slices, and apple butter. Sometimes it comes with a side of maple syrup and sometimes people will even put kale on it.
Yankee pot roast, invented in New England, is supposed to be one of their most famous dishes, but every time I’ve had it, it was tasteless and under-seasoned. Food here is just bland. If you order an open-faced sandwich which should be on toasted bread with warm sliced meat and gravy, you get plain white bread (untoasted) with cold meat and gravy. Why can’t these people cook? It’s so frustrating. Their only good dish, poutine, they stole from Quebec, and trust me, Vermonters can even mess up French fries.
They do have decent Italian restaurants, but that’s because of the large immigration of Italian sculptors who came here to carve the many deposits of granite. However, nearly all other ethnic cuisine is the worst. I can’t find a decent Chinese restaurant, and don’t get me started on what they call Mexican food. Thai food is hit or miss as is Japanese. I hear the Vietnamese restaurants are excellent, but I’ve never liked Vietnamese food. Those are about the only varieties you can get around here.
Vermont did have one attempt at a “Southern” restaurant in Montpelier once. It eventually closed. It was not terrible, but the owner put a Vermont spin on the food. She tried to make it “fancy,” and it failed. Only the small group of Southerners I know who live up here really understood it was not “Southern.” There are few barbecue places, and truthfully, they are often fairly good, even if they use maple syrup in their barbecue sauce instead of brown sugar. Prohibition Pig in Waterbury is probably my favorite restaurant in Vermont. The only problem with Pro Pig is they refuse to take reservations. It is a small restaurant and the wait can be 2-3 hours. Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington is also good, but the one time I ate there, the air conditioning wasn’t working. It was unbearable. The restaurant was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” but they didn’t make barbecue for the show. They made ramen. WTF!
Anyway, that’s my diatribe on Vermont food. Every once in a while, you can find a gem amongst the rhinestones, but it’s rare. You know it’s going to be bad when the state’s emblem for their most famous food product looks like the bottom half of a man peeing into a bucket.