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Feasting on breakfast in Burlington, Vermont

After dinner comes dessert. After the prom, tears and beers. After the wedding, a shower of confetti. After the vacation…laundry? Well, yes, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For me part of the allure of travel is reflecting on where I’ve been, sifting and arranging a welter of impressions until some sort of pattern emerges. I still had China on my mind (such dazzling infrastructure! so little respect for human lives!) when we set out on our road trip to New England, my girlhood stamping ground. Now that we’re back, I’m thinking about breakfast. Because the day’s first meal is a shoo-in for the best when it’s cooked with creativity, attention to the details and a side of home fries (soft on the inisde, crispy on the outside). Great breakfasts abound in American caf?s and diners, which is more than I can say for their predictable Canadian equivalents.

My home city, Toronto, prides itself on gastronomic flair. But where are the inventive omelets? The tantalizing updates on corned beef hash? The tofu scrambles so flavourful, even hard-core traditionalists wouldn’t miss eggs? I live downtown, where decorati spend thousands of dollars on feather-trimmed chandeliers from France, and I’m still looking for an all-day breakfast with a little imagination. The flabby pancakes in my neighbourhood would never cut it in Burlington, Vermont, a green and gracious university town where they know a thing or two about breakfast. There I tucked into a stellar plate of blueberry gingerbread pancakes with real maple syrup (none of that cheap, ersatz stuff) at the buzzing Penny Cluse Cafe. (Ginger and pancakes…why can’t some chef at home see the magic of this breakfast combo?) And oh, that smokey Vermont bacon on the side! Crisped to perfection, it had never seen plastic. I can’t comment on Penny’s corned beef hash, but you should have seen my husband sigh with pleasure.

I had pictured Penny as the flour-spattered queen of the grill, with a smile as broad as one of her pancakes but in fact there isn’t any such person. Co-owner Holly Cluse named the place after her childhood dog, an endearingly personal touch. I have just one regret about our visit to Penny’s: it cried out for an encore. I’m curious about the Bucket-o-Spuds, described as “a heaping mound of home fries with melted cheese, salsa, sour cream and green onions” with optional egg on top (sounds a little like Tex Mex poutine). The omelets can be had with a dizzying array of garnishes from roasted corn to chicken apple sausage (I’d never pick seaweed, but I like knowing it’s on offer). Should I have mine with biscuits, corn muffins (note the plural) or grilled baguette? Perhaps it’s just as well that I can’t saunter over to Penny’s any day of the week: I’d burst out of my jeans.

So we’ll just have to return to Burlington–and stay long enough for some serious breakfasting. You see, there’s another celebrated spot just down the road in Winooski. It’s called Sneakers and the menu looks enticing. I’m torn between the Kahlua Batter Dipped French Toast and the Crab Cake Benedict.

You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned ice cream. Isn’t Burlington where Ben & Jerry’s got started? Yes, indeed, and we ordered double scoops from that original shop with a down-home screen door. But why stick with what’s become a supermarket brand, when there are so many other options–especially in New England, the land of ice cream? That story another time…

Emotionally speaking, a highlight of my trip was reconnecting with my best friend from high school. Click here if you missed that post (with a lovely reply from my friend). Pancake lovers should try the Penny Cluse recipe with gingerbread, posted here


Posted by Rona

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