Burlington, VT

It was unseasonably warm in the largest city in Vermont this weekend.  There was a deep collective groan from skiers across the Northeast when the forecast rolled in: high sixties on Saturday and mid forties on Sunday.  Not great for the snowsports crowd, but for those stuck indoors all winter it was a welcome change from cold and grey and snow.  It was too good a day to waste indoors, and it seemed everybody in town agreed.

Downtown Burlington is centered around a promenade referred to collectively as Church Street. Roughly four blocks long and gently (by Burlington hill standards) sloping the whole way, Church Street proper is an outdoor mall, home to eighty-six storefronts, including a small indoor mall. Inside the mall, one can find an assortment of such recognizable stores as Macy’s and L.L. Bean and a couple more…Vermont stores (the pajama outlet springs to mind).  Outside, the shops range from Urban Outfitters to a Lake Champlain Chocolates outlet store, and this weekend they were all packed.

If you’re downtown at lunchtime, it is my humble recommendation that you sit down in the dining room at Ken’s Pizza and order sandwiches.  My favorite is a special they’ve run a couple of times: a meatloaf sandwich.  Loaves of meat are best served fresh and warm, and meatloaf sandwiches are usually made from leftover meatloaf, so it would be understandable for you to worry that such a sandwich would be cold and unappealing.  However, Ken’s meatloaf sandwich is served warm with horseradish, which compliments the richness of ground beef quite nicely.  The other majorly important piece of the sandwich is the quality of the meatloaf itself.  Unappealing attempts at the dish will be soggy and bland, and usually will not hold themselves together.  None of this is true at Ken’s: the beef is properly seasoned and thoroughly cooked to firmness (without drying out), and it all holds together between the bread upon which it’s served.  It was the first time after my taste buds had changed from the “small child” palate, marked by a love for sweets and not much awareness of complexity in flavor, that I tasted horseradish on red meat.  It was an eye-opening experience, and the next time I ordered a cheesesteak down at the Kountry Kart Deli, I added horseradish experimentally.  It was a successful trial.

It’s a short walk down a steep hill to get to the waterfront (there’s also parking at lake-level).  Once there, there are several lovely places to view Lake Champlain from various angles.  There’s a bike path stretching eight miles along the waterfront for those of you who enjoy that sort of outdoor activity.  Swimming is allowed, though there’s only a few months a year that I can recommend such an activity.  Even when the air is plenty warm, the lake water isn’t necessarily.  Aside from the giant glacial flow of ice that carved the valley in the first place, Lake Champlain collects snowmelt from most of Vermont and many Adirondack peaks.  Because of this, every Spring (after a Winter that actually produces more than a little snow) the Lake floods, freezing water spilling over the bike path and into a few adjacent parks.  While beautiful, it can be quite limiting.  On days when the bike path isn’t what you’re looking for—or you’re just not an outdoors person who still wants to enjoy the lake—there’s always the Echo Exhibit.  It’s a small museum whose subject is almost exclusively Lake Champlain: aquatic life, geological history, social history (including the Lake’s surprisingly important role in the Revolutionary War), and information on conservation and the like.  There is also an area for rotating exhibits; at the time of writing, the current exhibit is called “Butterflies, Live!”  Next to the Echo Exhibit, there is a boathouse from which, seasonally, visitors to the city can go on a narrated boat tour of the water around Burlington.  There is also a small restaurant on the docks of the boathouse, and a table on that floating dock is an excellent place to watch a sunset as you enjoy a fish sandwich.

Speaking of food, you’ve got easy options for dinner off Church Street.  If seafood isn’t your style, but you don’t want to move your car from the parking lot by the Echo Exhibit, you’re in luck (assuming you like “inspired crepes”).  The Skinny Pancake is a creperie that can almost advertise as a waterfront restaurant, though sadly it misses the mark by about a block.  All of the ingredients used in The Skinny Pancake’s food are sourced from inside Vermont (barring seafood, but we already decided that’s not what we’re in the mood for), and it shows, both in flavor and in price.  Vermont Pub and Brewery is a block from Church Street and boasts both several beers brewed in house and lower prices in general than Ri Ra’s Irish Pub, situated on Church Street.

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