There aren’t a lot of restaurants in East Burke, Vermont, population 132.
Located in Vermont’s scenic and sparse Northeast Kingdom, East Burke is a hamlet at the base of Burke Mountain, a prominent peak (and ski resort). But while the mountain has historically been important to the town, the growth of mountain biking trails in the area are possibly the reason there are as many restaurants in town as there are.
Which is to say there are three.
One Sunday evening, I had the chance to try one of them. The Burke Publick House is located in what looks like a barn just away from the main street through the village. Much of East Burke is aligned towards bikes and not cars, so the Publick House kind of hides among a bunch of other things – notably the main ticket office for Kingdom Trails as well as a quirky outdoors lounge called Mikes Tiki Bar – behind the Northeast Kingdom Country Store.
Both the country store and the tiki bar are worth checking out. The country store makes quality sandwiches pretty fast and the tiki bar is often flanked by food trucks that promise great, quick food.
The Burke Publick House offers classic New England tavern fare. The menu has pretty standard options with a few twists here and there – a poutine with chorizo and maple syrup stands out – but this is the kind of place where you can order a burger or steak tips and know basically what you’ll get. The fun comes from how its prepared, what ingredients are used, and how its all cooked.
So we ordered a burger and steak tips.
The Market Burger features local grass-fed beef, baby portabella mushrooms, grilled onions, local baby Swiss cheese, and – for $1.50 – a fried local egg. The grass-fed beef is remarkably flavorful; it has a noticeable beef flavor and its real, real juicy. The egg makes it messy as all hell but it soaks into the beef and the toasted brioche bun for a burger that was so full on flavor and substance that I couldn’t finish it. That’s a big deal these days.
The fries are salted and peppered. I know some people are into that but I’m not a huge fan of peppered fries, especially when the burger has so much flavor. In a sort of counter-intuitive way, I’m looking for a less-flavorful fry if you’re putting all that good stuff on the burger.
Burke Publick House’s steak tips are marinated in a maple bourbon sauce. The maple comes out a bit more than the bourbon, giving a sweet finish to the outside. But it seems like it might be hard to keep the outside from getting charred with all that sugar on it. Still, the inside was tender and juicy and the “seasonal vegetable” was a great medley of fresh sautéed green beans, tomatoes, and onions.
For dessert, we asked for a menu. “There’s not really a menu,” our waitress informed us. “I’ll go see what we have.” What they had that night were two bog standard restaurant desserts: brownie sundae and cheesecake. But the cheesecake came with a choice of sauce topping, which was intriguing. I ordered caramel and raspberry – on the side rather than on top – and waited for what I expected would be a store-bought cheesecake.
It was not.
It was a fresh, soft, creamy cheesecake. It was also lemon, which was kind of unexpected. Caramel lemon is an interesting flavor. I’m not saying don’t try it, for sure: raspberry lemon was better, of course, but caramel lemon has a surprisingly sweet-tart charm.
East Burke has a couple bed & breakfasts and while the whole town is centered on mountain biking there’s hiking, a nearby lake, and honestly just some rustic charm and maple creemees that makes it a great spot for an overnight getaway. While you’re in town, try the flavors of the Burke Publick House. If you’re in town for more than a night, you’ll probably find yourself at the Burke Publick House often, so please let me know how that chorizo and maple syrup poutine is.