A few years ago, a friend told me he’d had the best meal of his life at the Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, Vermont. Needless to say I was skeptical. That’s a pretty big statement. He was setting up unrealistic expectations and I was bound to be disappointed.
Nevertheless, I still checked it out on my next trip to Burlington. As it turns out, he wasn’t too far off the mark. I ate an innovative dish of baked ricotta in pumpkin sauce and a perfect burger. The Bluebird tavern blends the British gastropub tradition with the locavore sensitivities of Vermont. Even though it is housed in a suburban cottagey bungalow that looks like some nausea-inducing multinational chain of country delis, there’s a subtle yet sophisticated big city atmosphere inside that offers a welcome contrast to the general hippie-student-yoga vibe in town.
The menu is divided into “small plates” and “large plates.” The poutine is classified under “small plates.” Unfortunately, this is a meaningless distinction. I’ve had small plates at this place that made most tapas look generous. The poutine, however, was hardly small. In fact, it was bigger than the large dish we ordered.
Fries: These are near-perfect fries. They are slim with a light crisp on the outside and a fluffy (not floury) interior. The skin does not taste earthy. They are cooked in peanut oil. Most are lightly salted but, seeing as they probably use freshly ground kosher salt, you occasionally get unpleasant chunky bursts of pure sodium. 29/30.
Gravy: The homemade “Bluebird gravy” is a subtle yet tasty and delicate liaising element. Quantities are good. It is slightly too hot. It also contains bits of crispy fried sage leaves, a surprisingly tasty addition. The sage and salt in the fries amp up the subtle flavours in the gravy. 45/50.
Cheese: This may look like a Quebec cheese curd but these locally-sourced Vermont curds had a bland buttery taste and an unpleasantly firm texture. Squeak levels are at minus ten, as if the curds have been refrigerated for weeks and then left to sit on the counter. The quantities are excellent, the size of the chunk is great, and they’re not too melted, but they taste kinda like chunks of margarine. This is the only time I’ve ever eaten a poutine where I pushed the cheese aside in order to get more of those yummy fries and gravy. 5/20.
Verdict: This could be poutine heaven if they got a new cheese supplier and served it same-day fresh. Really excited about the crispy sage bits in the sauce. Everything else we tried on the menu is top-notch gastropub fare.
Price: Obscene – $12 is too much to pay for poutine, even if the American dollar is now practically worthless, but it might be worth it if they got proper cheese.
Opening Hours: Sunday & Monday Closed; Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday 5pm-9pm; Friday & Saturday 5pm-10pm
Location: 317 Riverside Avenue, Burlington VT 05401. See their website.