words // David Scherr
photos // Ben Sarle
It is increasingly hard to stand out in Burlington’s thriving culinary scene, where another excellent and inventive restaurant or eatery seems to spring forth in or around the city with every passing season. Older establishments have been forced to step up their game, and the newer ones are competing for the increasingly fortunate and discerning palates of diners in the region.
Juniper Bar and Restaurant, located in the Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington, stands out from the Chittenden County culinary crowd with tasteful “Vermont-modern” décor and tasty, excellently prepared, and locally-sourced food.
Juniper’s bar and restaurant area flows into the lobby space but feels nicely delineated from the welcoming area. As one would want in a Vermont hotel or restaurant, a big, warm wood-burning fireplace greets guests and diners through the winter. Contrasting stone on the walls in the restaurant area, some dark and flat, others lighter with the natural bumpy look of an elegant stone wall, provides a nice contrast. The restaurant space achieves a sleek, modern look without losing the cozy, wood-ensconced feel a diner might associate with old New England. There is plenty of old-seeming, Vermont-style wood, and some especially creative split-log columns that divide a seating area from a passage for foot traffic.
The bar is made of solid copper with wonderful, varying coloration from the many drink glasses occupying the welcoming space.
And the drinks in those glasses include wine, excellent local beer, and cocktails that are inventive and prepared to a tasty perfection. A diner would not go wrong to prepare the palate with a Lemon Ginger cocktail. This vodka drink has a pleasantly, not overpoweringly, sour lemon flavor balanced with a hint of ginger and sweetened with honey. For the spice-inclined, The Pocket Knife tequila cocktail is a peppery surprise with lime undertones – a weary diner will perk right up with this imaginative creation.
For a starter dish, a diner would be remiss if they didn’t try the house-made tortellini. The tortellini is not a simple dish, but it is as warm, welcoming, and homey as one would want tortellini be. A comfort food, yes, but the ricotta cheese, greens, and hazelnuts bring this far from the realm of simplistic home-cooking. The hazelnuts and ricotta add wonderful flavor and texture, and those two ingredients are nicely harmonious together.
The menu has good variety, including both vegetarian and meat options to please most any diet. If diners are looking to start with a shared dish – the menu includes a “Share” section, essentially appetizers for two – they would be well-advised to try the Roasted Eggplant. This dish is a mashed, surprisingly light and refreshing mixture of roasted eggplant along with some onions, olive oil, and all nicely spiced. The ingredients are simple and smooth, but the eggplant skins give great texture to complement the seasoning.
For a main dish, the Juniper restaurant rightfully prides itself on the Duck Confit. Excellently cooked, retaining its tenderness, the seasoning complements the meat’s flavor without drowning it. A creamy, light lentil stew served as a base under the duck cuts the salt of the meat and provides an unexpected and delicious contrast.
As is obligatory for any self-respecting new Vermont restaurant, Juniper includes a locally-sourced burger that should not be missed. Incredibly flavorful beef, combined with aged local cheddar, served with nicely crisped fries worthy of the burger’s perfection. Juniper does the burger exactly right.
Juniper Bar and Restaurant should not be missed; with its excellent food and unusually well-designed space, anyone visiting Burlington – or living there – would be depriving themselves if they didn’t walk toward the waterfront and indulge at this excellent, new destination.