words // David Scherr
photo // Ben Sarle
It is in St. Albans, that you’ll find your fondest fantasy of comfort food brought to life. Hamburger patties made with half beef and half Vermont maple-smoked bacon. Potato skins filled with bacon, Cabot cheddar, and more. Toasted cheeses. Desserts of soft, melted cookies topped with ice cream.
Orchestrating this family-friendly extravaganza called Twiggs Restaurant is a towering flame of charitable energy named Tom Murphy. When Murphy talks about his creation, he conceives of the restaurant as a civic anchor and gathering place, spurring the town he loves to greater community pride. More than just the site of delicious food, it is a destination where people listen to music from the sidewalk on warm summer evenings, and an engine of charity that raises tens of thousands of dollars for local causes.
The restaurant sits in a charming downtown building built more than a century ago. Murphy, deeply rooted as he is in St. Albans, named the restaurant for J.P. Twigg, who opened a high-quality clothing store in the space around 90 years ago. The ceilings have a vintage tin-stamped style of that era, and the floor, as Murphy can tell you, was installed by Twigg and made of marble quarried in nearby Swanton.
In keeping with the example of bringing quality goods to St. Albans set by the long-ago clothier, Murphy brings a delicious variety of the kind of food that will warm a person on a cold winter night or rejuvenate them after playing hard on a hot summer day. To start, as we did, with the Fried Mac n’ Cheese Balls and the 14th Star Cheese Fries is to be immersed in the restaurant’s decadently flavorful style right away. The Mac n’ Cheese Balls have the expected soft, cheesy center nicely balanced with a slightly crunchy breaded layer. The flavors are completed by a spicy ranch dipping sauce that gives the hors d’oeuvre a gentle kick.
The menu has variety and options to spare, but a party eating at Twiggs would be remiss if at least one person did not have one of the restaurant’s justifiably famous burgers. These are the ones made from 50 percent Vermont maple-smoked bacon and 50 percent pure Angus beef. (Diners can also get a veggie patty or a 100 percent beef patty.) These are as incredible as they sound: rich with slightly smoky, slightly spicy edge imparted by the bacon.
A diner might think, after such a dinner, that it’s impossible to eat any more. They will be proven wrong when faced with a dessert made of a soft, warm cookie (more like a newly-baked brownie in its consistency) topped with a healthy dose of ice cream. When I experienced it, my fullness melted like the ice cream on the warm cookie, and I enjoyed every last bite.
When it comes to items of interest at Twiggs, however, the wonderful menu has its hands full competing with the charismatic owner. Murphy has lived an unusual life as a college wrester, psychology and philosophy major, railroad employee, UFC fighter, gym owner, and progenitor of a nationally recognized rail traffic control center in St. Albans that now employs 40 people. He says, “I came to St. Albans with nothing, and the moral of the story is this: St. Albans has been nothing but good to my family and my four children.”
Partly out of a sense of wanting to return the good fortune, and mostly because Murphy believes that there is nothing higher in life than service—“life is about giving back, it’s not about taking,” he says—Murphy focuses remarkable effort on charitable causes. Twiggs hosts charitable events, including “Comedy for a Cause,” which last year alone brought in $33,000 for local organizations. He donates his wall space to local artists, free of charge, to promote and sell their work. On his vacation time Murphy uses his large presence to promote his Sweethearts and Heroes anti-bullying campaign.
There is music every Friday and Saturday, and in the summer a garage-style window opens to allow patrons seated on the sidewalk—and any passersby—´´to enjoy the show. The sidewalk is often packed full. As Murphy says, “Why shouldn’t we give the citizens of St. Albans that are contributors to our great state … something great?”
Twiggs is an unusual, but deeply Vermont, establishment that cares more about contributing to the community than it does about its bottom line. In the end, people won’t care about the material things you accumulated, Murphy remarks, “but about how you impacted their life.”