It’s a time warp. Picture a sleepy little Vermont town in late afternoon. An old time square with a cannon to one side, a Civil War general on the other, surrounded by a church and period shops.
You can almost see Jimmy Stewart bustling across the grass towards the Savings & Loan. There are a lot of people crossing the tracks to a 19th century freight building across from the old station. Because since August 25, South Royalton VT has been home to Worthy Burger, an innovative craft beer & burger bar.
Craft beer and small business are partners, little America fighting back and having fun doing it. Grass-fed is catching on all over; why not wash it down with something special? Canny but committed partners Dave Brodrick (Blind Tiger NYC owner, now also a Vermont gentleman farmer), Jason Merrill (Executive Chef), and Kurt Lessard (CFO) came up with a solution. How about offering a high class burger off a wood fire grill, melt-in-your-mouth fries and a superlative craft beer for a reasonable $15? Open in a small college town full of environmental law students. And why not do it now?
Worthy’s 13 revolving taps of hard to find brews are driven by two ace brewers. Probably Vermont’s worst-kept beer secret, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead provides notoriously hard to find beers like Edward Pale Ale (5.2%), James Black Ale (6.8%)and Riwaka Single Hop (5.2%). Even rarer pours arrive from Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids (“From the Green Mountains straight to your head!”), creator of Chinookered IPA (6.9%) and a clutch of maple ales. They are strongly abetted with brews from out-of-state stars like Allagash, Victory, Stone and North Coast.
This tiny homage to Farm-to-Table (71 seats if you count the 25 seat patio) serves 4 special burgers and an assortment of local cheeses along with wine, home made soda and Carin’s Kombucha as alternative beverages. Chef Jason’s credo is to stay local, sourcing mainly from five nearby VT farms. The title grass-fed Worthy Burger is served on a fresh baked challah bun. Local options can be added, such as Laughing Lotus Kimchi, heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions and smoky bacon from just down the road. Here’s the best news: a Worthy Burger costs only $5.50. If you add beef tallow fries ($3) and a killer craft beer ($5-$7 range), it means a healthier tastier pub meal for the aforementioned $15, waaay ahead of any grass-fed competition. It’s proven so popular that Extra Worthy has been added to the menu, throwing on that extra patty. It doesn’t have to be beef! Other Worthy choices are the Rosa Gold Salmon Burger, the PETA (“only locally raised vegetables are slaughtered for this burger”), and my personal favorite, the Terducky. This gourmet delight is made from duck confit, pasture raised turkey, and thanks to plucky Chef, a little foie gras. If your taste veers elsewhere, try a plate of three of their five cheeses. Let’s not forget dessert, either. The Stout-Bacon-Pecan Brownie Lollipop tastes just like it sounds. Maybe even a little better with a 7.5% Hill Farmstead Everett porter.
What could be missing here? Oh yes! Why not an on-site micro-brewery? Patrick Dakin, formerly of the Norwich (VT) Inn, is completing Freight House Brewing at the north end of the building. Known locally for his Village Idiot IPA, Patrick should be concocting his first Freight House brews around October 1.
This is a working partnership. Dave & wife Iris (Ms. Laughing Lotus, Queen of Kimchi) are behind the bar five nights a week helping head bartender Chris Perry pour beers and train staff. Right now Dave figures he & Jason work 90-100 hours a week with Chef slightly ahead. Kurt’s buried in the books. Add one big gray and white Worthy Cat, who saunters around the property checking out the customers on the deck as well as any little malt thieves, and everybody’s giving it that extra push.
By Dave’s estimation, the beer audience is not yet “super-savvy about craft beer”, but apparently a taste of Hill Farmstead or Lawson’s is a huge kick-start: Hill Farmstead outsells the rest of the list three to one. Turns out there are a couple of resident homebrewers providing some of the decorative geekdom needed in this kind of place. Hope they know their stuff. Worthy Cat is watching.
Open M-F 4-11, Sa 11:30-12, Su 11:30-11. South Royalton VT is off Interstate 89 Exit 3, 20 mins north of White River Junction and 30 min south of Montpelier. Check www.worthyburger.com and Facebook for directions & menus.