Let’s Do Lunch. But Where?.

[Originally printed in the Rutland County Express on 2/17/10] It’s 11:45 a.m. on a Thursday. I’m up against a deadline, and all that coffee I’ve been downing since 9:30 has started to give me the shakes. I decide that it’s probably a smart idea to put something in my stomach. I pack up my things scattered across my usual table in the back of Café Terra – laptop, notebook, newspapers, cell phone – and hit the street.

The weather is sunny and mild today. I think of my friends in New York and D.C., buried in snow and freezing. I cruelly send one of them a photo message of warm, sunny Center Street.

Back to the task at hand. It’s almost noon, and I need food.

While no one would ever label me a picky eater, I can be particular. I’m not a fast food or a chain guy. (Sorry, Mickey D’s, but you can’t count me among the billions you’ve served.) I prefer freshly prepared food from locally owned businesses. For a town that often gets accused of having nothing to offer people, Rutland has a wealth of lunch options. From grab and go take out to full-service sit-down, there’s a lot to choose. On Center Street alone you can get a sandwich, soup, chow mein, an omelet or a meatball sub.

As someone who works downtown, I’m a frequent flier of the Rutland lunch scene. Occasionally, in an effort to save money, I’ll bring a sandwich from home, but my typically rushed morning departures have prevented me from making this economical habit a regular occurrence. Bad news for my wallet, to be sure, but at least I’m eating well.

Naturally, there are some lunchtime staples. Gill’s, the Sandwich Shoppe, Kong Chow and the Rutland Restaurant being institutions of note, each with their own set of fiercely loyal customers. While the pork fried rice and Greek pasta both have places in my hearts, I’m a light eater at lunchtime – a bowl of soup, a salad or a sandwich will suffice.

Back on the street, I take a stroll around the block enjoying the sun while I deliberate on lunch. I decide to enlist some help. This being Rutland, it’s not long before I run into someone I know. Outside the Co-op on Wales Street, I meet Sharon Nimtz of “Twice Bitten” fame. I ask her where she likes to lunch.

“Why not here?” she asks, noting that the Co-op features homemade soups everyday as wells as fresh coffee, prepared sandwiches and other sides. “I like it especially when Peter makes his vegetarian chili,” she adds.

Turning the corner back to Center Street, I dial Rutland Partnership’s Mike Coppinger. Same question. Ever the diplomat, he echoes my above sentiments that there is a number of excellent and diverse lunch options downtown. When pressed harder, he gets more specific.

“If it’s a lunch meeting, I want someplace where I can sit down,” he said, “Table 24 or Sabby’s, for example. If I’m just grabbing something for myself, I like Maxie’s (Tubs & Mini Subs on State Street).”

Continuing down Center Street, I poked my head into Gus’ Tobacco Shop to see what the store’s namesake and downtown fixture, Gus Louras, had to say on the matter.

“I like a good soup,” Louras said, “so for me, it depends on the soup of the day. I’ll make my decision from that.”

With soups, he’s got a lot of options – the famous Butternut Bevy at Back Home Again, Sabby’s French onion au gratin, the daily selections from Constantino’s at Café Terra, the aforementioned Co-op.

One noticeably absent piece of Rutland lunch culture, however, is the formal sit-down location. Table 24’s menu, bar atmosphere comes closest, but I’m talking about the old school, three-martini, “Mad Men” style lunch experience. It’s times like this when I miss the lunches at Royal’s – a warm spinach salad that’s as filling as a porterhouse, a popover, and a stiff drink. Now, that’s how your grandpa did lunch, junior.

Once the warm weather settles in, there’s also the option to eat outside. Sure, Clem’s and Sabby’s give you tables, but why not make it a little more inventive? I suggest grabbing something from Handcarved by Ernie’s or the Vegas Deli and heading over to the deck at Two Shea’s, where you can wash down that pastrami sub with a cold Switchback.

Just be warned: don’t spend too much time lingering there. One beer can quickly turn into three and before you know it, you’re blowing off the rest of your day to head out to the lake or somewhere equally un-work-related.

Sometimes, though, DTR isn’t cutting it. If you’re looking to change it up a bit, maybe a road trip is in order. A short drive up North Main Street will get you a hot dog (or three) at the inimitable Big Lenny’s. Head south to North Clarendon, and you’ll find Sun’s East Market egg rolls – the yang to Lenny’s yin. Both stops land in the guilty pleasure category – delicious, but best eaten in moderation. (Indeed, my mother cites both as being complicit in perpetually derailing my father’s frequent and ill-fated dieting endeavors.)

In my car now, I have arrived at a decision. It’s at little after 12, and I know that no matter where I go, I will be met with at least a brief wait. So I decide to head where I know the in-line conversation is good and the reading materials are plentiful: the Killington Avenue Deli.

Walking in, Bob and Becky cheerfully say hello from behind the counter as they busily assemble sandwiches and chat with their customers. I wait my turn, simultaneously chatting and skimming a recent issue of “La Cucina Italiana” (I picked up two new soup recipes while I waited).

I order a BLT with goat cheese on their homemade focaccia. It’s perfect – the bacon is crisp and the tomatoes are fresh, the goat cheese smooth and tangy spiked with their own blend herbs, the focaccia is salty-sweet and airy. I choose to eat there, sitting at a table by the large window and watching what’s left of the snow melt away.

As I head back downtown and back to work, I am full and satisfied. Lunch in Rutland is more than putting something in your stomach – it’s a chance to experience a full range of diverse flavors and tastes, it’s an opportunity to support your friends and local business-owners, it’s being part of your community. Indeed, like so much else in Rutland, it’s social event.

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