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Yi-Soon Kim, proprietor of Shin La, hopes to reopen the restaurant soon. The restaurant has been closed since she broke her wrist in January.

Food and Drink

New restaurants sprout in downtown Brattleboro

Substantial changes emerge in the local food scene

BRATTLEBORO—The daffodils are out, and you’ve finally begun to emerge from your cabin-fevered cloister. Hibernation time is over.

If you come downtown in search of food, you may notice the landscape looks quite different.

In the span of barely a month, some restaurants have closed, other restaurants have opened, and some are even going where no restaurant has gone before.

Hummus happy hour

The storefront at 80 Main St., just south of Mocha Joe’s Café, once housed a clothing store, At the Oasis, for a few decades. Before that, it was Blue Note, a musical instrument store. Most recently, it was a craft shop.

During the late winter, passersby noticed the space transforming into a restaurant. Workers installed a commercial range, ovens, an exhaust hood, and counters.

On May 1, Yalla Vermont, offering Israeli-inspired street food, opened.

Owner Zohar Arama said his shop will be open six days a week for breakfast and lunch. It will be closed on Wednesdays.

Arama established Yalla Vermont in 2015, in West Townshend, without a storefront. He sold his homemade hummus, fresh-baked pita, and other Middle Eastern specialties at a number of local farmers’ markets, as well as at the Brattleboro Food Co-op and West Townshend Country Store.

With Yalla coming to Main Street, downtown diners can enjoy the same specialties and more.

Arama told The Commons his shop will offer pita, which diners can have as the base of a sandwich of fresh hummus, falafel, or salads. The menu will also include bowls of hummus topped with things like fava beans or mushroom stew, said Arama.

Yalla will also have packages of pita and containers of hummus to take home.

The pita is baked every day in the store, and the hummus and falafel are also made in the shop, using dried, organic chickpeas.

“Everything is vegetarian and made from scratch,” said Arama, who added, “We are using local ingredients as much as we can. That’s important to me. And it’s fresh. We make everything right here.”

One evening a week, likely Fridays, Yalla will stay open late for “Hummus Happy Hour,” Arama noted. Patrons should expect many elements of a typical happy hour: loud music, a fun atmosphere, and plenty of snacks.

The only thing missing is the booze. Arama said he has no liquor license.

Gluten-free goodies

Sweet Miri’s Cafe & Bakery, at 55 Elliot St., had a soft opening at the April Gallery Walk. By the end of the month, the new business had expanded hours, a full menu of gluten-free baked goods, and options for breakfast, lunch, and brunch.

Owner Dara Bartlett-Levy assured the public her operation is “fully gluten-free, so there’s no cross-contamination.”

Bartlett-Levy noted patrons with other dietary restrictions can find many things to enjoy at her café.

“Half of my baked goods are dairy-free, I don’t use much soy, and I can make food without soy, corn, eggs, yeast, and grains. I can accommodate any food restriction, I just need notice,” she said.

A registered dietician, Bartlett-Levy said she’s not a chef. “I’m a celiac who wanted yummy food,” she noted.

When she was diagnosed with celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten — in 2004, Bartlett-Levy started “playing around with baking.” She shared her food creations with friends, got great feedback, began catering, and owned a café in Great Barrington.

Once she had a child, Bartlett-Levy, who grew up in Hinsdale, N.H., realized she wanted to move back closer to family. “It’s nice to be back,” she said, and added, “Brattleboro has grown and changed.”

Bartlett-Levy welcomes people with and without dietary restrictions, and notes everyone will find something on her “comfort food” menu.

“Eating goes beyond the body’s function,” said Bartlett-Levy. “Food is everywhere, and we should be able to find what we want, and to celebrate with others,” she said, and noted it’s a very human activity to “celebrate with food.”

Goodbye, Brattleburger

Brattleboro lost its only dedicated burger joint, Brattleburger, in early March.

Owner Matt Blau told The Commons “there are several reasons” why he ceased operations.

“We were serving a product with slim margins, and we needed more volume year-round,” said Blau, who noted the restaurant was popular — he claimed they served 6,400 burgers a month — but the business model required more consistent sales.

Additionally, Blau was clear that he was stretched thin, and that absentee ownership didn’t work.

At the same time he owned Brattleburger, Blau’s restaurant portfolio included Fireworks in Keene, N.H., which he still owns, and until early 2017, Fireworks in Brattleboro.

“I look back in disbelief that I ever owned three restaurants at a time,” said Blau.

Blau splits his time between Vermont and Ecuador, where he lives for months at a time. “I tried to be a non-working owner” of Brattleburger, said Blau, “and that’s absolutely the case that it’s hard to run it without being there.”

“Had I stayed there, flipping burgers, and I devoted more of my time to Brattleburger, it may still be there,” he said. “I have to take a good piece of responsibility for its demise.”

But when asked what he’d do differently next time, he said, “I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. It was upsetting the way it turned out.”

The experience taught him something about himself: “I had more energy to start it than I did to sustain it.”

What might have worked better, Blau said, would have been to have “spen[t] more time there in the beginning, and st[u]ck with it until it was well-formed. Maybe take in a partner.”

“A lot of people really loved [Brattleburger],” said Blau, and “the energy that was generated” was the most positive aspect of his experience, he said.

“I want to give a heartfelt thank you to Brattleboro and the people who loved and supported us through the years,” Blau said.

“I definitely have a lot of regrets about” the demise of Brattleburger, said Blau, and added, “I’m well aware of how little [value] regrets have on their own.”

Hello, Twin Flames Taqueria

Soon after Brattleburger closed, butcher paper covered its storefront’s plate glass windows. On the door appeared a hand-written sign, promising tacos.

Inside, workers “completely gutted [the space], redid the floors, opened the kitchen, and put in a bar,” said James Casterline, one of the owners of Twin Flames Taqueria.

Casterline’s business partners include his girlfriend, Amber Bergeron, who will run the front-of-the-house, as well as sous chef Josh Smith and bartenders Matt Salinsky and Mike Kondraki.

Set to open on May 15, Twin Flames will serve tacos, handmade tortillas, carne asada, and shrimp and octopus ceviche, among other Southern California–style Mexican street food. The restaurant will have a salsa bar, said Casterline.

Twin Flames will have a fully stocked bar with “really fun craft cocktails,” said Casterline, including six Vermont beers on tap, and a full array of Mexican beers and margaritas.

In the beginning, Twin Flames will offer lunch and dinner, and Casterline said he expects to “expand out to breakfast in the summer.”

Casterline, 35, has worked in kitchens for half his life. A resident of Jamaica, he grew up in Wallkill, N.Y., but came to Vermont as a “ski kid, cooking at Stratton,” he said.

When asked why he wanted to open a restaurant in Brattleboro, Casterline said, “I love Brattleboro. I’ve been looking for a spot downtown for a year.”

To taco, or not to taco

The never-ending story about whether Cantina Vidorra will close continues on.

Cantina Vidorra, located at 49 Elliot St., opened in April 2017. Earlier this year, owner John Broyles announced he was closing up shop and leaving town.

The reason he gave for the Mexican-style restaurant’s demise stems from a grave misunderstanding about Vermont’s climate.

Broyles, an Alabama native, told The Commons “the winter is too cold here” for him and his family. They are heading back to Virginia, where Broyles lived for 15 years before relocating to Brattleboro.

A few months ago, Broyles thought he had a buyer for Cantina Vidorra, but before the contract was signed, those plans fell through.

Cantina Vidorra was supposed to close at the end of April but, according to the store’s Facebook post, dated April 29, “We are working to keep the cantina around a little while longer. The menu will stay and it will be rebranded. Stay tuned.”

What’s up with Shin La?

Coming soon: the return of Yi-Soon Kim.

Kim, the co-owner of Shin La, the Korean restaurant located at 57 Main St., fell on the ice at her home on Jan. 9. She broke her wrist, was unable to work, and temporarily closed the restaurant.

Local diners, who knew Kim has been trying to sell the restaurant for about three years, worried that this was it for Shin La.

Not so, said Kim.

“I don’t want to close this way. I would want to have a party and say good-bye to all my customers,” she said.

Kim, who works as head chef of Shin La, said she hoped to reopen on March 15, “but my hand is healing very slowly. Then I thought, maybe April 1. But, no.”

“The cast came off at the end of February and I’ve been doing therapy,” said Kim, who noted her doctor has not yet given her the green light to return to work.

She thought she could start slowly, but, Kim revealed, “I have no strength. And I have a lot of cutting and chopping I do. I use a whole case of cabbage at a time — 40 pounds — to make kim chi.”

But, as soon as Kim can cut “and lift some pots, I can work,” she said.

She advised the public to keep an eye on Facebook for the announcement of Shin La’s return.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #457 (Wednesday, May 2, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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