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Taste a Paysage of Vermont Culinary Delights at the Downtown Grocery

By Marina I. Jokic

Owners and epicures Abby and Rogan Lechthaler bought the Downtown Grocery in 2010 after several years of moving around, including stints in Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Mississippi. After being offered a job near his hometown of Weston, Vermont in 2007, Rogan seized the opportunity to return closer to his home with his wife, and the couple decided they wanted to own and run their own restaurant.

"Even though I have a degree in journalism and Rogan in small business, being our own boss[es] was something both of us had watched our fathers do for themselves, and [it] felt like an obvious path to take," Abby said. "Rogan had learned quickly from being in kitchens post-graduation that cooking was his calling, while growing up in the 'Hospitality State' meant that I had an innate love for making people comfortable."

It was the perfect union of culinary know-how and a sensibility for hospitality. The Downtown Grocery's menu and décor epitomize simplicity with style.

As far as the name goes, it's rooted both in the history of the building and in Lechthaler's Southern roots. Decades ago, the space housed a beloved Polish grocery store, Charlie's Market. As a way to stem the vanishing of small grocers, some mom-and-pop stores in the South started to cook lunch or supper to make ends meet as the huge supermarkets gained ground. They still continued to refer to themselves as grocers even though they were hardly selling any foodstuffs. The Downtown Grocery was conceived as a homage to that tradition.

When asked to name her favorite dishes, Lechthaler admits that it depends on the time of the year. Everything moves so quickly, and the restaurant tries to give its customers a delicious representation of each season. Vermont has so much to offer in terms of fresh food, much of it produced and grown in-state, that there is never a shortage of choices.

For instance, a winter favorite, the roasted cauliflower with crispy fried kale and sweet currants garners many accolades from guests. The butternut squash soup with Maine lobster and toasted pumpkin seeds is tender and fresh, reminding us of the abundance of the soil and ocean. When you see the locally foraged ramp flatbread with house-made bacon, Vermont-native Raclette cheese and roasted garlic, you know that spring has arrived. In the summer, the Vermont heirloom tomato salad topped with homemade ricotta, balsamic vinegar, and homegrown basil bursts with flavor. Last but certainly not least, their softshell crabs over a crunchy endive are divine and a signature summer dish.

What Lechthaler enjoys about the restaurant is that even though the dishes are meticulously prepared and served beautifully, the ambiance is laid-back and quite comfortable.

"The servers wear denim and plaid, the music is our own eclectic and sometimes edgy playlist, and my dad made the light fixtures out of birch logs and hardware store trouble lights," she said. The menu is kept fresh by changing entrees roughly every 10 days, while the blackboard specials change daily. You never know what culinary chef d'oeuvres you will find at the DownTown Grocery.

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About The Author

Marina Jokic holds a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College in Russian and East...

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