Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chopps American Bar & Grill: New Chef, Same Excellent Food

Burlington has seen a boom in restaurants, with new places opening all the time, and with even more planned for the near future. Some of those restaurants have received, and rightfully so, plenty of rave reviews but a few seem to largely remain under the radar, though well-deserving of greater recognition. One such worthy restaurant, which doesn't receive as much publicity as it should, is Chopps American Bar & Grill, located at the Burlington Marriott

For the last three years, Chopps has been on my annual list of Top 50 Restaurants, and throughout my multiple visits, for both lunches and dinners, it has remained consistently excellent, for the quality and taste of their food, as well as the quality of their service. I think that part of the reason Chopps is ignored by numerous people is that is it located in a hotel, and some people have a negative bias against hotel restaurants, believing the quality isn't as good as a stand-alone spot. Yes, there are some hotel restaurants which fail to deliver but that is insufficient reason to believe they are all the same. And Chopps will prove to you that hotel restaurants can excel.

Recently, Chopps hired a new Executive Chef, Steve Zimei, and he introduced some new menu items. Steve, a Johnson & Wales University graduate, began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord. Now, he has returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps. I was invited, as a media guest, to visit Chopps, meet Chef Zimei, and experience his new menu creations.

The restaurant has several dining rooms, including private rooms for business meetings, celebrations or such. There is also a large lounge and bar, with a number of comfortable booths, and this area is often quite busy as hotel guests and others hang out, have a drink, and grab a bite after work or for dinner.

They have a full bar, serving cocktails, beer and wine. Their reasonably priced Featured Cocktails ($10-$12) include their own creative cocktails, such as Billy's Boom Boom (Knob Creek Rye, Carlson Orchard Apple Cider) and Toni's Tasty Treat (Don Julio Tequila, St. Germain, Grapefruit Juice, Jalapeño, and Lime Juice). They also have a nice list of more than 20 American Bourbons, Ryes and Single Malts. In addition, they stock about 25 beers ($6-$9), many local. Their wine list has about 27 wines available by the glass ($7-$16) and the list is California heavy. You will see lots of familiar faces on the wine list, though I would prefer to see a larger portion of wines from different regions.

We began with the Autumn Spice Sangria ($10), a pleasing, fruity concoction that tasted like the fall and wasn't overly sweet. Hints of cinnamon and apple, with juicy red fruit flavors.

The WhistlePig Rye Manhattan is one of my usual choices at Chopps. It is well-made, with a large ice cube and three cherries. And on a chilly winter evening, it is a great choice to warm you up.

Chopps serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and their menu changes seasonally. On their Dinner menu, you'll find Appetizers ($11-$17), from Beef Carpaccio to Lamb Lollichopps; Soup/Salad ($6-$13), from Clam Chowder to Burrata Salad; Steaks & Chops ($28-$54), from Filet Mignon to Porterhouse; Mains ($18-$35), from Scallops to Roasted Springer Hill Chicken; and Sides ($5-$6), from Mushroom Fricasse to Truffle Fries. The Lunch menu primarily adds a variety of Sandwiches ($13-$19), from a Lobster Roll to a Fried Chicken Sandwich; and Pizza ($13-$16). You'll find plenty of choices, though not an overwhelming amount.

Before your food begins to arrive, you'll be brought a small, cast iron pan with four warm, soft and buttery Parker House rolls, with a touch of salt and herbs. For a bread lover as I, this is a great way to start your dinner, and you might be tempted to ask for more.

Our dinner began with a couple Appetizers, including the Short Rib Mac & Cheese ($15), with toasted cornbread crumbs. The rotini were in a creamy, cheesy sauce with tender pieces of short rib and the slight crunch of the cornbread. Excellent comfort food, it was large enough for two people to split, and every forkful provided plenty of cheesy flavor.

The River Rock Farms Meatballs ($14), with Tallegio polenta, tomato sugo, and shaved parmesan, were served with slices of pita bread. I'm not sure pita actually went well with this dish, but I also enjoy warm bread whether it pairs with a dish or not. The meatballs were dense and tender, with a nice mix of spices, and the creamy polenta, with the tang of the tallegio, was a nice touch. The sauce also had a nice depth of flavor, contributing to a winner of a dish.

We then moved onto a mid-course, including the Caesar Salad ($10), with brioche crouton and parmigiano. Excellent freshness and the crouton was a crunchy, with some buttery element.

The Jumbo Shrimp ($15) were also fresh and tasty, enhanced by a spicy cocktail sauce.

As my Main Entree, I opted for the Pork Chop ($32), with grilled cornbread, braising greens, glazed apples, and bacon lardons. It was a thick and meaty pork chop, yet it was cooked perfectly through and through. Tender, juicy and flavorful, this was a superb piece of pork and would satisfy the appetite of any hungry carnivore. The cornbread was moist and slightly sweet, the apples were sweet and crisp, and the lardons were like bacon candy.

The Line Caught Cod ($31), which was cornmeal crusted, came with roasted corn & fingerling potatoes and lay in a chowder sauce. The Cod was flaky and moist, with a slight sweetness from the corn, and the chowder was a delicious addition to the dish, creamy but not too thick. This was a seafood lovers pleasure, an ample and hearty dish.

As a Side, we chose the Chopps Tots ($6) with pancetta and cheese, more comfort food. With plenty of melted cheese and pieces of pancetta atop the larger than usual tots, this dish satisfied. I've long been a fan of their tots, and this Side should please you as well.

Though Dessert sounded tempting, especially the Adult Sundae, I was just too full to get anything else. Our server, Lisa, was excellent, personable and attentive without being obtrusive. In addition, though she hadn't served us in nearly a year, she still recalled the type of drinks we preferred. The quality, quantity and taste of the food were impressive and as consistently good as usual. Chef Zimei is continuing to deliver a stellar experience and more attention should be paid to Chopps. It isn't the stereotypical hotel restaurant and is worthy of your support.

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