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May 31, 2003 06:40 PM

Al's French Fries and Henry's Diner in Burlington, VT

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Just wanted to mention these two places as being fine sources of road food. We took a road trip from the Boston area to Montreal last week and our schedule had us passing through Burlington around dinertime both ways. Neither my traveling companions nor I were looking for fine dining, we just wanted some solid chow to help us along the way.

Al's was pretty much the experience I was expecting based on other messages in this forum. Great fries and basic greasy burgers, much better than any chain fast food joint and with heaps more atmosphere.

Henry's Diner was also a fine example of its ilk. All the food was good and solid and the service was very friendly. I especially recommend the sweet potato fries (with honey-mustard dressing) and the milkshakes. Does anyone know if they make their own desserts? All we had room for was a piece of peanut-butter pie, and it was quite good.

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    William Klein

    I had a different experience at both these places yesterday. I had spent the weekend in Plainfield and Montpelier, and while in the area I dined in two world class serious eaterys: A Single Pebble which was described to me as the best Chinese restuarant this transplanted Southern Californian had ever been in; and Riverrun, which David Mamet once called the best place on earth. I don't doubt it, and after having bought the cookbook I'm only sorry I didn't order a pulled pork sandwich to go after I'd eaten breakfast. If I hadn't been with a table full of people I'd only just met I would have, I swear.

    To make up for this shocking display of restraint, I stopped at Henry's for lunch while passing time on a rainy day in Burlington, waiting for my flight back to the D.C. area. The atmosphere called to me from the corner when I glimpsed their neon sign and honest name. I ordered a double cheeseburger with onions and was pleased with its appearance when it arrived. White american cheese counts for a lot in my book, very New England. But sadly, the meat didn't smell great and while I ate more of it than perhaps some others would have, I didn't finish it and regretted my choice. The ice tea was nasty too. But I'm willing to believe I just ordered wrong.

    On my way back to the airport I noticed Al's French Frys (note the insistent spelling) and regretted having to pass this up. I had seen it when I arrived and was very intrigued by its American Graffiti exterior, as well as the sign that said burgers and dogs. I drove past one entrance to the parking lot and then regained my senses.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my cheeseburger though I refrained from ordering a double. The french frys were state of the art. The atmosphere, conversation and clientele were irreplaceable.

    I hear the Thai restuarant in Montpelier is also killer bee, as Kinky Friedman would say.

    9 Replies
    1. re: William Klein

      The Thai restaurant in Montpelier is quite good. I think my husband and I would venture to say the best we've had in Vermont at a halfway decent price. We've been rather disappointed with the Burlington places, except for Burlington's Single Pebble which isn't Thai.

      My experience at Henry's was much like yours.

      1. re: William Klein

        You're right, it's "Frys", not "Fries"; I guess my subconscious refused to spell it their way. Spelled either way, they're good.

        Sad to hear that your cheeseburger experience at Henry's was so poor. Two of our party ordered and enjoyed theirs, no problems with the meat then. My scallops were nice and fresh and our other friend liked her fish and chips.

        I guess the question is was your Henry's experience unusually bad or was mine unusually good? That's the problem with just passing through; hard to see a trend with just one data point.

        1. re: T.B.

          I've eaten at Henry's for breakfast a dozen or so times, and I've always found the food to be just plain ok. Typical diner breakfast. I don't think it's a letdown if you're just after an average diner meal, but if you want something exceptional, go elsewhere. Like not to a diner.

          1. re: johnnym

            Thanks for the input. There are times when a diner meal is what I'm after, and when we stumbled upon Henry's we had a *good* diner meal with a couple of real highlights, which is why I mentioned it here in the first place. Other folks seem to have had not-so-good experiences, so I was trying to find out which was more likely.

            Is there a significantly better diner in Burlington? I think the Oasis was mentioned on this board, but it was closed when we were there.

            1. re: T.B.

              My experience at the Oasis was pretty much the same as at Henry's. Standard diner fare. Nothing to really set it apart, but nothing really bad.
              One of my favorite meals is a greasy, cheap eggs-meat-homefries-toast-coffee diner breakfast. Sometimes, nothing else will do. I'd give both Henry's and the Oasis a five or six out of ten. It would be higher, but I thought Henry's was a little pricey for the amount of grease delivered.
              I don't think I ate at any other diners in Burlington. I can't think of any off the top of my head.

              1. re: johnnym
                Thomas R. Brown

                A Hooters JUST opened up across the road from the Oasis diner and the waitresses at the Oasis are not to be outdone. They are using, shall we say a bit of extra padding, a LOT extra actually, and it is a lot of fun. I doubt it will last too long.

                1. re: Thomas R. Brown

                  Al's. Who cares what the burgers are like anyhow? Order a quart of fries!

                  1. re: Thomas R. Brown

                    That is the Parkway diner across from Hooters.

                    Compared to other areas of the country, the diners in the Burlington area area bit lacking from a food standpoint. The one true gem is Libby's Blueline Diner in Colchester.

                    Al's is really about french fries and not much else (although it is hard to complain about a cheeseburger that costs $1.60).

          2. re: William Klein

            The Thai place in Montpelier -- The Royal Orchad -- really is good. Incredible Pad Thai.

          3. I just don't see what the bruhaha is about Al's french fries. I've never been impressed with 'em. Never had anything but those, though, so I can't comment on the rest. But the fries I've had have always been soggy, greasy, and tasteless.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Morganna

              I've had much better fries as well. I think the attraction is the bucket o' gravy.

              1. re: kaszeta

                Ooh, I beg to differ. Al's frys are worth a pilgrimmage to b-town now and then for me. I love the fact that they're skin-on and they always taste great - a little greasy, maybe, but that's what you'd expect. I guess it's just a question of what you like.

                1. re: Yankunian

                  Yeah, probably. I'm really very fond of crisply cooked potatoes, whether in the form or fries or hash browns. I'm not all that fond of home fries because they are rarely very crisp. :) I like skin on, and have had such things at fairs and the like that I felt were better cooked to me. I have to admit here that I've only ever had Al's at the exposition grounds, but they have never been such that I'd want to go out of my way to the diner. They always taste like the oil wasn't hot enough to me. :) but yeah, tastes differ, I must just be a bit of a whacko, since so many other folks love 'em so much. :)

                  1. re: Morganna

                    They are not as good at the fair as they are at the restaurant for the reasons you mentioned. Now for truly great fries, cook up a batch of Burbanks or Yukon Golds in some duck fat. THAT is a french fry !

                    1. re: TonyO

                      Tommy's City Grill on Shelburne Road in So. Burlington (next to Starbucks) has really good fries. My co-worker calls them "Al's-Like". I always go for the sweet potato fries, which are the best I've had in the Burlington area (so far).

                      1. re: bm_vt

                        Tommy's should work a bit on their appearance. I would venture to guess that more than one potential customer has walked in and made a quick (and not accurate) judgment about the place.

                        1. re: TonyO

                          Interesting observation....the place definately seems to thrive due to a bunch of regulars...I love the place.

            2. Oh man. I grew up in Vermont and one thing I miss most is going to Al's French Fry's. Having graduate from culinary school, traveled the world extensively and eaten my share of $300 dinners, I feel there is still room in this world for greasy burger joints. Seriously, the french fries still taste the same (amazing) after all these years. The burgers are dinky little greasy bits, and I still LOVE them. When summer comes, I am still reminded of summers off from school, going to Al's after dinner and getting a creemee cone. Hell, that's not even real ice cream! Al's is truly a Vermont gemstone and should be delighted in. Even if you do leave the place stinking of grease!

              Henry's Diner is just American diner. The food hasn't changed in years. It never was all that great, and doesn't strive to be gourmet. It's a place to get cheap grub. It also is a Burlington gemstone, having been there for years. Oasis Diner, just down the street, has been visited by more than one president, passing through Burlington, and they are pretty damn good too - good at diner food.

              Libby's Blue Line Diner was junk, always was. Thank god it closed. It was the opposite of home cooked meals. From firsthand knowledge I know that cryo-vacked and ready made mixes were used for most all their dishes. Just gross.

              Anyone remember when Woolworth's was on the corner of Cherry and Church Street? Remember the diner they had? They had THE best coffee! That was WAY before Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Speeder & Earl's and Common Grounds. Nothing like a good cup of diner coffee, in those big ass white mugs.

              7 Replies
              1. re: misac

                I lead an annual Memorial Day weekend bicycle tour from Gordon Landing to Montreal. We used to stay in the Montpelier area and have breakfast at the Park Row Cafe in Waterbury, which has excellent food and did a great job of getting my 24 riders served and out of there in an hour, along with locals.

                This past year I decided to stay at the Super 8 in Colchester so we could get an earlier start, and having Libby's right across the street was a plus as people could walk over and eat when they wanted. I agree with misac that the food was terrible and pricey - a real let down from Park Row Cafe.

                I knew it was for sale, but assumed someone would buy it and am distressed that it has closed. Is there any possibility of something else going in there? If not, could anyone suggest some other location we could eat at on our drive to Gordon Landing? I know Sneakers, but aren't sure they could feed 24 in a timely manner along with their regulars (this is a Friday). Does that pizza place on Rt. 2 at the 314 turnoff for the ferry have breakfast?

                hhhheeellllppp !

                1. re: velotrain

                  I wasn't aware Libby's had closed. My experiences (limited, I'll admit) were decent enough (eggs, toast, homefries, bacon............kind of hard to screw that up although it has been done more than once).

                  Let m know the route and maybe I can help.

                  1. re: TonyO

                    I just called Libby's Diner to see if the report that they had closed had any basis, and Libby's is still open.

                    One local diner, The Parkway, closed last year but has since re-opened under new management.

                    1. re: suzannep

             is always best to find out the truth in a direct way ! I had heard that A&W Drive-in located in Middlebury , VT was closed. WRONG ! Thanks for the update suzannep.

                      1. re: TonyO

                        Well, it is closed, but only for the winter. They are open sometime in April/May until Oct. or so.

                      2. re: suzannep

                        Thanks for the info Suzanne - I guess misac had it wrong, which is a relief. The food at Libby's leaves a lot to be desired, but it couldn't be more convenient for my group.

                  2. re: misac

                    Henry's used to be fantastic, back in the 90s - but then it changed ownership, and the quality of the food took a dramatic dive.

                    Libby's Blue Line Diner is still open, and the food is much better than Henry's. Their pie is pretty amazing.