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Jul 13, 2009 11:17 AM

Bluebird Tavern, VT gastropub

There was this MasterCard commercial a few years ago that begins with a dressed-up couple excitedly entering a beautiful restaurant. They order a bottle of fine wine, and are then served a ridiculously miniscule entrée. The commercial ends with them stocking up on junk food at a convenience store in order to round out their meal. I was reminded of that commercial last night while dining at the Bluebird Tavern.

After hearing a lot of hype and ads on the radio, my boyfriend and I suggested the Bluebird Tavern to our new neighbors, two brand-new Burlington residents from the gastronomic paradise of Portland, OR. We were excited to try the constantly changing localvore menu, and looked forward to discovering a great new dining option.

We were disappointed in just about every way. The menu was cryptic, with virtually no descriptions of the fare. Nor was our waiter particularly helpful in deciphering the menu.

There were almost no vegetarian options (and certainly no vegan), and I ended up getting the only entree that fell into the vegetarian category: flatbread with chanterelles and feta. That's it, no salad, no sides… hardly a balanced meal. It was delicious, but was rather small and should have been a shared appetizer. Oh, it was a spendy $11 or $12.

My boyfriend chose the "Butcher's Block" entrée, $15 - an assortment of meats with grilled toast. The waiter described it as the chef's specialty, and his description made it sound enormous. Served on a cutting block, it was surprisingly small and offered no vegetables or sides. My boyfriend said it was tasty, but it certainly didn't satiate his appetite. Again, it should have been a shared appetizer.

Another companion ordered the Maine Fluke entree, $11 or $12, which was sushi-grade fluke served with cracklin' (bacon topping). From the server's description, she expected a substantial entree-sized serving of fish. Wrong. The dish was shockingly small, just a few slivers of fish with a scant topping. No sides, no salad. She was visibly disappointed and had to pick off her husband's plate to even begin to curb her appetite.

Her husband chose the double burger with fries, $14, which he declared tasty. But, again, he was surprised at the lack of any vegetable options - no lettuce, tomato, onion, etc. As for quantity, he definitely chose the best option among the four of us. It was small by burger standards, but was the only entree among the four we ordered that came close to a full meal.

I will say, the ambience was lovely and the food itself didn't disappoint. It just wasn't anything special. There are plenty of other Burlington dinner options that offer a similar menu, better food, and significantly larger portions for comparable prices. I'd suggest The Daily Planet, Sugarsnap (fabulous localvore take-out), American Flatbread (which does a much better flatbread than Bluebird's), or Stone Soup.

The service was also very disappointing. After delivering our entrees, our waiter disappeared. He never checked on us. My boyfriend eventually flagged him down to order extra bread to finish his meat spreads, and the request took more than 15 minutes. For bread!

We agreed that the experience was an all-around failure. My boyfriend, who religiously tips 20% or more, only left 10%. He just couldn't justify leaving any more. We then invited our neighbors over for homemade cookies to help fill our stomachs. While we may be overly accustomed to the supersized American portions (and usually, happily, take home leftovers for our backyard chickens), the Bluebird's paltry portions were simply disgraceful.

Bluebird Tavern
Burlington, VT, Burlington, VT

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  1. My experience at Bluebird Tavern Gastropub was exactly the same as VermontGirl's.

    The portions were absurdly small and the server was unable to decipher the, yes, "cryptic," menu. I do believe that the team behind this restaurant has all the right intentions and I am with them on their local food sourcing approach, but diners will always want food that is original, delicious and, especially in this economic climate, a good value for their dollar. It seems as though the management's (doubtless sincere) attachment to a pure, local food consumption philosophy took them too far in the direction of over-simplification and "dressed down" recipes. The result feels affected and fussy.

    The fact that most locals remember this location as the old Tortilla Flats (and it doesn't look much different) further begs a comparison. TF devolved into a joint offering big plates of cheap, but awful, "Mexican" food. Being served miniscule portions at painful prices in, essentially, the same place is hard to swallow.

    I hope the tavern's owner(s) will reconsider their game plan. If at some point in the future I hear that they have, I might go back. But unless they do, I don't think the street buzz, which is already beginning to hum, is going to do them any good.

    1. Bluebird certainly has been hyped, but does it deserve such rough treatment. The ambiance and the food were good. Huh? What else does a restaurant need to do? Have a good time for you? I understand the service was sub-par and the portion size too small. I think Bluebird just opened? Is that true? If so, there is plenty of time to tighten-up. In Burlington they will realize the demand for vegetables/vegetarian dishes, especially in the summer. The portions are going to be small at 11-15$ anyways. Sushi grade Maine fluke for 11$. How much fish did you expect. Local food costs more for restaurants than national purveyors, I am stoked to get up there. It sounds like they are doing a good thing.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Rogan

        Haven't been there but completely agree with Rogan. You say that the portions were more appetizer-sized, well you're basically paying appetizer prices. If I saw a chanterelle and feta flatbread appetizer on any restaurant menu, I'd definitely expect to pay more than $10 for it. Maybe you should have ordered another course.

        1. re: stroshow3

          Have been there, and the first two posts are exactly right. Tons of potential, but the vision is fuzzy and portions are disappointing. $15 appetizers might be right for a nice night out, but this place is trying to be a neighborhood pub... it's too pricey for a hangout, and what are really appetizers are presented on the menu as though they're entrees. We were hoping Bluebird would resemble a neighborhoody, locally sourced and affordable institution like the Alchemist in Waterbury... hopefully there's still time for them to pull it off.

          1. re: surfingbird

            For more info, including my take on The Blue Bird Tavern, go to

            1. re: TonyO

              And when you go to now, you will find that most of the ratings are high - 4 stars and up, along with a few people who don't get it. Food is good to great -- fresh, local, creative, well conceived and well prepared. Great beers on tap, great wine list. Friendly staff who know their menu. Some dishes are smaller and will not fill you up -- either ask your server, or just order the double cheeseburger with the frites. But even the smaller specialties provide good value, and the innovative sides will carry you a long way. This is not a place at which to stuff yourself with mediocre food. Granted, different people have different tastes and interests when eating out, but the Burlington area has really needed a restaurant this good.

              1. re: Kaiopect8

                I guess I really don't "get it". How does $30 / dozen oysters and a $4 deviled egg represent value ??? It seems every negative comment about this place is rebuked by saying the poster "doesn't get it" . Oh I get it, I just don't really care for it.

                1. re: TonyO

                  I have to agree with TonyO on this one, firstly the term Gastropub I feel is a misnomer. I recently ventured in to Bluebird despite the mixed reviews feeling like I should make up my own mind, and I have to say I wont likely be returning. Any time I go to a restaurant I expect to leave feeling satiated in some way, either by the deliciousness of food or at the very least by a large portion size. I felt like the flavors they were presenting were largely sound (or had potential), and I like the fact they are using local ingredients, but I dont think that is enough to warrant me going home feeling like I should stop somewhere and pick something else up because all I had was "appetizers", maybe my appetite is too large I thought, but when consulting my friend, who has a much smaller appetite than mine, and who went with me on how she felt the food was she said the same thing, that it might as well have been a "tasting or sample menu" because there wasn't much to it and that the prices were astronomical for the food, high quality local ingredients or not.

      2. We have visited the Bluebird Tavern twice. Once for drinks and once to try the acclaimed burgers (everyone at the bar was talking about them). I think the restaurant is off to a good start. Hopefully some tweaking in response to feedback will help this restaurant to become an establishment. We certainly need more good choices in Burlington and Bluebird has all the right ingredients to make a it a winner!

        Overall, we thought the food was very tasty. The burgers are delicious - juicy and flavor packed. Although, it would be nice to serve them with a small side salad vs. a heaping mound of fries - cut the fries in half and throw a few leaves of lightly dressed lettuce on the plate. It will go a long way with presentation and perception of what one is getting. We also ordered a salad. olives, and squid. The salad was basic. The olives were tasty. The squid was very blah - no flavor and quite rubbery (it's sauteed vs. fried).

        Also, we had our child with us. It cost us $14 to feed him. He ordered the kids pasta and received a very small serving. He finished in about 60 seconds and said, "I'm still hungry." We had to order another serving. The pasta was very tasty (pasta pillows with butter sauce) but came with nothing (again, no veggies). Kids would do better with a simple pasta and red sauce that wouldn't cost the restaurant much but would satiate the kids. I have never had to order my child 2 meals in a resaturant before.

        We received great service on both visits. Attentive servers and quick food delivery.

        1. Clarify the menu. It will help your diners and your servers.
        2. Increase the portion sizes or decrease your prices. Just some minor tweaking should do on your small plates.
        3. Consider adding some entrees to your menu. I think only having 2 shared plates in the $45 range is a mistake. This requires that 2 people want to eat the same thing from a very limited selection of 2 choices. How often do you go out to dinner with someone and order the exact same thing? My husband and I rarely do this. We like to share bites of our different choices. I can't envision that we would ever order your $45 entree. How many repeat customers will you have over time if they aren't ordering the entrees?

        Great job with the flavors and the creativity. We'd love to see your restaurant succeed!

        3 Replies
        1. re: vtgoodeats

          I've been reading the complaints/criticisms/comments about Bluebird here, and I keep coming back to the idea that "gastropub" and "small plates" and "gourmet" seem to be lost here. They're not serving dinners, are they? They're intended to be like a tapas place, aren't they? Did I misunderstand what "gastropub" means? Lemme look it up...

          So this is what wiktionary says (
          gastropub (plural gastropubs
          ) 1. (British) A public house that serves high-quality food

          This isn't really clear to me, but in the absence of further detail, I'd assume it meant "high quality pub food" which still says to me "small plates". So now I wander to Bluebird's website... this is what they have to say:
          At Bluebird Tavern we emphasize local, sustainable, and delicious food grown by our friends. We are committed to bringing our guests the best offerings from the market and from the farm. Our menu changes daily, in honor of the subtle shifts of the harvest.

          On their menu they call it "supper". That seems to imply more than just "small plates" or "tapas" style selections. Soooo... I look over the sample menu. It looks a lot bigger than has been suggested in other posts, but perhaps that's because of the things they have listed there, they only offer some of them each night, based on availability of produce. That makes some sense to me. So it would appear that they do have a broad selection available, just not every night. If you want to experience different things, you have to come back. I guess looking at their website this sets up that the food is going to be an entree plus at least one, if not two, sides, and of portions that I'd expect to fill me up the way a meal ought. They have categories on the menu: Snacks, Shares, Supper (Built for Two). In "Shares" they have things like this:
          steak tartare, frites, fried farm egg $11
          butchers board, grilled bread, house mustard, pickles $15
          fluke crudo, ‘tasty jade’ cucumber, pork cracklin’ $11
          fried rabbit, baby squash, preserved lemon $19

          Looking at the descriptions and the prices, I'd expect these to be smaller plates, based on the fact that this is supposed to be a gourmet establishment, and you don't get away from such an experience with such low prices for mains, even in Vermont. I'd expect the Suppers for Two to be much more substantial, yet...

          roasted chicken, artichokes, and fennel $42
          vermont pig, grilled plums $44
          lamb, cucumber salad $42

          None of those look like good candidates for a really filling experience. So this makes me wonder if they're operating on the idea that they're more of an "amuse bouche" place. You'll come there for some fantastic drinks, some really wonderful small plates, then move on somewhere else to have your mains.

          To add further confusion!
          In the United Kingdom, supper is a term for a snack eaten after the evening meal and before bed, usually consisting of a warm, milky drink and British biscuits or cereal.
          In Australian English, supper may refer to a late light dessert or snack (such as toast and cereal) had some time after dinner. In New Zealand it is similar – generally cake and tea/coffee served later in the evening, particularly when people have visitors.
          In most of the United States and Canada, "supper" and "dinner" are considered synonyms. In some areas either term may be rarely used. It is typically served between 6pm and 8pm.

          It was the same where I grew up. You had dinner or supper at the end of the day, and it was the biggest meal, usually.

          But it seems to me that the ideas behind Bluebird are not the American vision of dinner/supper but rather the UK versions in some way or other. The food they offer isn't intended as a full on meal, but something really yummy to nosh on while you're there for great drinks and socializing that's outside the standard "pub fare" of, oh, bangers and mash or whatever the US equivalent of that is (jalapeno poppers and buffalo wings, maybe?). The comparatively high prices are explained by the fact that they're using local produce, they change their menu daily based on product availability, and they're intent on offering a very high quality product (that is much better than the typical poppers or wings you might find in other places).

          I don't think the prices are unreasonable for the how they're placing themselves in the market (they're not a family restaurant, and they aren't billing themselves that way as far as I can tell, they're not there to fill up your child on the cheap). I think that the expressed expectations/desires for larger portions or more complete meals are missing the point of the place and are unrealistic.

          It appears to me that most people aren't faulting all of the execution of the food. There are a few issues (like the squid being bleah), but for the most part, it seems folks -like- what they're getting, and it's really good food. That they were expecting more of a dinner experience than they got, and so were put off by that, and by the comparatively high prices.

          I haven't had a chance to eat here yet, but the varying reports on it make me think maybe I should give it a go so I can see what I think. Small plates are no problem for us, since we've got smaller than normal stomachs, but I wonder if we'd find ourselves too hungry again (for the price) too soon afters. :)

          1. re: Morganna

            There are a couple of threads on this place and I posted on one of the other ones about my experience. I have been here a couple of times and it doesn't have the sense or feel(foodwise) of any gastropub I have ever visited in the UK. In the gastropubs in the UK you can actually get a full meal. Yes there are snacks available in UK gastropubs also but also more menu options geared toward"dining".
            Regarding tasty drinks. I don't recall any actual alcohol(booze) options, just beer, wine and aperitif style concoctions. That might have changed since my last visit.

            A little off topic but if you are looking for a new place to try out in the area then check out Belted Cow Bistro in Essex Jct. I have had two really good meals there, once a couple weeks back that I posted about and then again this past weekend on my way to Montreal(that I didnt post about yet).

            1. re: Wursthof

              Thanks for commenting on this. I really have no idea what a gastropub is or is supposed to be. :) Your comments helped. :)

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. In researching new foodie places, I stumbled upon Bluebird Tavern. I stopped in once to check out the ambiance, which I thought was quite nice. Particularly nice, was the outdoor seating that was screened in (and heat lamps for those cooler days). I am glad that I didn't read these reviews before, because I don't think I would have made the effort.

            We were there last night for an early dinner (6pm) and were seated immediately. Our server started by describing the restaurant's approach, emphasizing the local ingredients when ever possible (but that the sardines were not local). She was very knowledgeable (guessing much of the feedback has made it to the owners) and answer all our questions... from portion size... fluke crudo being the smallest and the butcher's plate the largest of the small plates, garganelli being the housemade pasta that is rolled onto a dowel to get its shape, and testa being a refined head cheese.

            For small plates, I had the steak tartar with the farm fresh egg. The tartar was nicely chopped (not ground) and also came with a large helping of french fries. I was pretty full by the time I finished it. My husband had the the head lettuce, with was a half of a head of lettuce (between a romaine and boston) with some dressing.

            For our large plates, I had the garganelli with foraged mushrooms and asparagus - very rich. The portion was quite small, but after the tartar and fries it was more than plenty ($17). My husband had the double burger, which unfortunately must have had a salt accident... way too salty.

            I would definitely go back again, specifying no or little salt. The flavors themselves were very good, and offering what is in season gave me some good idea for ingredients in my garden today.

            Bluebird Tavern
            Burlington, VT, Burlington, VT

            1 Reply
            1. re: travelames

              Just back from my first dinner at the Bluebird Tavern. I think most of the negative comments in the earlier posts don't reflect the restaurant as it is one year on.

              My server was excellent, knowledgeable, attentive, friendly and professional. For my first course I had the crispy pig's tail. I would describe it as sort of croquette of slow cooked tail meat served with an herbed mayonnaise, slivers of pickled beets, hard cooked egg, and micro greens. All the various elements were flavorful with a really nice background flavor of chervil and/or tarragon. It was perfectly sized for a first course and the $9 price was quite reasonable.

              For my main course I had the roast chicken. It was I think the most perfectly cooked chicken I have ever had. Juicy tender meat, and skin that was almost glasslike in it's crispiness. At $22 I wouldn't call it cheap, but given the quality it was more than fair.

              So, two courses and some bread and butter, and I was way too full for dessert. So I don't think portion sizes are really a problem any more. I do however agree with the previous post, that they are a bit heavy handed with the salt .

              I'll definitely go back, there are lots more things on the menu I'm curious to try.

              Bluebird Tavern
              Burlington, VT, Burlington, VT