Popolo in Bellows Falls -- First impressions
Has any tried it yet? There's a lot of great buzz and excitement about this place, and their grand opening is tonight. I've been once, and these are my initial impressions:
1. The room is bright and attractive, although a bit loud in the sense that there are many hard surfaces and sound ricochets around a bit. There was an enthusiastic laugher at the communal table next to us, and we were well-aware of her throughout our meal.
2.) The booths are very deep -- designed for up to six people, but it is awkward for servers to deliver food to those on the far inside, meaning that conversation needs to be interrupted a bit too often every time food is delivered, drinks re-filled etc.
3.) The bar is great, and looks like a comfy place to have a solo meal, although it is disappointing that in their renovations they did not take advantage of the beautiful glassed-in sunporch for the bar. I guess they are saving that for area for their special event space. As it is set up now, you sit at the bar, facing a brick wall with your back to the dining room.
4.) I thought the menu, which is touted as being local and seasonal, had some odd choices on the night I was there. One of the soups was a potato/leek(hot), which sounded unappealing on an 85 degree evening, and one of the pasta specials was a carbonara, which also seemed like a pretty hefty offering for late June. I didn't order either, and they may well be delicious, but I'll wait until October, thank you.
5.) The bread basket brought out for a table of five, was a bit skimpy -- enough for one half slice apiece, and no offer to refill, even though we had ordered an antipasto platter to share for the table and ended up sending some of the items back unfinished that I suspect would have been gobbled if we'd had more bread to work with -- marinated peppers, sauce from the meatballs, and the remnants of the lemon caper aioli.
6.) The hot antipasto platter was good -- fried calamari was crispy and flavorful, the tomato sauce for the polpette was vibrant and tangy, although I found the meatballs themselves to be a bit overcooked and on the dry side. The mozzarella fritters could have used a bit more salt.
7.) I ordered a simple pizza with the option of added black olives. The crust was nicely textured with a nice balance of chew and crispy bits, although the whole things was a bit undercooked and, again, could have used more salt. The sprinkling of olive shards was barely discernible, but the few I found were tasty and provided some much-need salt.
8.) The prices are great, and the menu items are arranged so that you can easily make an interesting and affordable meal out of lots of bits and pieces: http://www.popolomeanspeople.com/sub2-1/
9.) Service was friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient -- perhaps a bit on the quick side. We could have used a bit of space between our starter and main courses.
So, given that I've had only one meal here, and haven't sampled the entire menu thoroughly, I'm going to withhold an overall judgement. I like what they are trying to do here, and Bellows Falls really needs a place like this, so I'll give it a couple more goes before making up my mind. I hope that as the kitchen gets their feet under them they'll start offering some slightly more interesting options and get over their fear of seasoning. It may be that I have a palate that is always calling for more salt, and if that's the case I'll do my own seasoning at table, but I'd be interested to hear other opinions.
My husband and I decided to visit Bellows Falls on my birthday in mid-September because it looked like my kind of New England town--formerly industrial, on the river, a real downtown square (not a town green, though for folks who like the white steeple kind) prettified just enough. Oh, and it still has an active train station. BF is also located close to I-91. Fell in love with the town immediately, even though it was a rainy day. There was an active downtown mix of shops, including a fantastic antiques' store--Windham Antiques something or other. Loved it and had to exercise self restraint to keep from buying anything.
All the walking around made me hungry for my birthday lunch. We spied the spiffy Popolo located in a Victorian building that I think is a hotel. The place and menu looked inviting, so we went in. The lunch crowd looked local--friends meeting over lunch by look of things. I loved what Popolo did with the space--kept the tall ceilings, brick wall behind the bar, and seemed to be renovating a checkerboard hallway for expansion, special events??? We couldn't sit on their deck overlooking the river, but the interior was warm and inviting as was the wait staff.
We had a delicious prosecco with lemoncello since it was my birthday. The wine list looked interesting, but the prosecco was plenty at lunch. We each had a generous cup of lentil soup--the special of the day, which hit the spot. (I know, prosecco/limoncello and lentil soup don't mix, but somehow they did!) My husband had the meatball panini, which he went crazy over--wonderful grilled bread with humongous meatballs. I chose the special pizza of the day, which was a feta (or was it goat) cheese, arugula, and lemon pizza on an incredible, chewy-yet-crisp crust. Delicious. I saw there were a couple pastas on the menu, but since I'd read reviews of Popolo's pizzas, that's what I had. Everything tasted so fresh. We had to pass on the locally sourced gelatos due to caloric overload. Another time, and there will be another time.
This place will be a must for leaf peepers and later for skiers, so I'm glad we got to sample it before that madness starts. We definitely plan to try dinner, which looks very innovative and full of local ingredients. (You'll pass a couple farmstands shortly after you get off I-91 if you go to Bellows Falls in the growing season--another reason to go visit.) So Bellows Falls, topped off by Popolo, is wonderful outing.
Is this in what was the Windham Hotel (I think that was the name)? I think there was a music studio there too? What happened with that little cafe down the street that went out of business around a year ago? Something else move in? And what about the space that housed a nicer restaurant (whose name began with O I think) that had the fire? Seldom get up that way anymore but always like to stop in BF for that hot dog place or the diner.
Yes, it's what used to be the Windham Hotel -- it's been renovated to house the restaurant, and some additional event space.
The Cafe down the street closed last year and I don't believe anyone else has opened up in there.
Oona's burned down a number of years ago and the building was torn down after lying fallow for a few years.
The diner is under relatively new ownership and is reportedly doing some interesting higher end farm to table stuff.