Manchester, VT: Brick Oven Pizza and More in the Unlikeliest of Places, Depot 62
Until a few years ago, the only furniture store I'd ever eaten at was Ikea.
Let me back up. If you've spent time in Manchester, Vermont, you've probably driven by the best pizza in town and not even known it was there. That's because what you see from the street is a home furnishings store called Depot 62. The stock is mostly high-end, brightly upholstered Mediterranean and North African pieces, plus art and ornate rugs—a unique shopping option in this quaint New England town, to say the least. But the more remarkable find is what's in the middle of the store: a huge brick oven, a cluster of tables, and a menu featuring thin-crust pizza and Anatolian fare.
That said, I didn't find Depot 62 because I was rug shopping. My first meat here was a few years back when the America's Test Kitchen staff was shooting our first season of Cook's Country TV a few towns over in Rupert, andChris Kimball took the group here for dinner.
Most of us ordered pizzas ($11.95-$16.50): 10-inch pies that I remembered were well crisped on the edges, tender within, and tasted like the hearth. That night I think I ate—and liked—the arugula version, which is covered with the fresh baby leaves, but when I got back there this past weekend it was the wild mushroom that caught my eye. The layering of caramelized onions, mozzarella, and handfuls of shaved shiitakes and portobellos gets a sweetness and buttery, earthy richness all at once. The combination really didn't need anything, but I happened to have a lemon wedge at my disposal and (out of habit—I'm a fiend for tart flavors) decided to squeeze a little juice over the pie. Now I'd never order the pie again without a lemon wedge. That little shot of acid was perfect.
I'm going to go out of order here for a moment and explain that I had a lemon wedge on my plate because it came with the fresh leeks ($7.95) appetizer. The rough-chopped green and white portions had been baked with rice, carrots, and plenty of olive oil so that they were rich and velvety. It was one of several vegetarian appetizers that remind me how Mediterranean cuisines show real skill when it comes to cooking humble vegetables. Scooped up in a wedge of the accompanying fresh-baked pita, this plate could be a great meal in and of itself.
The other part of the dinner with Chris Kimball that I remembered was that he was the only one who didn't order a pizza. Instead, he ate a baked lamb dish that looked so good it stuck in my head all these years. Called Konya Kebap ($19.95), it's an oval clay dish brimming with hunks of local lamb that have been seasoned with paprika and oregano and slow-roasted until they're fall-apart tender. A salad of sliced raw tomatoes and paprika-dusted white onion come with; the idea, the waitress explained, is to add the salad to the lamb jus while it's still hot from the oven—the liquid softens the onion and mellows its sharp bite, and the tomato gives up some bright sweetness—and then use the pita as a utensil.
I will say that it was underseasoned; I found myself squeezing every drop out of that lemon, and then sprinkling on some salt and pepper. But the texture was amazing—some of the silkiest lamb I've ever had, with edges that were well browned from the fire.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.