Depot 62 is a furniture store, AND also our favorite restaurant in Southern Vermont.
Located in Manchester Center, Manchester, it is one of the closest eateries from our home. It affords us food we crave, and food all our friends from food-cities like NYC, London, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco and other such food-centric places can enjoy and appreciate. Is this important? Well, it is at least a noteworthy occurrence, as in our world, in North Country, only a handful of restaurants might give us those bragging rights.
Like it seems with most all noteworthy restaurants in the area, we found Depot 62, a long time after our move to North Country. After many lackluster meals, at places suggested with great pride and aplomb by locals, we began to take all recommendations with a grain of salt. It took Jessica the brilliant baker and owner of Lawyer & Baker to suggest this restaurant for us to go to Depot 62. Since we are big fans of Jessica and her husbands honest food, we knew to take their nudge very seriously. And to be utterly honest, we were SERIOUSLY IMPRESSED.
Love at first bite! Since that first time at Depot 62 a couple of years ago, we have never found ourselves too tired to make that drive across Rupert Mountain and into Manchester from Hebron, or too full, or feeling too silly to make a second trip into Manchester, just for dinner. Winding, hilly, not-always-easy-on-the-car roads can sometimes pose a challenge. And can often inhibit spontaneity. Eating a meal at Depot 62 always becomes the highlight of that day, if not that week. Serap Oligney, a partner at the restaurant, who also hosts and serves when present, is a woman with a compelling style. She is also a talented businesswoman. Running a restaurant that is hugely popular, with limited seats, and customers that tend to linger longer than they would at other places, is not an easy job. Serap is able to manage this, and with alacrity. At first impression, I mistook her abilities to turn tables as her desire to have distance from her customers. Maintain a certain aloofness. I could not have been any farther from the truth. Doggedly loyal, very generous and more than ready to accommodate her customers needs, Serap has a natural instinct around hospitality and all the necessary traits that it takes to make people feel comfortable and special. We come to Depot 62 for great food, and we come back often. We come here also to embrace her energy and spirit. Charlie and I feel lucky to have found this restaurant, and through it this woman of few words, great strength, and luckily for Charlie and those we bring here also a woman who knows good food and wine. You can never be led astray through her suggestions. Her small list of wines, goes well with her food, and her selections make affordable wines seem special and noteworthy.
Hajro Muminovic and his wife Azra are also key players in the team that runs the cafe. Key players would be an understatement, since it is Hajro, that is behind the menu in more ways than one. That the restaurant produces some of the best pizza anyone would eat ever, is not an over statement of facts. It is in fact this fact that brings us to Depot 62 time and again. Sometimes, even a couple of times a day. The pita bread too is very special. Crisp, big and round, or soft and pliable and warm, perfect to pick hummus with, which is in fact brilliant at this eatery. From Bosnia, Hajro has a way with his Woodstone Oven. Zoe Francois, who was visiting us this last weekend to teach bread classes at the Battenkill Kitchen, was like a kid in a candy store whilst enjoying lunch here. Azra and Hajro, are the chefs behind the menu, and their attention to detail, their pride for the food they serve, is evident in the simple glory of all the tastes, and each bite that seduces the diner. Without them Depot 62 would be very different, and certainly our lives would not be as rich. Thanks Azra and Hajro!
One could see Zoe's excitement at being here. Just as we came in, a pita bread fresh-out-of-the-oven was being delivered to a table. Zoe's eyes could not have gotten any bigger, and her anticipation at tasting this pita and watching Hajro make it, was evident from that moment on. Luckily for her, Hajro, his wife Azra, and Serap, are so very kind and generous, that they opened hearth and heart for Zoe, and showed and shared everything about their cooking of breads with her.
Hummus, roasted eggplant with yogurt and extra virgin olive oil, Roman beans, and leeks are often ordered at the beginning of our meals at Depot 62. These are always enjoyed with hot pita and often with slices of onions doused with lemon and sometimes even pepper. The Indian in me, comes alive, brims with BIG smiles and is transported back to meals in India, and also in Morocco. How could one not enjoy fresh-hot-soft-crisp and puffy pita with such comforting food? The eggplant with sweet peppers, onions and yogurt is the Turkish (and dare I say, Persian and Indian) version of Babaghanouj and so much better than it. It is also lighter and better for you. The Roman beans remind Charlie of Rajmah (the spicier Indian version made on Sundays and served with rice across Delhi and Punjab), which is loves a lot. The leeks are either loved by people or not. They are for people that love leeks and love them for being leeks. Unadulterated leek flavor rules in this dish. The hummus is hummus. Not garlicky, not too tahini-ey and not too runny or too stiff. Just right.
Lentil Soup is what I always loved eating at Moustache, my favorite eatery in Greenwich Village. It was here that I first made a restaurant acquaintance. The owner Salaam and his sister-in-law Nadja, took me on as one would a country cousin. They are from Iraq, and it was their warmth, generous spirit, the great mezze and most of all the Lentil Soup that made me lose any homesickness I had. The lentil soup was like the Daals I had grown up eating. Modest and simple, but comforting and healthful - all at once At Moustache they would serve it with a garnish of crispy fried onions, just like my father and I loved enjoyed eating our Daals. At Depot 62, this indulgence is not there, but the soup is just as brilliantly made, and simply served. Here they serve it with crackers. Charlie and I always ask for some lemon and use any leftover pita bread to dip into the soup, and enjoy it like we would a chapati. Serap is kind enough to divide a bowl of soup into two, or three, to give everyone a taste of their humble but very gratifying lentil soup. Lentil Soup this is, but it is NOT what Americans have grown up eating. This is the lentil soup of the Eastern Mediterranean, Persia and India. Try it, and even those of you that hate lentil soup, will find a new love for lentils.
When it comes to pizzas here, we always order the Classic. Made with a wonderful tomato sauce, that has flavor, which is often missing in even the best pizzas, made with care. But most surprisingly, for at least this part of the country, what shocks travelers from out of the area, is the usage of great cheese. Real Cheese as some comment after trying the pizza. This is not pizza made with cheese made in a factory, where milk and cheese are stretched with gum and thickeners, and made into cheese-like concoctions that become stretchy like chewing gum when eaten. This is flavorful, simple, rich and assertive cheese, that is not needed in large quantity to make impact and impart flavor. Little bits of good cheese go a long way. We also always order the Salad pizza, made with arugula and also with some baby tomatoes, and some shavings of parmesan. Of course drizzled with good balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. What is there not to like? The salad fresh and crisp and dressed correctly. The pizza thin, crusty and crispy and salty all at once. Often when we come with those that love mushrooms, we order the mushroom pizza. Zoe noted how simply mushroomy the mushroom pizza was. Mushrooms shaved finely, placed over the pizza raw, cooked in the stone oven, and paired with good cheese and good olive oil. Nothing more, nothing less. It is beautiful to see life share magical bliss when it is least contrived and least contorted. At Depot 62, it is this ability to keep things simple and honest, that makes most drama. Theirs is not a theatrical production of wasteful fuss and rubbish. It is the celebration of simplicity and a modesty of ingredients. Never cheap, but rather chosen with care, even if with great expense, and applied to the cooking with care and measure, so as to produce food that lingers in the hearts and minds of diners, long after they leave the restaurant.
That Depot 62 also sells home furnishings and tchatchkas, is an added bonus for those looking for curiosities from Turkey, and other parts of the world. You can also find sofas and chairs, upholstered or not, from such talented design studios as Sisco Brothers, who make organic furnishings for discerning buyers. Ayten Birol, is a charming partner of this business, and her job is to manage the non-cafe business, and she does a great job with it.
Every-time we leave Depot 62, we are determined to come back and eat here again. And to share it with all that we love and bring into our lives. This is no ordinary place. It is a fine restaurant, serving wonderful food, not simplistic at all, but planned to be simple and honest. Come here for discoveries of many types, and I promise you will leave at least having eaten great food and perhaps even finding some pieces to accent the decorations around your home.
515 Depot Street
Manchester Center, VT
PS: I must confess I am a BIG fan of the Baklava at Depot 62. Sadly, this last visit, it was not there. Azra Muminovic makes this beautiful version of this classic dessert of the Middle East. We may have come in too early, and it perhaps was cooling in the pan she makes it in. You must order some. It will give you a new appreciation for this often too-sweet and too-syrupy a dessert. At Depot 62, this too is done simply but beautifully. This time around, I made do with a couple of chocolate-sandwich cookies, and they were just fine.