by Lettie Stratton
Surfboards, palm trees, and tropical fish aren’t usually the first things that come to mind when you picture land-locked Vermont, but upon entering The Spot restaurant, I found myself transported into what could easily be a post-surf, beachside food stop. It’s the kind of place you could walk into with your shoes leaving a trail of sand behind you and no one would say a thing. Hell, you might not even be wearing shoes in the first place.
In the 1950s, 210 Shelburne Road served as a Phillips 66 gas station. In 2008, Russ Scully was given the opportunity to bring his passions for surfing and food to the site and reinvented the building as The Spot. Evidence of Scully’s Jersey shore surfing days hangs all around the restaurant. As our waitress Laura would later tell us, “Many of the photos on the walls are of Russ and his friends surfing… They’re pretty extreme!”
Last year The Spot received its share of local press surrounding the addition of a wind turbine on its blue and white striped batwing roof, a move that city planners felt took away from the structure’s status as one of Burlington’s historic mid-century landmarks. The objections were really about the “fins” attached to the turbine, which are there to help the turbine reach its maximum potential for energy-production…and make it look a bit like a space-exploring droid.
Turbine drama aside, The Spot presents a carefree, laid back atmosphere conducive to family dining or a casual night out. Thread Editor, Ben Sarle and I were seated inside at a table next to a garage-style door that let in just the right amount of evening light. The ample outdoor patio seating is a draw for those that can imagine a shoreline across Route 7.
There’s a lot to see at The Spot. As I sat down, several California license plates, a painting of two red parrots, and various tribal masks hanging on the wall caught my eye. Near the bamboo-paneled checkout counter, a large surfboard draped with Hawaiian leis displays a chalk listing of the day’s specials. Blue waves painted along the lower portion of the walls snake their way around the entire restaurant. I looked past the Encyclopedia of Surfing on a table in front of me and saw a small boy peering through the glass of The Spot’s 150-gallon saltwater fish tank, gazing keenly at its finned blue and yellow residents. I wondered briefly if those same fish were on the menu, and then thought better of it.
After emerging from the kitchen to tell us that the chef would like to bring us three dishes as long as we liked seafood (we did) and didn’t mind being full (we didn’t), Night Manager Jacob Smith explained that The Spot’s location makes it easily accessible for people who live and work in the area. “Our core customer base is local,” he said. “Route 7 is not usually a hub for food, but we get a lot of lunch traffic. A lot of people in suits!” Smith continued to explain that parking is a huge draw for The Spot’s customers as well. “It’s hard to get to [certain places downtown] and park on a busy night,” he said. “It’s all about convenience.”
While waiting for the food, I sat back and took in more of The Spot’s island-style décor. The interior is plastered floor to ceiling with surfing photos. Most of the once-bare surfaces are now covered with Dakine, Roxy, Gravis, and Quiksilver stickers, conjuring images of seaside gear shacks, wetsuit rentals, and sun-streaked hair. These furnishings, coupled with the ease and breeze of a no-stress environment, made me feel as though I were on a mini tropical vacation.
Before I could get too lost in the tropics though, the Cloudbreak Salad arrived, served with house balsamic vinaigrette atop a bed of fresh greens. The combination of grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg, bleu cheese crumbles, diced tomato, bacon, and fanned avocado slices made for the perfect appetizer.
Had we not been sharing, I would have immediately had plate envy when our server, Laura, put the Front Loop dish down in front of Ben. The crab enchiladas were served with rice, refried beans, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream, and were especially good with a dab of The Spot’s homemade pineapple habanera hot sauce (once I got up the nerve to try it, that is).
Our final (and my favorite) dish was the Peahi—two fish tacos topped with mango salsa, lettuce, red cabbage, and chipotle sauce. Ben and I agreed that they were the largest tacos in town, and the mango salsa paired nicely with the more muted flavor of the fish.
The rest of The Spot’s cuisine is what you would expect—plenty more options for the seafood lover as well as choices for the more vegetable-inclined and those who enjoy the taste of a good landlubbing original. The menu itself is printed over a quintessentially Hawaiian image, complete with bright pink hibiscus flowers and palm trees.
Many of the dishes are named after famous surf spots or tricks—did you know that “Cloudbreak” is the go-to location in Fiji? Or that the waves at “Peahi” can be so big, the location is also known as “Jaws”? You’d be well on your way to becoming a surf spot expert after doing a little research on the menu. There’s even the option to order online and do a drive-through pickup. Get your fish tacos to go, en route to your favorite wave-riding location!
Russ Scully’s interest in and dedication to water sports has successfully transformed this formerly forgettable gas stop to a seriously memorable, true to its name “Spot.” Scully and his staff have created this engaging environment in which to enjoy a low-key, tasty meal.
After eagerly eating enough food to satisfy even the most famished of surfers, Ben and I had no room for dessert. As we left, I felt relaxed and even thought I might like to try surfing at some point in life. For now though, I think I’ll stick to one or two of The Spot’s delicious fish tacos and call it a night. Surf’s up!
by Lettie Stratton