I have been a little inactive these past few days as Denise and I took a little trip to Burlington, VT for a family wedding. I managed to visit 2 diners and one vintage roadside restaurant for meals while we were there. On Friday late afternoon we attempted to visit the Parkway Diner, Worcester Lunch Car #839, located on Williston Road (Rte. 2) near the airport. Unfortunately they do not start their evening hours until July 1st. So we ended up having breakfast there on Saturday.
Friday afternoon’s second choice was a block away from the Double Tree Hotel where we were staying and was I ever happy! It was Al’s French Frys, a true roadside fan’s treat! This place started out in the 1940’s as a small building with an open counter and no inside seating. Famous for their French Frys as well as the typical fast food choices of hamburgers, hot dogs, etc., it has become famous across the country according to the history gleaned from their website, http://www.alsfrenchfrys.com/ . The building and menu choices have been expanded over the years and there is now inside seating. There is still a take-out window but primarily for Ice Cream.
The expanded exterior has had a newer facade applied with diner-like materials including stainless-steel trim with rounded glass block corners and neon. The menu has grown to include a large amount of sandwiches and even a couple of wraps, overall a great place to eat when you are in the Burlington, VT area.
The thing I was most impressed with at Al’s (and completely surprised with) was their “Grilled Cheese” sandwiches. Now anyplace can make a standard Grilled Cheese with any kind of bread and I would be happy. But Al’s were a blast from the past, let me explain…. back when Carrol’s Hamburgers were around (they were a 1960-mid-1970’s McDonald’s clone), I used to frequent the Carrol’s stands that were in the Boston area as well as Up-State New York. I personally do not eat hamburgers but Carrol’s was the only chain that featured “Toasted Cheese” sandwiches on their menu. They were made with what appeared to be 2-slices of flat, round shaped bread, basically what I always thought were the bottoms of a hamburger roll with orange cheese. They were inexpensive (I remember 20 cents and just before the chain closed 30 cents) and I used to buy 4 at a time with an order of fries and a pepsi. I was disappointed when the Carrol’s Corporation decided to become a Burger King franchisee (as of 2008, one of the largest in the country with 330 units) and closed up all the Carrol’s branded stands. You can check out their history at http://www.carrols.com/html/history.htm
So when I ordered 2 Grilled Cheese sandwiches along with a medium fry at Al’s, I could not believe my eyes when the order was delivered. I was really freaked out (and still am). The Grilled Cheese sandwiches were highly reminiscent of Carrol’s Toasted Cheese sandwiches! They tasted just the way I remember them! I only wish I did not live 3.5 hours from where they are.
I got in touch with Lee Bissonette of Al’s French Frys and asked him about the Grilled Cheese sandwiches and he told me the secret (Carrol’s probably did it the same way). Here is what Lee said…
Larry, We’re so glad you enjoy those Grilled Cheese! But it is a hamburger roll smoosched together. What a combo! We’ve been cooking them this way since the 50’s. Nothing to do with Carrol’s, not even aware that they did that. Just Al’s. Glad you enjoyed it.
Hope to see you again! -Lee
The other diner we ate at was Henry’s Diner on Bank Street in downtown Burlington, possibly the oldest diner in the state of Vermont, it is a Jerry O’Mahony built diner circa 1925. It has had quite a few additions over the years and also a bad fire in 1969. So from the outside it does not look like a regular factory-built diner but once you walk inside, you can see the basic shape of the old barrel-roofed diner within the larger building. While on Bank Street we went down a block and checked on the former Oasis Diner now operating as Sadie’s Deli. It looks to be in good shape with very little changes to the interior. The exterior is great with the exception of the sign that used to be on a pole at the corner of the diner, that is gone (including the pole).