DOT’S BEAT: Food Minstrels of Montpelier

by Dot Helling

The traditional definition of a “minstrel” is a traveling medieval musician. The expanded definition includes entertainers, servants, workers, and poets.  As I walked in downtown Montpelier one day taking in the aromas and sights of our portable food carts, it came to me that these traveling Epicurean meisters are also minstrels.  They move about, entertain, and satisfy us with palate pleasers that fill our bellies while we enjoy a lunch hour walk or take in an outdoor event, such as the summertime entertainment on Thursdays in front of Christ Church on State Street.

The board at The Feisty Burrito

The Feisty Burrito locates its tent across from Christ Church in front of the Washington County Courthouse. This is the third year this family business has been at this spot, Monday through Friday as weather permits from 11 am to 2 pm. Jack and Jennifer Taylor, with the help of their daughter Maxine (who named the business) serve California burritos “Jack style.” I recently inhaled a chicken burrito with beans and pico de gallo, spiced to my liking.

Feisty Burrito strives to be unique and not compete with restaurants in town that offer burritos. They cater to a substantial block of regular customers with options that include half meals and vegan fare.  The food is healthy and, as much as possible, uses area products such as local pork, chicken, and Cabot cheeses. Their affordable and filling lunches “on the go” average $6‒$10 and come with a complimentary side of crispy taco chips.

Off season the couple works regionally as substitute teachers, which helps them maintain the flexibility needed to run their business. The Feisty Burrito stays open until the snow flies, catering to a busy foliage season.

George Estes has been setting up his “Out Doggin’ It” food cart in front of Christ Church for 29 years, always on Thursdays, and sometimes daily, during the warmer months.  He is otherwise a self-employed general contractor doing business as “We Can Do It Construction.”  George’s fare includes grilled chicken, burgers made with grass-fed ground beef from Morse Farm, sausage, and hot dogs, all with rolls and assorted garnishes including grilled peppers and onions. Prices run from $2.50 for a basic hot dog to a deluxe burger at $6, with most choices in the $5 range. Water and soda are available for an extra charge. You can also purchase a daily variety of St. Laveau Lemonade, the company owned by Lisette Paris, aka Betty St. Laveau. 

Jing Ji (center) with her brother Jimmy (left) and George Estes (right)

Next to George’s cart you will find Jing Ji’s Specialty Foods, a solo operation as well. This is Jing’s first year in front of Christ Church during the week, but she has served her Asian fare at the Montpelier Farmers’ Market for 22 years, sometimes assisted by her brother Jimmy. Jing sets up in front of Christ Church on Thursdays and Fridays during lunchtime and offers Asian dumplings, potstickers, spring rolls and the best cold sesame cucumber noodle I’ve ever eaten. The noodles cost $3 and are available with vegetarian, chicken, pork, bacon and Chinese cabbage options, at $2 per item, plus a variety of sauces.  Jing is from China, and her other occupation is as an opera singer, often performing in churches around this city.

Vendors come and go but these three are becoming landmarks. Just ask their patrons, who look forward to the hearty, tasty lunches and the variety afforded by these three food minstrels. Take your lunch back to the office or, better yet, on a warm, sunny day sit yourself down on one of the available benches and savor the food and the outdoors of our beautiful downtown.  Bon appétit!

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