When it comes to providing quality and value, today’s hotel bars and restaurants don’t exactly enjoy a sterling reputation.
Long removed from their glamorous past, most hotel eateries offer food and drink menus that are long on price and short on creativity. And while that’s a strategy that would sink a freestanding restaurant, it works perfectly well in a hotel – particularly if the hotel isn’t in a major city.
Guests, particularly business travelers, may lack the time, means, or inclination to venture too far from the premises. So why not offer them uninspired food accompanied by a tiresome drink list, and overcharge them for it?
But even a captive audience will only tolerate so much mediocrity. Better-quality freestanding restaurants are proliferating, even in chain-dominated suburbs, and the disparity between them and their hotel-based counterparts is growing. Forward-thinking hotels are looking to close the gap.
An Evolving Paradigm
That said, CHOPPS American Bar and Grill is indicative of an industry in transition. Housed in a Marriott hotel in Burlington, CHOPPS would appear to have license to do everything wrong. The majority of the hotel’s guests are probably there on business, meaning they’re unlikely to devote much time to exploring the area.
And while there are a growing number of well-respected restaurants in and around Burlington, it isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. Bring on the chicken piccata and appletinis, right?
Not quite. CHOPPS is a contemporary steakhouse with a menu that manages to have broad appeal without defaulting to the lowest common denominator.
Executive chef Jeff Williams focuses on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and emphasizes presentation. “You eat with your eyes,” says general manager Davide Crusoe as he explains the importance of ensuring each dish has at least a touch of artistry to it.
Emphasis on Presentation
That’s evident as soon as the bread arrives in a cast-iron dish with a ramekin of butter balanced on top.
A rich, creamy clam chowder is accompanied by the world’s most adorable corn muffin.
And while steak may be the main event here, a diverse offering of appetizers and small plates ensures you won’t go hungry while you wait.
Guacamame, a smooth blend of guacamole and edamame, is addictive. Sweet and spicy chips add a little zing.
The baby wedge salad has what every salad needs – a generous sprinkling of smoked bacon.
Crab cakes are available as a small plate but can be expanded into a full meal. Davide's comments about presentation ring true; the colors alone are mouthwatering.
But the steak is definitely the star of the show. CHOPPS takes its meat seriously, using only antibiotic- and hormone-free beef from cows raised on sustainable farms and fed a vegetarian diet (I suppose there’s some irony there).
Such insistence on quality shows, and under chef Williams’ command, my tender New York Strip steak is perfectly pink, beautifully marbled, and properly seared.
Steaks come with Maitre d’Hotel butter (served in a bone) and a choice of sauce. I went with the delicious chimichurri – fresh and herbal with a touch of spice, it’s ideally suited to grilled meat.
CHOPPS’ dinner menu is smart, modern, and strong enough to appeal to locals and travelers alike. The cocktail program, by contrast, is a bit of a mixed bag. At first glance, it seems geared toward the older business traveler who doesn’t care much about contemporary cocktail trends. A trio of flavored vodka drinks and a couple of sangria options do little to excite.
Which is not to say that the drink list is entirely without nuance. Davide acknowledges that the typical CHOPPS guest has different expectations than someone visiting a trendy cocktail lounge in Boston, but says the bar still aims for thoughtful presentation in its drinks and promotes creativity among its staff.
The Blood Orange Paloma is made with Patron tequila, lime, and blood orange juice. The blood orange serves as a novel alternative to the sour grapefruit component of a traditional paloma, but it ends up tasting a bit like a margarita.
Rum Punch features Meyer’s dark rum and a house-made punch. It’s refreshing and not overly sweet.
Bourbon Lovers Rejoice
But what truly distinguishes CHOPPS’ beverage program is its devotion to bourbon. Nearly 20 bourbons are available, several of which are presented as flights, and the bar staff is happy to talk to you about any and all of them.
“We took all of our bartenders and put them through pretty rigorous training and got them certified as bourbon professionals,” Davide tells me. “We have this ‘masters of our craft’ program that we helped pilot, and we created a bourbon-centric program that served a pilot for Marriotts.”
That diligence pays off with the Old Fashioned, which remains faithful to the traditional recipe. Made with Knob Creek bourbon, angostura bitters, a citrus peel, and a sugar cube, it’s refreshingly simple and not weighed down by a pile of muddled fruit. Davide tells me that as part of the training program, CHOPPS’ bartenders must submit photos of themselves making the Old Fashioned, as well as the Manhattan, to ensure that they meet the bar’s standard.
An even more pleasant surprise is the barrel-rested spirit, a rotating liquor that’s aged for 90 days. On my visit, the selection is Knob Creek rye, and it’s exceptional. Smooth, spicy, and complex, the in-house aging process elevates a whiskey that’s pretty outstanding to begin with.
A barrel-aging experiment isn’t something you’d expect to see at a suburban hotel restaurant, and it demonstrates a willingness to encourage innovation. Davide says that while any beverage program has to consider the preferences of its audience, he doesn’t want his staff to feel stifled.
“We have a core program that we put together for these hotels, but they’re suggestions of what they should make,” he says. “If they want to do something else, they’re more than able to. We don’t ever hold them back.”
Address: One Burlington Mall Road, Burlington
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