BURLINGTON — Monarch and the Milkweed opened in mid-August, bringing a sweets-focused, diner-themed restaurant and bakery to the dining scene in downtown Burlington. The business is offering breakfast and pastries to start, but will soon add lunch and dinner, becoming an all-day restaurant.
“We’re calling ourselves a ‘fine diner,’ focusing on sweets, pastries, milkshakes, ice cream,” owner Andrew LeStourgeon said. “We’re not ‘fine dining.’ The dress code and everything else about this place is as casual as you could possibly make it, except not. So we’re serving patty melts and chicken and waffles, house-made golden grahams, and biscuits and gravy. But we’re doing it in very elegant space that is consciously designed, and we’re producing these products with the mind of a chef and a professional hospitality focus.”
The business is located on St. Paul Street, in leased space most recently occupied by Guild Fine Meats. It occupies about 1,100 square feet of space on the ground floor, with a full line and production kitchen in an additional 1,000-square-foot basement.
Signature items in the pastry case include the Opera Cake — a hazelnut sponge layer cake — and a Vermont butter cream cake.
“It’s a simple cake, but it’s made with our own butter and other Vermont-sourced ingredients,” LeStourgeon said.
LeStourgeon said he and partner, Rob Downey, hope to offer an experience as unique as their business’s name.
“That phrase came to me about eight to 10 months ago when we were developing the project,” he said. “We wanted our business name to read like the title of a children’s storybook,” LeStourgeon said, “A lot of what we’re doing in here inspires the kid out of all of us. That’s part of the goal — a lot of whimsy, shapes and sizes that are very recognizable, but also unique.”
Monarch and the Milkweed offers dishes you’ve probably had — maybe even a lot, especially in childhood — LeStourgeon said.
“Our goal is to take those food memories and recreate them with our own aesthetic,” he said. “Take familiar products that are not special occasion and elevate them to that level.” He gave the example of cinnamon buns.
“A very familiar item, but even the molds we use to make them are very specific,” he said. “We aim to make the familiar special. Cinnamon bun? Yeah, fine. But now, here’s ours.”
While the menu is still under development, LeStourgeon said when dinner service launches it will mimic the rest of menu.
“Classic comfort foods,” he said. ”We’ll have shrimp cocktails and oysters, patty melts and grilled cheese venison chili.”
LeStourgeon said Frank Pace, who is developing a “sister restaurant” called The Great Northern in space previously occupied by South End Kitchen on Pine Street, has offered strong support.
“Frank and some of his team have helped develop some recipes that I can hand off to our savory sous chef, who is executing beautifully downstairs.”
While the restaurant appeals to the child in each customer, it also wants to be a special place for adults. Along those lines, “We have a huge cocktail program,” LeStourgeon said. “Nick Roy and Jeff Baumann are our cocktail chefs, and I think they are hands-down among the best in Vermont. Our glassware is specifically choiced, and cocktail specs are exhaustive.”
In addition to food served on site or carried out from the bakery, the business offers a Milkweed brand of items prepared on site, and sold at the restaurant and a number of stores and co-ops in the area.
LeStourgeon said the line is sweet-focused, including ice cream, jams and jello, but added, “We’re also going to bottle and sell our barbecue sauce, which we’ve spent the past six months developing. Anything we’re especially proud of, that we feel has a unique niche, or fills a void in Vermont, we’ll brand and sell.”
The production kitchen includes a pasteurizer and ice cream machine, and a full dairy room.
“We have a milk-handlers license, so can make our ice creams, frozen yogurts, and sorbets and sell them off site.”
The former pastry chef for Hen of the Wood’s restaurants in both Waterbury and Burlington, LeStourgeon moved to Vermont from New York City to take that position in 2012.
“I would not be here if it were not for Hen of the Wood,” he said.
He said an important component of his new venture is to create a business that serves as “a third place.”
Downey owns a firm called Third Place, and LeStourgeon has worked several places in his career he considers third places. “It’s based on the notion of home as a first place, work as a second, with a third being a place in the community where you feel comfortable letting your guard down to stay a while,” he said. “It could be a library or a park or a restaurant.”
A main component of that is to be open most of the day.
“We want customers to understand our business is a place they can come for a variety of reasons, and feel comfortable throughout the day,” LeStourgeon said. “We want to be available to someone who wants to do a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting, a family gathering at six o’clock, or a date at seven, or drinks after the Flynn.”
Kaila Fong, formerly of Hotel Vermont, is general manager. The business currently employs about 18 people, including staff for a pastry department, a savory department, front of the house and management.
The building received extensive renovations and interior construction, with intentional use of colors and materials. Peter Smejkal, of Merkur Construction, served as general contractor.
“I put him through more hell than anyone’s ever put me through, and he still did a very good job,” LeStourgeon said. “That man has helped make my dreams come true. And he’s now one of my best friends.”
Monarch and the Milkweed is located at 111 St. Paul St. in Burlington. The website is www.monarchandthemilkweed.com.