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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Liv, Love, Local: American Flatbread

The shakshuka pizza combines tomato, feta cheese and herbs along with sunny side up eggs baked directly onto the pizza.
The shakshuka pizza combines tomato, feta cheese and herbs along with sunny side up eggs baked directly onto the pizza.

A mainstay of the Middlebury restaurant scene since 2002, American Flatbread launched a creative Sunday brunch this past March to complement its dinner menu of customizable flatbreads, salads and desserts. The brunch menu consists of not only flatbread pizzas, but also a range of brunch-specific pastries, yogurt and drinks available only on Sundays.

Owner and General Manager Danielle Boyce originally joined the Flatbread team in 2006 as a restaurant manager, back when the Flatbread concept was a bakery producing partially-baked, frozen flatbread pizzas during the week and restaurant dining on the weekends. After the bakery side ended in 2009, the restaurant shifted its business model to operate five nights a week. 

Boyce bought the Middlebury location from original founder George Schenk in 2011 and has operated the eatery since. The restaurant’s emphasis on local, organic sourcing has stayed constant, while Boyce and her team have also found ways to make the restaurant unique within the Flatbread franchise, which now has 11 locations across Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.

“Suddenly, my job changed,” Boyce said. “Over the next year or two like the pieces started to fall into place. And it just made sense to buy it at the time.” 

A decade ago, Boyce introduced a bar in what used to be the freezer space for the former bakery. “I'm super proud of where the bar has come over the last 10 years since the bar was built,” Boyce said. 

The timber-framed pavilion in Flatbread’s outdoor space, which can seat 75 people and host groups of over 100, was an addition during the pandemic. 

“[It] is a great outdoor space for the community to gather for outdoor dining or host private events,” Restaurant Manager Joe Hans wrote in an email to The Campus. The framing was executed by Goosewing Timberworks in Lincoln, Vt. 

“It’s a relatively sought after place to have large groups for celebrations,” Boyce said of the recently added pavilion. “I love that we can contribute to the community… Just really special moments in our lives that we get to be a part of is super rewarding.”

Between the renovated bar and expanded outdoor space, Flatbread has been able to broaden its event offerings. While the pavilion is popular during the warmer months, in colder weather the bar area can accommodate up to 50 people and the oven room can fit up to 200 people during regular business hours, Flatbread Events Manager Michaela Davico wrote in an email to The Campus. 

American Flatbread sources its ingredients seasonally from dozens of local farms, apiaries and butchers. “We use local fruits, vegetables, and meats from our Vermont farms 100% when they're in season,” Head Chef Jennifer Stratman wrote in an email to The Campus. Even out of season, the kitchen prioritizes organic ingredients.

The popular apple bacon cheddar flatbread, also known as the A.B.C., was created in Middlebury about a decade ago and has spread organically to the Flatbread franchise’s other locations across New England. 

“What's kind of cool about that is the other Vermont Flatbreads have asked if they could put it on their menu,” Boyce said of the A.B.C. 

In recent years, American Flatbread has added options with chicken rather than pork-based proteins, as well as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. “Our current chef is really fantastic about having something for everyone on the menu. So you don't have to worry as much if you're vegan or vegetarian, you can still eat,” Boyce said.

Led by Stratman, a self-identified brunch fiend, the launch of the new brunch menu was inspired by some of the most intense innovation and dish development for the team in recent years. “As soon as I was in a position to return brunch to Middlebury, I was ready with menu ideas blazing,” Stratman wrote. 

Stratman developed two brunch-specific pizzas to represent Flatbread’s roots with a breakfast twist. Lox of Love features smoked salmon, while the Shakshuka pizza combines tomato, feta cheese and herbs with sunny side up eggs baked directly onto the pizza to create a runny, dippable yolk. The team refined the rest of the menu to balance out offerings for a well-rounded breakfast feel beyond solely baked goods and breads. 

Other brunch staples include biscuits and gravy, house-made fermented yogurt and maple pecan cinnamon rolls. Some items can be made vegan, such as vegan mushroom gravy on the biscuits. Boyce also created a grain-free scone using almond flour and the whey from the 24-hour fermented yogurt. The recipe was inspired by recent dietary changes her family made as they adjusted to her daughter’s health condition, which requires a grain-free diet. 

“It's like this tiny little snippet of how we're living our lives,” Boyce said. “It's been really cool to share that and it's actually selling which is a source of pride for me.”

Beyond food, the brunch drink menu has been painstakingly crafted. Coffee comes from Iluminar Coffee, roasted just across the parking lot in the Marble Works district. Head Bartender Alicia Pierson developed the brunch cocktail menu through detailed research on trending brunch cocktails and a healthy dose of experimentation. The cocktail side features two brunch staples, a Bloody Mary and a Mimosa, and two that rotate seasonally.

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“I put organic tomato juice into it and just the right amount of spice. It’s obviously a signature drink everywhere for brunch,” Pierson said from behind the bar as she poured a Bloody Mary. The current seasonal drinks include an Aperol spritz and a gin-based cocktail. 

“I think gin and Aperol in general are great to have for brunch. They're bright, easy drinking in the morning,” Pierson said. Pierson described  the Bloody Mary as her favorite she has ever had, made unique by a balance of spices and a pickled garnish.

Non-alcoholic drink options at the brunch options include the Sober Juniper, a fresh, bubbly gin and tonic-esque mocktail sweetened with juniper berry simple syrup. The Rock You “Like” a Hurricane includes a blend of passion fruit, grenadine, orange juice and lime garnished with an orange slice for a more colorful drink.

“I kind of went for those like trial and error. What uses what purees? What tastes good together?” Pierson said. 

Brunch is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. With a menu the team is excited about, the main challenges to adjusting to the new Sunday morning hours have been staffing and getting the word out.

While Middlebury being a small town means it has a limited labor pool, Boyce said she has been impressed by the dedication of the small but mighty team that has rebounded since the pandemic. 

“It's so cool to see the buy-in, to see them excited and creative and wanting to run that restaurant well. And they're doing it,” Boyce said. 

Josh Hulbert ’24.5 started working at Flatbread in the fall of 2021, in kitchen roles and as a host. Hulbert wrote in an email to The Campus that he enjoys working with his fellow team members and connecting to the broader Middlebury community. 

“Everyone is very supportive throughout shifts and despite the fast-paced environment, we still have a good time together,” Hulbert wrote. “I definitely have learned to appreciate the local community at Middlebury, seeing similar faces of town members and hearing their fun life stories, and meeting their families.”

While American Flatbread has been in Middlebury for decades relying predominantly on word-of-mouth to attract business, spreading the word about newer offerings like the brunch menu has been more difficult. 

“We're tucked away you know, we're not in downtown or anything like that,” Boyce said. 

Several customers, both residents and college students alike, said they only recently discovered Sunday brunch, despite its launch in mid-March. “This is our first time coming in and doing brunch,” said Emma Tzotschew ’23.5 on a recent Sunday in November. Tzotschew and her friends tried the shakshuka and apple bacon cheddar flatbreads, paired with a Sober Juniper and classic Bloody Mary. They were impressed by the food and the environment of Flatbread on a Sunday. 

“I like the vibe in here,” Louisa Stevens ’23.5 said, sitting at the bar area with a full view of Pierson shaking up cocktail orders. The space retains its cozy hearthside atmosphere during the day but brightens the space with natural light.

Hans believes this newest change to Flatbread’s operations fills a gap in Sunday morning dining options in Middlebury. 

“When I first started, there wasn't a day that went by when we weren't constantly changing or pivoting to the challenges,” said Hans, who joined the Flatbread team in the midst of the pandemic in October 2020. 

While evening dine-in customer volume has bounced back from the takeout-only phases of the pandemic, Hans hopes the Middlebury community appreciates the new brunch offering. A number of other breakfast and brunch spots in Middlebury including Shiretown Marketplace, Haymaker Bun Company and Middlebury Bagel, are closed on Sundays. 

“We can continue to offer our community an alternative dining option on Sunday mornings, which is something Middlebury is currently lacking,” Hans wrote.

Olivia Mueller

Olivia Mueller '24 (she/her) is a News Editor.

Previously an Arts and Culture editor, Olivia is an International Politics and Economics major with a Spanish minor. Outside of the Campus, she is a spin instructor for YouPower, an avid runner and hiker, and a member of the Middlebury Mischords a cappella group.