Sketchy part of Burlington? How does that work. Also, how did a restaurant in Vermont end up on my list? Nothing makes sense, but that’s just make The Shopping Bag all the more interesting. You see, The Shopping Bag isn’t even a restaurant. It is a mini-mart, a corner grocery shop, a 7-11 from the 60s – 60s as the time this place was last renovated. I even pay in cash because I thought they don’t accept credit card. There is no parking lot and we stop a block away on the streets. If downtown Burlington is the little charming town that everyone love, this area looks like the aftermath of Detroit that has been hit by nuclear weapons; it even come with a homeless guy in a wheelchair. And these two places are 3 blocks apart! It still boggles my mind that this weird ass place churns out better burgers than those fancy places in downtown. Webster defines these places as hole-in-the-wall. Literally.
There is a open kitchen next to the front exit. The menu lists about 20 different variants of the burger. Not in an adventurous mode, my dad and I both order The Sizzler, the signature half pounder that comes with bacon, provolone and American cheese, seasoning (?), lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, pickles, ketchup and mustard. The Enraged Sizzler is the spicy cousin that I really want but couldn’t afford to for the drive back home. The menu is listed on a chalkboard found commonly in fancy little cafes, however, the rest of the place feels like it belongs to a ghetto; a convenient shop, and also a grocer that sells fresh meat in the back; The chef and cashier look a bit rough, but friendly and even apologetic for the wait. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
The guy at the grill, aka the chef, throws two buns and slabs of fresh beef onto the griddle. He, my parents, and I, in other words, everyone, for the next twenty minutes, watch the stove do its job. We walk the aisles, take more pictures, and watch the beef turn from blood red to brown. My heart sank a little. Those precious beef will be overcooked! This is a nightmare! Why! I should have trusted my instincts and not walk in here. Whoever told me about this place is so wrong. They might have thought fast food burgers are the best.
As I ponder the fate of the beef, a few customers walk in the shop, but none purchase anything from the kitchen. Fear creeps into my soul. This is it, and I have been scam $7. ($15 since we order 2 of them) After some more waiting, the chef drop slices of bacon and cheese on top of the inch-thick patties. He arranged more condiments on the side, and stand still for another few minutes. In the meantime, the employees were talking baseball, or basketball – I’m not sure. Finally, he assembles everything onto a large piece of wrapping paper, and hand them to me in a paper bag. We walk towards our car, and unwrap these gigantic burgers in the car. An older gentlemen who works for the Vermont tourism board told us to try the restaurants in downtown Burlington, but alas, I did not heed those advice. I hope we made the right choice.
See, I wasn’t expecting such a large burger when I placed the order. The toppings literally double the size of the already huge burger. It smells really good, and I couldn’t wait any longer. The beef is indeed well done – not a slight of pink in sight. Yet, this is the most divine burger I ever had. It screams umami from the first bite until the last. I can’t describe why this is so delicious. It isn’t the normal beef flavor I recognized, nor the dry-aging flavor from more expensive burgers. Maybe the combination of the two cheeses and the bacon that did the trick? Or is it the special seasoning? The most god damn heavenly burger I have had. The Sizzler might be a half pounder, but it dissolves away in my mouth. So juicy and flavorful.
The Shopping Bag is weird as fuck. Forget all your stereotypes. This place is totally worth the price, the wait, the overall sketchiness. Look over the cover of the book, walk down 3 streets from the pretty downtown. I have eaten only one burger in Vermont, and I’m gonna crown this the best burger in the state. Hell, it might even be the best on the eastern seaboard. Step aside, Ben and Jerry’s and maple syrup. Your flag should be a dirty brown shopping bag.
Visited: June 7th, 2018, Saturday for lunch at 11pm.
Address: 166 North St, Burlington, VT 05401.