Meet the chef: Vergennes eatery 3 Squares Cafe celebrates 10 years

At 9:30 a.m. on a recent morning in the back of a café on Main Street in Vergennes, Matt Birong flies between two sides of the kitchen. On one side, square, plastic containers hold an array of colorful vegetables and condiments: peppers, chives, cheddar, cucumbers. On the other side, a fiery stove fries eggs, chorizo and French toast.
Like a child building a sand castle, Birong assembles one of the restaurant favorites: the breakfast tostada. First, he places a handful of leafy arugula on a plate. Then, a non-GMO tortilla from the Vermont Tortilla Company (“you might as well be trying to find a sasquatch if you’re trying to find non-GMO corn,” Birong says). On goes a layer of saucy black beans. He spoons a ladle-full of egg into the frying pan, adding cheese and chorizo when the eggs start to turn solid, and scrambles the mixture with a rubber spatula. He spreads the gooey mass on top of the black beans.
Finally: a sprinkling of pico de gallo, a dollop of queso fresco, and chives. He pops the plate up on the kitchen’s windowsill to be delivered to a hopefully very hungry customer.
Birong, head chef and owner of Three Squares Café, is in the middle of preparing what he calls “perpetual brunch.”
“It’s creative-comfort food. If we were going to tagline it, that’s how I’d tag it,” he said. “I guess I was a little bit ahead of the curve on the fast-casual concept. I felt like there was a lot more style within the food. You can play with the flavors —you’re not northern Italian, you’re not Parisian bistro. You’re not handcuffed to a concept. It allows us to be a little more fun-loving.”
Three Squares is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year — Birong bought Eat Good Food, a popular eatery that once had a second location in Middlebury, in 2007 after looking for a café almost exactly like it for more than a year.
Since then, the restaurant changed locations, moving up the street from what is now the Northern Daughters Art Gallery, several years ago. Three Squares has added catering options, changed its menu at least once a year, kept the food “as local as possible while still being fiscally responsible for the restaurant,” and continue to see locals filing in the door — some of them five times per week or more.
“We’ve got a bunch of regulars,” Birong said. “There are a couple of retired gentlemen who are here every morning. We have two lawyers with accounts here who eat here, like, every day they’re at work. We’re sort of the neighborhood coffee shop. You want to find out about something that’s going on in town, you ask one of the people in here, and somebody will know something.”
And Birong has plans to keep the restaurant jazzy. He created a partnership with cocoa producers in the Dominican Republic, from whom he sources cocoa beans to make bean-to-bar chocolate. This winter term, he’ll help two of his friends, professors at Middlebury College, lead a trip to the Dominican Republic, where they’ll help farm — and even ferment — the beans.
“Fermentation is something everyone’s getting into right now,” he said. “My partner is down in the Dominican Republic once or twice a month, and the fermentation is something we’re focusing on. So I’d say that’s one of the dorkier things I’m getting into right now.”
At the end of September, Three Squares will team up with other Vergennes restaurants to host a music and food festival in downtown Vergennes. While details are still being planned, he hopes to showcase the variety of food the aptly named Little City has to offer.
But for the most part, Birong is happy to keep experimenting.
“People ask me how I deal,” he said, referencing those who understand the fast-paced life that comes with a culinary career. “I just genuinely like my job. In this business, I’m inspired by the fact that I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I can still learn from it.”
Hungry breakfast, brunch and lunch lovers can find Three Squares Café at 141 Main St. in Vergennes, or at threesquarescafé.com.
Goat Shank Tostada w/ Roasted Corn Salsa, Queso Fresco & Stewed Black Beans
Goat Shank:
-4 shank from VT Chevon
-8 cloves garlic minced
-1 onion sliced
-4 Guajillo peppers, seeded & sliced
-4 Ancho peppers, seeded & sliced
-3 Tbsp. whole coriander
-3 Tbsp. whole cumin
-5 oz. lime juice
-6 qt. chicken stock
1-  In a 12-inch sauté pan heat 2 tbsp. oil.
2-  Generously salt and pepper goat legs and place in pan once oil begins to lightly smoke. Once legs are browned on all sides remove and place in a 6-in. deep roasting pan
3-  Reserving the meat fat and goodies in the sauté pan, begin to sweat onion and garlic until translucent. Heavily season w/salt & pepper (S&P)
4-  Add dried chilies and spices to the pan and stir for 2-3 minutes
5-  Add chicken stock and lime juice to the pan and bring to a light boil. Pour stock and pepper/onion/spice mix over the legs. Be sure liquid covers the meat.
6-  Cover pan with foil and braise at 300 degrees in oven for 3 hours or until meat falls off the bone.
7-  Remove meat from liquid and set aside until cool enough to pick the meat off. Discard bones.
8-  Once the broth/peppers/onion mix has cooled, puree in a high-speed blender/ strain and reserve liquid until later.
Corn Salsa:
-6 ears of corn
-2 poblano pepper, diced
-1 red onion, diced
-1/2 bunch cilantro picked and lightly chopped
-1/2 a cup of lime juice
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1-  Husk and clean silk from corn. Slice kernels off the cob with a chef’s knife and reserve them in a mixing bowl
2-  Place a baking tray in your oven at 300 degrees
3-  Toss corn with 2 tbsp. of oil and season w/ S&P
4-  Once baking tray is very hot pour corn onto the tray and cook for 10 minutes. Once cool, place back in bowl.
5-  Add poblano, onion and lime juice. Cover bowl with plastic and leave at room temp for 3 hours
6-  Add EVOO, cilantro and adjust S&P as desired
Stewed Black Beans:
-4 10 oz. cans organic black beans
-2 tbsp. ground cumin
-2 Tbsp. ground coriander
-2 tbsp. smoked paprika
-1 large Spanish onion diced
-3 tbsp. chopped garlic
1-  In a medium sauce pan heat 2 tbsp. oil until lightly smoking. Add onion & garlic and sweat until translucent
2-  Add cumin/coriander/smoked paprika/ S&P and toast the spices for 1 minute
3-  Add black bean with the liquid and simmer for 25 minutes. Adjust seasoning as desired.
Fried Tortilla:
-10 VT Tortilla Company corn tortilla. Organic & Non-GMO
Procedure: in an appropriately sized sauce pot, heat 4 inches of frying oil to 325 degrees and fry tortillas until crisp
Cook in 2 batches of 5. Salt lightly once removed from oil.

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: