Vermont Barbeque? Don't turn your nose up at it. Top of the Hill Grill in Brattleboro, Vermont is most definitely a BBQ joint, just with its own spin.
A customer once told Pit Master John Julian he makes happy food. Well, according to Julian, they do put a lot of love into it.
Noted for its low and slow cuisine, Top of the Hill specializes in pork, chicken, and beef all smoked at low temperatures, a process that slowly breaks down connective tissues to make what were once tough cuts of meat irresistibly tender.
“I want every bite, every time, to be perfect,” Julian said in an interview featured on Top of the Hill’s website. He serves up everything from sandwiches, to wraps and fajitas, embracing all things barbecue in his wake.
Drawing a lot of influence from his travels, the resulting Cajun, Mexican, and Caribbean flavors are what make his dishes stand out. "My experience has shown me nobody has a lock on the ‘best’ of anything,” he declared. “I cook food utilizing quality ingredients coupled with time-honored techniques.”
Julian’s most notable dish is Burnt Ends, a traditional delicacy in barbecue terms. He uses beef brisket cut from the deckle end, or the fatty cut (don't worry, fat is good in barbecue; it's necessary). The brisket is rubbed with a house-made dry rub that includes cocoa, coffee, and cinnamon, then smoked for hours with shag bark hickory, resulting in a tantalizing explosion of taste and texture.
You can expect to find vegetarian offerings on the menu as well. Julian wants all his guests to partake in the barbecue experience, but his unique vision of barbecue evades fake hamburgers and instead showcases the versatility of root vegetables. Plus, his global influence continues in the tempting tempeh wraps.
In the Pit
Julian cooks for his customers, constantly assessing what they'll enjoy and paying mind to every little detail. Although the recipes are all his, he insists cannot take credit for inventing the dishes themselves.
Sometimes they come from the staff, like Kelsey's Katfish Wrap, sometimes they come from customers, like Spencer who ate at Top of Hill 150 times in one season. He came up with his own wrap and now it's on the menu
According to Julian it's truly a team effort. He credits "the Brothers Gilbert" for much of his success – Tony Gilbert, his kitchen manager, and Mike Gilbert, his second-in-command.
He refers to them as "work horses," praising their knife skills and strong work ethic. Julian also appreciates the enthusiastic energy of his young staff, many of whom return from college to work there year in and year out.
Good food in a Vermont-Inspired Environment
Top of the Hill Grill is worthy of a Roadtrip – and has been for over 20 years – because it strives to create a unique dining experience on two fronts.
First, this establishment offers from-scratch fare that's affordable, second, the location and environment reflect all that the pleasant outdoors of Vermont has to offer, including an excellent view.
"We'd like to think Top of the Hill Grill is a throwback to an earlier, less chaotic time. This is no-frills, paper plate dining at its best!" exclaimed Julian.
Conveniently situated on major highway, Top of the Hill Grill is roadside BBQ with a twist, and dining is oriented away from the road to avoid the sounds and sights of traffic.
This down-home establishment takes great pride in its terraced gardens, countryside views and shady trees. Patrons make use of an indoor deckhouse on rainy days and the patio when the sun is shining. A hammock also beckons to customers after many a satisfying meal. Just think, barbeque with a view and it's all in Vermont.