Burdick’s Passion

Walpole restaurant is more than icing on the cake.

Burdick Chocolate in Walpole is one of those New Hampshire must-see places to visit before you die. Their café is a destination for chocoholics who don’t weary of the pilgrimage. Way up on the bucket list is Burdick’s high-octane cup of cocoa, with melted chocolate shavings — either milk or dark — boosting its ratings. It’s the ultimate chocolate transfusion. The café also offers all of the chocolate confections available online and delicate European-style pastries, including tender croissants. But there is more than a chocolate phantasmagorical experience offered here.

Owners Larry and Paula Burdick have a passion for good food and drink of all types — and local folk are grateful. One noteworthy town resident, filmmaker Ken Burns, was instrumental in offering financial assistance that enabled the Burdicks to move to larger quarters across the street from the original storefront café. In addition to more square footage in the former IGA market, the building didn’t face south — important for keeping the sun out of the kitchen and the retail chocolate case.

In 2002 The Restaurant at Burdick Chocolate opened, along with a new café and more recently a market, complete with a butcher shop. “It seemed like a natural connection,” says Paula Burdick, “We need these meats and produce for the restaurant, so why not offer them to the public.”

The butcher shop case is brimming with locally produced beefs, rabbit and chicken in addition to house-made sausage and pâté. Local cheeses from New Hampshire and Vermont’s Shepherd Farm, among others, fill a cheese case. In season fresh produce is provided by Abenaki Springs Farms in Walpole. The best possible option for everything you might need in the kitchen seems to be stocked here — GUS (Grown Up Soda), quality imported spices and special teas, purchased in bulk and bagged by Burdick’s, and much more.

The pâtés and sausages are a particular passion of Larry Burdick. “The pâté plate and choucroute (Alsatian sauerkraut with sausage) are two items that Larry insists are on the menu in the restaurant,” says Paula. Larry spent three years in Switzerland as an apprentice to learn the art of chocolate making and some years earlier lived in France, all the while gaining an appreciation for French foods and French technique.

“When we opened our wholesale chocolate business 22 years ago in New York City, we were the first to offer fresh products like all the pâtisseries in France — Larry was a true pioneer in the field. Otherwise, all the fine chocolatiers were importers. We supplied many nice hotel restaurants with their freshly made chocolate confections, but were eager to get out of the city,” explains Paula.

They traveled every weekend in search of the perfect New England town. “When we came to Walpole we immediately liked it. Even though it was 3 1/2 hours to New York City, we opened what we thought would be a production facility and wholesale operation. But, by the end of the summer, there were lines out the door to buy our chocolates, so we opened the café.” Now, in addition to the Walpole location, they supply a Burdick’s Café in Cambridge, Mass., with chocolates and pastries. Paula says they have even shipped their French macaroons to Paris.

Running a restaurant, café and mail-order chocolate business is not a one-man job. Larry hired one of his former chef/clients to be head chocolatier and pastry chef seven years ago. Michael Klug is a master pastry chef who worked at Chanterelle and other fine hotels in New York City. He learned to make beautiful pastries in his native Germany — from the Engadiner Nuss Torte to the Hazelnut-Orange Cake to the Zuger Kirsch. The delicacies fill the cases in the restaurant and are shipped around the world, too, via online sales. Paula says Klug’s favorite is the Chocolate Lemon Cake — a tart lemon cake filled with lemon cream and topped with dark Burdick chocolate glaze. Klug also teaches a four-day chocolate cooking school in the summer. Larry, who can frequently be found in the pastry kitchen also, says people have come from all over the world, even Paris, to attend.

Paula has been a big help all along. Her background in fashion and degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology was important with marketing the entire line. “Packaging is an important part of the product,” she says. “The chocolates are worthy of a nice presentation.” In addition, the charming lighting and French brasserie feeling in the restaurant are all Paula’s touch.

The restaurant is the go-to place for locals and Connecticut River Valley residents. Larry Burdick was instrumental in having the restaurant feature local products — in fact, one of the earliest to pay homage to the now-hot trend. He says, “I feel blessed to live in the midst of the rich farmlands in the Connecticut River Valley and privileged to feature local agriculture in the restaurant.”

Executive Chef Wesley Babb echoes Burdick’s sentiment. “We emphasize organic local products when possible and sustainably harvested fish that are from the Atlantic Ocean.” Local products range from the artisanal cheese plate selections to local organically produced calf’s liver with caramelized onions to Walpole Creamery ice cream to accompany a Burdick Viennese Gugelhupf. The back of the menu sports a list of 15 local farm purveyors.

The wine list has a varied array of affordable bottles — many from France and a few that are organic and biodynamically produced. Many are also available in the market.

The dinner menu is available all day, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., so lunch can be more than a sandwich or omelet. Additional Chef’s Suggestions are available in the evening. A recent offering included fresh oysters from Point Judith and a rabbit saltimbocca prepared with cob-smoked bacon from North Country Smokehouse in Lebanon and rabbit raised nearby. This was a meal I personally enjoyed recently. On Sunday a brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering pâtés, cheese plates, eggs Benedict, salads and light entrées.

Walpole is a small town and Burdick’s restaurant, café and market give it a golden hub on which to spin. Local producers not only supply the restaurant, but return to dine or shop the market. And Ken Burns? Well, according to Paula, he and his wife are in several nights a week when in town. It’s a satisfying return on his investment, I’d dare say. NH