ESSEX JUNCTION — An experienced businesswoman, avid snowboarder and born-and-raised New Jersey girl, Alex Morano is bringing the taste of her home state to Essex Junction.
This Friday, April 2, Morano is opening the doors of The Food Bar, a new restaurant on Park Street offering the food of an Italian deli and the atmosphere of a cocktail bar.
The menu is brimming with Italian classics like family-style antipasto, Sicilian arancini, eggplant parmesan and rigatoni bolognese. Hot and cold deli sandwiches, build-your-own pasta and smoothies also fill its pages.
“Here, you’ll be served the food you’d eat if you were at my house for a family party,” Morano said.
The Food Bar will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for eat-in or takeout and will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Beer and cocktails will be slung until closing time.
The food, while Italian-inspired, is grounded in Morano’s New Jersey roots. For breakfast, she’ll be serving a Garden State classic: pork roll, two fried eggs and cheese on a Kaiser roll with SPK — salt, pepper and ketchup.
Morano is also introducing Vermonters to the FAT sandwich, a staple of the New Jersey late-night scene which combines greasy foods like chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks and french fries on a bun.
Legend has it that the FAT sandwich was first served in the 1970s by a food truck near the Rutgers University campus. The truck’s “Fat Cat,” crammed two cheeseburgers and french fries onto one bun and soon became just what college students craved after a night out.
The Food Bar’s menu currently has nine FAT sandwich options, including the “FAT Champ,” which with its cheddar, maple bacon, fried egg, grilled chicken, french fries and ketchup will bring Vermont and New Jersey together on one bun.
“I want this to be the spot all the Jersey transplants come to to enjoy the food they miss,” Morano said.
Growing up, Morano was constantly surrounded by food and by business. Her parents, long-time caterers, owned a few restaurants and were dedicated home cooks.
After attending college on Long Island, where she discovered that the hustle and bustle of the New York metropolitan-area wasn’t for her, Morano moved to Vermont to chase the snowboarding scene she’d come to love.
“I love the mountains,” she said. “My soul wanted to be here.”
Morano opened Valley Vape Company soon after, at a time when vape lounges and e-cigarette shops in Vermont were few and far between.
“That was like taking care of a goldfish,” Morano said. “Opening a restaurant is like having a baby.”
In 2019, Morano signed the lease for The Food Bar, a tiny space that got a complete renovation from Morano and her team. Her goal was to open in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and state-mandated closure of restaurants and bars made that impossible.
She put The Food Bar on-hold, knowing that in an uncertain economy she needed to take care of her staff at Valley Vape and at the flooring business she runs with her boyfriend.
She thought she might be able to open later that year, but when that wasn’t possible, she looked toward 2021. Now, a year later, she and her staff are ready.
“I’ve got a good staff around me to help birth this baby and raise it in a very modern family,” she said. “I’ll be here all day making food and slinging drinks and learning a lot. No sleep will be had.”