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These days when you hear about a restaurant closing, the story is usually the same - tough economy, rising costs, too much work for hardly any pay. And, often the places close down without notice, seemingly overnight. That was not the case with the closing of Michael's Good-To-Go in October. In fact, this end of an era has been planned for years.
In 2002, the husband and wife team of Michael and Jewls Flanagan started
Michael's Good-To-Go after running and working at several successful
high-end restaurants in The Valley. The concept was to make great food
featuring local ingredients and to make it affordable. The menu
reflected Flanagan's eclectic tastes in food that made the take-out
place hard to describe. Walk in and you were transported to a food shack
on a remote beach in the Caribbean; the place was usually pulsating
with Reggae music and Michael was dressed the part with a brightly
colored short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt instead of the chef whites that you
would expect of someone with his credentials.
Standard fare ranged from Michael's famous fatty wraps with BBQ'd pork, chicken or tempeh to his curried greens and handmade dumplings that were made by a "very nice Chinese lady in Boston." Specials often reflected the season or were based on vegetables such as local corn and squash that Michael put up every fall for use throughout the winter. Michael worked with area farmers using their produce and meats in his dishes, but he didn't make a big deal out of that; it just made sense to him and was the way he had always done it.
He was a master at sourcing local ingredients, and farmers in The Valley and throughout Vermont loved working with him. Rob Litch of Misty Knoll Chicken praises Michael for showing that local food can be well made at a price that is competitive with fast food chains. Good-To-Go was a weekly stop for the Misty Knoll truck that delivered thousands of pounds of chicken legs to Michael's Good-To-Go annually.
Flanagan got his start in cooking at the Tucker Hill Inn in the early 1980s. He started his first restaurant at the old Pitcher Inn where many Valley residents still remember it as a place where it felt more like dinner at a friend's house than eating at a restaurant. When the Pitcher Inn burned down, Flanagan opened Michael's at the PowderHound. After two decades of feeding people, Flanagan wanted to simplify his business, eliminate dining service and simply cook good food that people could take with them, so he started up Michael's Good-To-Go in the Village Square Shopping Plaza.
The new business model allowed Michael and his wife Jewls to earn a living on their terms. They usually closed during stick season and mud season for trips to warmer places like Miami or the Caribbean or to do work on their home or simply to fly fish in the Mad River. In recent years they added the "fatty wagon," which is a kitchen on wheels, and have been bringing the same great food that they served in Waitsfield to music festival venues such as Bonnaroo.
It was no secret that, although Michael is a four-season guy who skis in the winter and fishes in the summer, Jewls prefers palm trees to snow. So, the plan always was to sell the business after their daughter Jasmine graduated from high school, spend more of the winter in a warmer climate and continue doing the festivals in the summer. When Jasmine headed to the New School in New York City this August, the long-range plan was put into motion. The business was purchased in mid-October by the owners of the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and the name changed to The Mad Taco. Their immediate plan is to operate a take-out restaurant similar to Michael's seven days a week and also to serve as the kitchen for the mother ship in Montpelier. As for Michael and Jewls, they are taking a much deserved break and plan to spend a couple months in the Caribbean this winter resting up for the festival season.
Michael Flanagan will be on The Dinner Hour on WMRW (95.1FM or streaming on www.wmrw.org) on Saturday, November 27, at 8 a.m. The show will be rebroadcast on MRVTV Channel 44 or can be podcast from www.DinnerHour.org.