Michael Borenstein/The Middlebury Campus
EAST MIDDLEBURY — When Chef Paul Dow left his job working for Middlebury College dining after 20 years to open his own barbecue restaurant, he wasn’t expecting to fill a student niche. Paul’s Deli and BBQ, officially open as of Feb. 11, is nestled in East Middlebury where restaurants are spread thin. For Dow, this location just makes sense. The store is within walking distance of his house and has next-to-no culinary competition. For hungry Middlebury students returning from a day at Snow Bowl, the stop-in restaurant also makes sense, but for a different reason: it provides a much needed reprieve from settling for a bag of gas station chips on the way home from the ski slopes.
Paul’s Deli and BBQ, located at 51 Ossie Road at what was formerly the Down Home Deli & Market, is still evolving, but it’s already serving some serious fare. Dow’s current specialty is his pulled pork. After being slow-cooked for hours, it’s served either straight up, in a bun with homemade coleslaw, in a Cuban sandwich or in the customer-favorite style: on a fresh waffle.
“I’m trying to do as much as I can homemade,” Dow said. “It’s coming out really well.”
Dow’s current menu also includes items like breakfast sandwiches made with sausage, bacon or tomato; grilled cheeses; sides like macaroni and cheese, baked beans and potato salad; cookies and brownies; and daily specials. He also makes his own sauces, including a maple barbecue sauce that’s prepared with maple syrup made by his family just up the street.
For now, all of this is a one-man show. Open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, Dow runs nearly everything himself. Luckily, Dow’s culinary background makes it easy. He grew up learning to cook from his parents, who both worked in Middlebury College dining.
He started working for the college himself on a part-time basis when he was 14, beginning as a dishwasher before moving to the kitchen in Proctor dining hall. He then attended Johnson and Wales University to study pastry for a semester before transferring to the New England Culinary Institute where he received his degree.
After graduation, he returned to Middlebury College for a total of 20 years of full-time service. He began at the juice bar, which has since been replaced by Crossroads Café. He then moved on to work in Ross and Atwater dining halls, at Bread Loaf and in on-campus catering before serving as the night manager of The Grille for the last eight years. (When asked what it was like working weekend nights there, Dow left it at “I have seen a lot of things.”)
For Dow, leaving The Grille was a pretty significant transition. “I went from getting done at 3 o’clock in the morning to getting here at 6:30 in the morning,” he explained, adding that he’ll have to show up even earlier once he starts adding long-cooking items like brisket to his menu.
But he doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s something I’ve always wanted I think,” Dow said. “I’ve been (making barbecue) as a hobby for probably 10 years now.”
Although pulled pork has been the central dish so far, Dow has lots of ideas in the works. He’s waiting on a new smoker that will allow him to add different kinds of meat to the menu. “I can’t wait to start doing brisket because I don’t really see much,” Dow said, explaining that he slow-cooks it for 16-20 hours to get it just right. “I love brisket a lot.” He also plans to offer chicken and ribs, as well as pre-order to-go dinners.
For the summer, Dow is considering adding a charcoal grill to prepare hamburgers and hot dogs. “I’d like to get into some sort of homemade ice cream and milkshakes type stuff,” Dow said.
In a neighborhood lacking quick-bite options, Paul’s Deli and BBQ has been well-received. The restaurant already has customers that come in daily and a 5-star Google review. One customer, who ordered a Cuban sandwich, raved, “It was by far one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in the area! The pork had just come out of the smoker when I arrived. It doesn’t get any better than this.” Other reviews cited the breakfasts, macaroni and cheese, pulled pork sandwiches and Dow’s homemade maple barbecue sauce as particularly tasty.
Dow expects that the restaurant will pick up even more during the summertime, when he hopes to add outdoor space and see more foot traffic. For the winter, it makes for a convenient and hearty stop for skiers returning from the Snow Bowl.
Paul’s Deli and BBQ is still gaining its footing, but it has started off strong in the somewhat precarious Middlebury restaurant scene. Chef Dow is positive about the future, and he’s happy to be able to finally cook and serve what he loves. In a place like East Middlebury, Dow said, “It’s nice to have something a little bit more homemade.”