Northern Comfort

Frickles are a house specialty at One Federal

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

one_federal_0716Erika and Marcus Hamblett brought years of restaurant experience when they opened One Federal Restaurant & Lounge in the historic St. Albans Foundry and Implement Co. building in 2009.

Erika Hamel and Marcus Hamblett knew they’d found something special when they met in Key West in 1997. “It was sort of like we should have known each other,” says Erika. “We both drove red Subarus, both had German shepherds named Jesse, his last name was Hamblett and mine Hamel, and both of us had northern Vermont roots.”

The Hambletts are the founders and owners, since March 2009, of One Federal Restaurant & Lounge in St. Albans and, since 2012, of Maple City Diner, managed for them by Kim Smith. One Federal is composed of three buildings at 1, 3, and 5 Federal St., and a large outdoor Victorian courtyard where events can be held and live music is enjoyed on Thursday nights in summer. The 1840 property was the original site of the St. Albans Foundry and Implement Co. Over the years, the addresses have housed a smoke shop, an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley, and two prior restaurants: Charlie Vermont’s and the Old Foundry.

They have preserved much of the building’s history, which can be seen in dozens of framed historical photos throughout the space and in original structural materials in various sections, such as the arched wooden ceiling in the Barrel Room, the tin walls and ceiling in the Great Room, and the beefy brass foot rail that once graced the top of the bar at Charlie Vermont’s.

“This is our baby,” says Marcus, “our design, we did the whole place; redid the kitchen over a six-month period.”

Marcus and Erica grow much of their own food on his family farm in Holland — about a thousand acres that was divided up among many children and includes a sugar bush. He’s growing hops. “We use them a little bit for brewing for my friends, and this year I’m going to cook with them.”

The menu is geared to the St. Albans market — “a little more homestyle, bigger portions, more traditional, and not as much, I might say, ‘froufrou,’” says Marcus. “During sap season, I do a lot of poaching salmon in sap, we make all of our own candies, maple sugars, our sap cosmos. We smoke our own meats three times a week; do as much from scratch as we can. Nothing comes prepared.”

Frickles — uber-thin pickle slices deep fried in batter — are a house specialty. Depending on the growing season, says Erika, “we have made it to the beginning of January using pickles from our own cucumbers.”

Over the years, they have refined the way they work together as he handles the kitchen and she runs the front of the house.

“I think they bring a lot to Vermont,” says Jennifer Faul, a veterinarian with Fitzgerald Veterinary Hospital in Colchester and a close friend. “As much as we love Vermont, family-run businesses are becoming fewer and fewer. They are great friends; a great family.”

Marcus was born and raised in Newport, where his grandfather owned the Pick & Shovel hardware store. His father, who sold the business, was a real estate agent, and creates stained glass pieces for area buildings. His mother is a retired OR nurse at North Country Hospital.

A native of Middletown, New York, Erika is the child of Vermont parents and grandparents. The family spent summers in Vermont. “I have cousins who went to BFA,” she says. Her father, a radiologist, graduated from acupuncture school the same week in 1993 that Erika graduated from high school. “My mom was a medical billing secretary and is his right-hand man,” she says.

Erika earned her bachelor of science in biopsychology from Penn State. All through school she worked in the restaurant industry “in some way, shape, or form,” she says. “I found my passion in the pace of the restaurant.”

Knowing this, she packed her belongings in her Subaru and with $200, headed south, “not knowing where I would land, but knowing I was not ready for a big-girl job.” She stopped to see friends along the way, and while visiting her grandmother in Clearwater, Florida, met someone who asked if she’d ever been to the Florida Keys.

“I didn’t even know what they were,” she says, but was told she would love it there. “This was pre–cell phone, social media, but I said, ‘Well, I’m already this far south, I should keep driving.’ I drove till I ran out of road.”

She arrived in October during the annual Fantasy Festival, had a great time, headed back north, made it to Miami, and decided she wasn’t ready to leave. “I turned around and went back and got a job waiting tables at a restaurant connected to where Marcus was working.”

Marcus’s path to Key West and their meeting was not so direct. He, too, had worked in restaurants through high school, and after graduation in 1991, he headed to Stewart, Florida, just above West Palm Beach. “I decided I was going to continue cooking and dishwashing, because I had done that for four years,” he says.

In 1993, his grandfather died. On the road home, Marcus heard a radio commercial for New England Culinary Institute. “I had always been cooking, and my parents were very adamant that if I wanted to be part of the family — we had the family farm in Holland — I would have to go to culinary school or to college. I heard that first NECI ad in Massachusetts, then got up into Vermont and heard another one. I drove up 89, stopped in, and got an application. I was moving back in with my mother, and within four days I was in culinary school in Essex.”

His first internship was in Key West at the Pier House; his second was at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida. “It was third in the world when I was there,” he says. “I went from helping the butcher and the garde manger, then moved into the fine dining room, which was out of control at $100 plates.”

Back home after graduation, he worked for a couple of years at The Corner Restaurant in Newport, eventually being trusted to “work with purveyors, do the hiring, firing, a lot of the ordering, the menu, and a lot of the advertising.” Wanting to move to a bigger venue, he returned to Key West and was a sous chef for about a year at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill with Kelly McGillis, “the lady in Top Gun with Tom Cruise,” he says.

Realizing he still wasn’t learning “at the top of the food chain,” he took a large pay-cut to join Andrew Berman at Café Des Artistes (now Pisces) in Key West. “He was a top chef,” says Marcus, “and it was like going back to a finishing school. I was able to hone my skills — the right and wrong — learn fine cooking.”

There he met Erika, who was working at Duffy’s Steak & Lobster House, owned by the proprietor of Café Des Artistes. When the owner opened two more restaurants, both of them assisted in the openings. “That was where I got experience learning to hire staff,” she says.

After five years, Marcus was offered the chance to work at the Hilton Key West — “I got my large raise,” he says. Erika found work at Sunset Key Resort, a satellite also owned by Hilton, managing the restaurant on the 32-acre island, one of her favorite jobs. After their son, Chase, was born, she moved back to Key West and worked with Marcus, managing the front of the house.

In 2002, wanting to be closer to family to raise their son, they returned to Vermont. At the beginning of 2003, Marcus contacted Chef Robert Barral at NECI and within five days, he was “wearing that NECI chef’s jacket” and teaching the p.m. class at NECI Commons on Church Street in Burlington. Erika found work as a bartender at McKee’s Pub & Grill in Winooski.

“They are the nicest people in the world,” says Lance McKee, the pub’s owner. “She was an amazing employee. Her husband was an instructor at NECI, and when I started getting set up for food, he helped us for three months at no charge. He brought students from NECI to train our staff here — just went above and beyond to help.”

After six years, the Hambletts were ready for another adventure. They sold their Winooski house, bought a camper, left their two cats with Marcus’s mother in Derby, and set off with 5-year-old Chase for a seven-month trip across the country.

“Marcus was the NECI alumni president,” says Erika, “and we held alumni meetings across the country. I kept a culinary blog, “On the Road With Chef Marcus,” at NECI.wordpress.com. It’s in reverse chronological order, but a fun read.”

They discovered the joys of panning and digging for gold, “so we combined our passion for playing in the water and looking at rocks with our passion for food and Marcus’s passion for teaching,” she says.

Now living in Georgia, they still love looking for gold — have done it in 40 states. They also spend time at their camp on the family farm in Holland, where Marcus has a little sawmill and cuts his own lumber. Both are motorcyclists, and Erika enjoys skiing. But their newfound winter passion is riding their snow machines. “We’ll leave St. Albans and drive all the way to Maine on them,” says Marcus.

He continues to love teaching and takes every opportunity to do so. He can see a time when they might travel around the country as consultants helping new restaurants, but right now, they’re enjoying their time with Chase, now14, and finding ways to keep improving One Federal. •