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Yum Yum Noodle and Annabelle’s Open in Red Hook

By Jamie Larson

When the two most visible and well-situated business locations in the center of Red Hook, New York went vacant at the same time last year, we, along with everyone else, waited with bated breath to see what would open in the prominent, window-lined buildings, catty-corner from one another at the crossroads of Route 9 and and 199. The village and region has lucked out with the new arrivals, Yum Yum Noodle Bar and Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop.

The former is the third brick-and-mortar location of the hip and extremely popular Asian fusion restaurant company first opened in Woodstock, then Kingston. The latter is a quaint bakery filled with the aroma and flavor of top-notch artisan bread and mouthwatering pastries.

Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop
7501 N. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
(845) 835-6071
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays
7 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends

When you first walk into Annabelle’s, the grand picture windows, high ceilings and elegant decor are almost enough to distract you from the siren smell of bread and pastries. Almost. The star of Annabelle’s is the long glass display case packed with bakery staples and an ever-changing array of goodies created by owner and baker Anne O’Doherty.

What makes Annabelle’s so well suited to the center of the village is O’Doherty’s approach to business: she listens to what the community wants. She changes the lineup of what she’s making nearly every day based on what people are clamoring for the most. Right now she says she’s selling a lot of raspberry bars ($2.95), quiche ($4.50 by the slice, $25 for a large, $15 for a medium), cinnamon buns ($3.95), croissants stuffed with spinach and cheese ($4.95) or ham and cheese ($5.95), and big cookies of all types ($1.50)

There are also all manner of pies, cakes, pastries and cupcakes rotating through the cases on any given day and O’Doherty will be happy to make whatever you like to order. She’ll even use your recipe. Haven’t had your grandma’s signature dessert in a decade? Dust off the notecard from the ancient recipe box and she’ll whip it up.

Her loaves are fabulous, as well. If you’re the type of well-meaning bread snob that judges a bakery by its baguette, then Annabelle’s is going to rocket to the top of your favorite bakery list. There’s a subtle depth of flavor, and a perfect texture to the crust and interior. The first time we tried it, it was a genuine and welcome surprise.

Annabelle’s opens at 7 a.m. so it’s a perfect spot for breakfast on the go, although you’re going to want to get comfortable at a window seat even if you’re just running in and out for a coffee and a scone.

Yum Yum Noodle Bar
7496 S. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
(845) 835-6383
Open every day 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

We’ve sampled Yum Yum’s dishes many times over the years from its food truck, which pops up at events across the region, but now that Yum Yum is in Red Hook, the full menu and hip atmosphere that’s made it so successful at the Woodstock and Kingston locations is all ours.

The space is warm and inviting, with Yum Yum’s trademark raw wood bench seating and purple and green floral design. The window-lined walls draw you into the space, and once you’re in make for excellent viewing of the bustling town as you warm yourself with a bowl of noodles, dumplings and inspired signature cocktails. Even though this is the third Yum Yum (fourth if you count the truck), for owners Nicole Cawley and Erica Mahlkuch, there isn’t the slightest whiff of stale franchise. The space feels vibrant and part of the community already.

One of the best things about Yum Yum’s menu is how easy it is to personalize. If you’re getting a noodle bowl, you get to pick from a list of broths, types of noodle, and protein, so you can order what you’re comfortable with or try something new. It’s both an excellent place to take folks who don’t have a lot of experience with Asian food, as well as for those who are looking for more authentic regional dishes. Yum Yum also makes things easy for vegetarians and the gluten-free set.

For $13.50 you get a huge noodle bowl with your choice of noodles including ramen, rice, soba, udon or tonkotsu. Your broth choices are vegetarian, coconut curry, pork, chicken, dashi and miso, and you then add beef, braised pork, chicken, house-made seitan or tofu. Pork belly, shrimp or salmon are a few dollars extra. Every bowl comes with veggies, mushrooms, nori and a soft-boiled egg. Each customizable item is well balanced and dynamically flavorful. It’s the perfect meal for the current cold snap.

But there’s a lot more than “just” the noodle bowls at Yum Yum. There is a red curry fish stew ($17), vegetable pad thai ($10, proteins extra), miso-sake cured salmon ($16) and more. Yum Yum also has inventive daily specials. Whatever you get is perfect for lunch, dinner or takeout. It would also be a shame to overlook the small plates; they include steamed or fried dumplings ($8), steamed buns ($9.50) and satay, ($8) to name a few.

Once you start going to Yum Yum Noodle, it’s hard not to get addicted. It’s easy to find something you love and get it over and over again, but it’s also a place that rewards you for getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/15/18 at 05:03 PM • Permalink

All That Java: Walk Right Up For A Cup That’ll Make You Smile

All That Java, Rhinebeck. Photos provided.

By Lisa Green

This is a an unequivocally happy story.

After all, it’s a story that owes its genesis to coffee, and if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll understand why it’s a mood enhancer.

But it’s also about a couple of happy folks in the Hudson Valley who not only love their coffee, but wanted to bring some of that joy to others — and deliver that joy in the most efficient and, may I say, adorable way possible.

Samantha Sapienza conceived of ALL THAT JAVA and, along with her partner, Patrick Madden, manifested her vision to create small, mobile coffee shops emitting “stellar coffee and a happy vibe.” The first location, in Rhinebeck just outside the village, became an instant hit when it opened in August 2016. The second, on the Poughkeepsie side of Walkway Over the Hudson, took up summer-into-fall hours in May last year. This winter, the Walkway location has been moved to Windham (New York) Mountain Resort to offer coffee slope-side.

Sapienza, who lived in Millbrook, New York before she moved to Seattle, became a drive-through coffee fan out West, and when she came to Rhinebeck to visit her mother, was astonished they didn’t exist in this area.

“These places are all over the West Coast,” she said. “It was part of life out there — it was the norm to have one on every block. I always thought they needed to be here.” An idea was planted.

After 15 years in Seattle, divorced and with three young boys, Sapienza moved to Rhinebeck in 2012, and began planning her coffee dream. Getting her ducks in a row took longer than she expected, but she used that time to work on branding, at which she is expert. A former photographer, she had dabbled in graphic design, but her skill is evident in everything from the ubiquitous ALL THAT JAVA logo, her charming videos, ATJ’s Instagram feed, and even its whimsical tchotchkes. (The name, by the way, was always in the back of her mind. It’s a reference to her parents, who are jazz musicians, and a play on the Bob Fosse production “All That Jazz.”)

Madden and Sappienza at The Walkway Over the Hudson.

The coffee shops are actually tiny houses built on a trailer and are semi permanent. The 8x12-foot structures, which they put together themselves, are super efficient and meant to be run by one person, but can handle two or three when it’s busy. Since buying land is not part of the dream, the mobile aspect offers the best-case scenario.

For the first location, Sapienza drove around Rhinebeck to find somewhere convenient but not in the village. She approached the Rhinebeck Tack owners, who gave her free rein over their sizable parking lot. She wanted it to be a drive-through but Rhinebeck wouldn’t allow it, so it’s a “modified drive-up.”

Walkway location

The Walkway, too, was an easy sell. “We reached out to them, and they came back to us quickly. They’d been looking to do things like this and were thrilled to have us,” Sapienza said.

And the coffee? It’s not an afterthought. Sapienza procures the beans from a roaster outside of Seattle (“we leave the roasting to the roaster; they’re the experts”). It’s a really simple operation. There are two blends — one for espresso, one for drip coffee. The menu is fairly basic — for coffee houses these days, anyway — but includes Zoda, ALL THAT JAVA’s own coffee soda recipe, and Frappienza, a reflection of Sapienza’s name and the shop’s own version of a certain coffee house’s Frappuccino. There are coffee ice cubes for the iced drinks, gift cards (“All That Money”) and the beans are for sale. There’s ordering by text, too.

The convenience of the walk-up coffee is great, sure, but it wouldn’t have caught on and stayed popular if the java didn’t deliver the goods. A quick glance at the reviews on ATJ’s Facebook page indicates why the local coffee lovers have so quickly embraced their tiny java supplier. 

“It starts with the coffee,” Madden said. “The coffee is great. Our customers come here and for a few moments there’s no red states or blue states, just a good moment to start the day. Coffee is a way to bond people together. And people come back.”

Back, then, to the joy that surrounds this mom-and-pop effort. “Our vibe is happy,” Sapienza said. “It’s how we are as humans, how we operate, how we want to treat everybody. And honestly, we spend so much of our time laughing together. We love our Java.”

And about their expansion plans: can you expect an ALL THAT JAVA to roll in near you? Quite possibly, if you’re in the Hudson Valley.

“We’re planning to expand as rapidly as we can,” Sapienza said. “The theory is to bring ALL THAT JAVA up and down the Hudson from Saratoga Springs to New York City. But we’re not trying to be a café. The mobility of the unit allows us to be a to-go-focused coffee location.” Drive-ups are still the goal.”

The cheerful baristas are clearly living their tagline: Smile. Drink Coffee. Be Grateful. Love Life. “It’s a little bit like Cheers,” Madden said. “We’re like daytime bartenders, but for only two minutes long.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/08/18 at 05:03 PM • Permalink

Troutbeck, A Food And Lodging Legend, Is Reborn

Photos: Tanya Blum

By CB Wismar

If you are local to the Litchfield Hills, the Berkshires or the Hudson Valley, then venture to Troutbeck for the food. You should not be disappointed.

If you are bent on exploring the area, then add to your sojourn a night at one of 17 fully renovated guest rooms in The Manor House (c.1919). It offers all amenities and recreation opportunities, which begin with three trout ponds in the Webutuck River running through the 45-acre property, tennis courts and miles of hiking trails, with access to cycling, skiing and equestrian sports.

Corporate group, wedding or family reunion? The Century Lodge (c.1760) is a modernized four-bedroom cottage with an adjacent building housing 12 rooms and a large gathering space. The elegantly re-done ballroom can handle groups of up to 240, with smaller spaces for up to 40 participants.

In short, Troutbeck is back. After years of sitting quietly dormant on the outskirts of Amenia, New York, just over the border from Sharon, Conn., the entire complex of buildings and grounds has been carefully renovated, upgraded, comfortably furnished and enhanced.

Which leads us back to the restaurant.

Chef Marcel Agnez has assembled an elegant, seasonally influenced, farm-to-table menu that makes decisions difficult for the diner. The scallops or the black bass? The venison chop or the roasted chicken with braised endive? A vegetarian delight, an enticing pasta dish or one of the specials?

On days of operation (Thursday through Sunday) breakfast and lunch are offered, as well as a Sunday brunch. For dinner, starters range from fresh oysters with a blood orange granita ($3 each) to a refreshing Belgian endive salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and poached pears ($13). For a warm-up during colder months, there’s a savory baked oyster and leek chowder ($11).

Entrees are listed as “specialties,” and the designation is apt. Each dish offers a great use of flavors, textures and enticing aromas. The grass-fed grilled pork chop with apple sauce and haricots verts ($26) is moist and tender. Pan-seared scallops are elegantly set off with carrot turmeric sauce, red beet tartar and almonds ($21). A standard fare like roasted chicken becomes a tour de force when presented with braised endive, potatoes, sorrel, sunchoke and truffle madeira ($26).

The menu is adjusted with the season, so dishes will change as fresh items become available to the chef. Specials are added daily to enhance the options (and complicate the decision-making process). Troutbeck has turned to no fewer than eight local Hudson Valley farms to source their ingredients, supplementing their selections with daily shipments of seafood and other fresh ingredients.

Desserts are elegant. Cakes, crème brulee and other delights will tempt the table to at least “have one to share” as an accompaniment to an individual pot of French press coffee or selected fine teas.

The Troutbeck wine list is well balanced and reasonably priced, with the most expensive offering a French Delamotte champagne for $68. Clearly, great care has been exercised in offering both white and red wines from California, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Argentina. Four whites, three reds, a rosé and a Prosecco are available by the glass, most in the $12-$15 range.

Troutbeck’s website offers lodging and restaurant reservations as well as snippets of information about the property, the area and local activities. There are also some intriguing quotes from those who have made Troutbeck home and a vaunted destination for over two centuries. One such quote from noted naturalist, conservationist and nature essayist John Burroughs (1837 – 1921) about farmer, naturalist and poet Myron Beecher Benton (1834 – 1902) who spent his entire life at Troutbeck, captures the elegant, honest flavor of the property and the extent to which its re-birth has been successful. 

“I liked Myron Benton from the first sight of him. He had the flavor of the farm and of the country — a rural quality of mind and character that had been touched and mellowed by the influence of the best literature.”

The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner.
Reservations are strongly suggested for dinner.
515 Leedsville Rd., Amenia, NY
(845) 789-1555

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/01/18 at 11:49 AM • Permalink

Rhinebeck Locals Serve Up Comfort Food At Bangers Gastropub

By Andrea Pyros

This fall, a restaurant opened in a historically tricky spot in Rhinebeck, New York, tucked away on 22 Garden Street across from Sunflower Natural Foods and adjacent to the popular Japanese standby Osaka. Other restaurants have come and gone from this location including, most recently, Puccini and, before that, Portofino Ristorante. But Vinnie Sassone and Colby Miller, co-owners of Bangers Gastropub, are hoping to make a success out of their new venture by tapping into their strong Rhinebeck roots and by offering crowd-pleasing pub fare at reasonable prices.

Sassone manages the restaurant while Miller, who trained in New York, serves as Bangers’ head chef. Both were born and raised in Rhinebeck, and worked in a variety of the village’s restaurants over the years, including the now shuttered Arielle where they bonded over dreams of opening their own space.

“We had a couple of drinks one night, and talked about how we wanted to bring Rhinebeck back to Rhinebeck,” Sassone says. “We wanted a place where locals could go and feel comfortable and not attacked financially. We are so attached to this town, and we really wanted to make a communal place where our friends and family could convene.”

Enter the comfortable and welcoming Bangers, with its newly opened kitchen, beautiful wooden booths and expanded bar, warmly lit with Americana music playing in the background. In balmier seasons, there’s even a nicely secluded patio. Bangers’ vibe is, as intended, welcoming and neighborly — Sassone jokes that Thursday nights there are “like Cheers.” 

The menu, as you’d expect from the name, is English comfort food: hearty, rich and simple, and the pair have taken pains to honor their Hudson Valley diners’ desire for seasonal and local ingredients. Produce, when possible, is from area farms, and Northwind Farms in Tivoli supplies the meats. There’s a full bar, and plenty of beer, about half of which feature New York State breweries (including picks from Peekskill Brewery and Elizaville’s Sloop Brewing Co.).

Local friends recommended I try the buffalo cauliflower appetizer ($10) because it “melts in your mouth,” with another promising that the Scotch egg ($10) “is the real deal.” An actual English native said her children loved the fish and chips ($18). Actually, I did, too. Salty and delicately fried, they’re hard to resist, and the Bangers and Mash ($18) with Miller’s housemade sausage was a nice take on a classic dish.

A starter salad from the specials menu, with beets, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds ($14), was a fresh, flavorful counterbalance to our heavier main course choices. There are other salad entrees including a smoked salmon quinoa with arugula, avocado, red onion and tomato ($14) if you’re not feeling as indulgent, but for the most part, the menu is not intended to kick off your cleanse. Fine by us — we ended our most recent evening there with a delicious bread pudding special and a Guinness float with Jane’s bourbon pecan ice cream ($8) that my dining companion polished off.

There are $12 kids’ meals and a Sunday brunch, too, if you prefer less party time and more family time. Ultimately, the duo’s goal was to make a restaurant where locals would want to hang out, and in that they’ve done a bang-up job.

Bangers Gastropub
22 Garden St., Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 516-5283
Monday–Saturday 3-10 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Bar is open until 1 a.m. every day

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/04/17 at 09:24 AM • Permalink

The Sproutman’s Sprouts — The Sprout Brothers — Take Root

Sprout Brothers Ari and Noah

By Jamie Larson

The Sprout Brothers are no doubt making the old Sproutman proud in Great Barrington. Steve “Sproutman” Meyerowitz started his healthful empire in New York City in the 1970s. Plagued by allergies and asthma, he looked for a natural dietary solution. He became vegan and began a sprout and wellness company built on the idea that the potential energy stored in sprouts is not only great for you but also gives you the opportunity to grow your own food in a small space with compact grow kits and equipment.

“Sprouts have ultra-concentrated nutrients, they’re ultra affordable, and when juicing comes into play, you’re really getting a lot of value,” said the Sproutman’s eldest son Ari, who now runs the company with brother Noah. “He called it turning your kitchen into your ‘farmacy.’”

But it wasn’t just a message for the Sproutman and his family, who came to settle in the Berkshires. They all practiced what the patriarch preached with his trademark enthusiasm. His early training in vaudeville served him well as he became a lively fixture in the alternative health community over the decades, selling all manner of sprouts and growing devices and authoring 10 books (reprinted in many languages). It was a great loss for many when Meyerowitz passed away in a car accident in 2015. 

Now the homegrown, family company continues in the stored potential of the next generation, Ari and Noah, a.k.a. the Sprout Brothers. The young men, supported by mom Beth and sister Gabrielle, have deftly continued operations that were once so defined by their father’s personality, and are even getting ready to launch some new products.

“Ari and I were drawn to continuing his legacy,” Noah said. “He was really a one-man show. He beeped to his own horn. We don’t consider ourselves experts, but we grew up living the life and we’ve been partnering with some great people in the industry.”

One of those partnerships is about to bear exciting fruit. The brothers are collaborating with raw food chef and author Jenny Ross and “juice guru” Steve Prussack to launch a new juice cleanse that will start, fittingly, post holiday gorging season. Details will be announced soon, so keep an eye on their social media and subscribe to their very active newsletter.

The Sprout Brothers said they’re also really excited about the launch of the first new product they’ve made start-to-finish since taking over the company. It has added meaning because it was an idea of their father’s that he didn’t have a chance to bring to fruition. The new, low-temperature dehydrated wheat grass juice capsules are different than similar products that just pulverize the plant. Juicing removes most of the fiber so you get much more concentrated nutrients.

“It’s nice to have the satisfaction that it’s something he wanted and we were able to bring it from start to finish,” said Ari. 

This is also the perfect time to get one of their growing systems, too, the brothers said. With fresh local produce season over for now, their season goes on. So, too, does the Sproutman’s family business.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 11/27/17 at 10:07 AM • Permalink

W. Cornwall Joins The Taste Trail With Pearly’s Farmhouse Cafe

Photo: Justina Aylmer

By CB Wismar

The hamlet of West Cornwall, Conn. has several magnets that make it a prime destination. The covered bridge alone draws visitors who explore the beauty of the Housatonic River Valley just to rumble across its expanse. Todd Piker’s pottery shop and Ingersoll’s furniture studio join The Wish House as attractions worth a prolonged visit. 

Now, there’s also Pearly’s Farmhouse Café.

Occupying the space formerly home to The Wandering Moose, Chef Sean Aylmer’s interpretation of a comfortable, local eatery has come on to the scene to great response, immediately garnering loyal customers and a reputation for excellent food that is also imaginative.

Most days, Pearly’s (the name harkens back to a family connection and gives a sense of “grounding” to Sean in his first restaurant venture) is a thriving breakfast and lunch venue (with dinners served Thursday through Sunday). There are six interpretations of Eggs Benedict, priced from $9 for the classic rendition to a luxurious lobster version with sherry-infused hollandaise sauce for $19.

Six seems to be the magic number, as there also are six variations of pancakes that range from $7 to $10 and are served with real maple syrup, butter and confectioner’s sugar.

There are six options for omelets, as well, with an $12 “Western” omelet that ignores the traditional ham and substitutes a savory, spicy marinated flank steak instead. As Sean says, “The last time I read ‘Lonesome Dove,’ they weren’t herding pigs!”

The lunch and dinner menus offer a wide range of tempting meals. The salads are very well proportioned, and include a Caesar for $7; an intriguing update on salad nicoise sans anchovies but with herb crusted salmon, haricot beans, oven-roasted potatoes, hard-cooked eggs and balsamic vinaigrette for $17; and a lobster and crisp bacon salad tossed in brown butter vinaigrette for $21. During the fall and winter months, housemade chili topped with grilled corn will appear on the daily menu, with a crock for $5 and a bowl for $6. It’s a chef’s creation and very tasty.

Pizzas are single-serving sized and, as Sean likes to describe them, “designer” in creation. The maple sausage ricotta pizza for $10.50 combines Italian sausage, carmelized onions, maple-infused ricotta, a provolone/mozzarella cheese blend and a drizzle of maple syrup. This is no traditional pizza. Neither is the pepperoni and mushroom pizza ($10.75) that boasts oven-roasted mushrooms and Sean’s signature shredded mozzarella/provolone blend.

Sandwiches and wraps offer a wide range of attraction and execution. The roast beef and horseradish sandwich combines thinly sliced beef with baby arugula, carmelized onions and sliced tomatoes with horseradish aioli for $10.75 and appears on a plate dressed with an ample serving of chips and a pickle. The cranberry turkey sandwich ($10.25) includes alfalfa sprouts, havarti cheese and a cranberry chutney to evoke that post-Thanksgiving feeling when turkey sandwiches are the norm.

Entrees include four options, including chicken pasta rosa ($13.75) and seared salmon ($19). All entrees are fully dressed and reflect recipes that have been in the family for years. They’ve gotten better with age, and the portions are ample without being overwhelming. The shrimp and asparagus risotto ($17.55) is Sean’s admitted favorite and a hearty, truly delicious combination.

In any restaurant, the hamburger is the offering against which prowess is measured. Here, The Green Monster (named after Fenway’s legendary left-field wall) is a crowning achievement. At $13, the plate nearly overflows with sumptuous ingredients. Prime beef, bacon, avocado, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato, red onion and roasted garlic aioli are joined by a full order of beautifully finished, crunchy French fries and a generous pickle spear. “Medium” is medium — moist and tender — and the combination is really satisfying. Burger grade: A.

Desserts, $6, are simple and delicious. Apple pie, a chocolate cake or a cheesecake are simply presented, but serve as a great finish to the meal, and large enough to share.

Photo: Justina Aylmer

Plans are underway to add a wine and beer license at the end of the first quarter of 2018. Sean is intent on “getting it right,” and navigating the winter months to see what works and what can be improved upon. Until the license is in place, guests are invited to bring their own “adult beverage” for a $10 corkage fee.

Pearly’s Farmhouse Cafe is a welcome addition to West Cornwall and truly worth the trip. 

Pearly’s Farmhouse Café
421 Sharon Goshen Turnpike, West Cornwall, CT
(860) 248-3252
Open daily for breakfast and lunch.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/06/17 at 10:41 AM • Permalink

Olé Americana! Castle Street Café Still Its Ethereal Self

By Nichole Dupont

Castle Street Café has always been a mainstay of the Berkshire food scene, under the watchful eye of owner/Chef Michael Ballon. Every era must end, though, and a new one begin. That seems to be the way of things, especially now in Great Barrington, where new eateries and stores are popping up as quickly as they are quietly shutting down. There isn’t much about Castle Street’s exterior that has changed. It is under new ownership now, bought by Vern Kennedy — a tech CEO who also purchased the iconic Morgan House in Lee — and Chef Luis Zambrano (mastermind of the now-closed Viva, a tapas hub in Glendale, Mass.) now heads up the kitchen. Although the dining room is still under renovation, the long, “ethereal” bar is open and that was a relief walking in with my date, because we both needed a little magic. Also, I needed him to test out any red meat situation that looked interesting.

We caught a cozy little booth by the window (it was only 6:30 p.m., but the place starts to fill up around 7:30 p.m. or 8 o’clock in anticipation of the live jazz, which continues in the same vein as under Ballon). The place was already humming with Friday night feels. I sipped at a classic old-fashioned and my date ordered his usual, a root beer. The old-fashioned was solid, which is a high compliment for a bourbon drink coming from this Bywater bayou snob.

“Hmm. Strong,” I muttered, sinking back into my seat a little. “But not too sweet.”

The menu is not the three-page fanfare that perhaps regulars to the “former” Castle Street had become accustomed. What we were looking at was one page (Chef Luis Zambrano will debut a new menu every week), broken down into two simple categories: Smaller and Larger. The “smaller” section offered six choices, including more basic, seasonal fare like green apple and quinoa salad ($11), a rich garden soup ($8), and flatbread pizza topped with figs, ricotta and arugula ($15). The more adventurous aspects were duck-in-a-blanket (duck sausage and duxelles in a puff pastry with pepper relish, $13) and beef empanadas ($9). The duck truly called to me, but I was saving my adventure for “larger” and possibly for the dessert menu.

While there were only five options listed under the “larger” umbrella, both of us faltered a little when making a choice. Me because the duck confit pasta with mustard cream sauce ($20) appealed to several of my diet-related Achilles tendons (I’m French, mustard cream sauce is…kryptonite); he because there was a burger option, and that is his thing. I had almost settled on the pasta, but then spotted Luis’ fried chicken.

“Shoot, they have fried chicken,” I said. “With ranch.”

No regrets. The “two-hands” burger ($16) lived up to its name — a generous, well-seasoned affair topped with crispy fried shallots, horseradish cheese, lettuce, tomato and served with a side of truffle fries, a new staple on the Berkshire eats scene. He cleaned his plate, even the lettuce, while I dove hands first into the dark meat fried chicken, resisting the urge to stick my finger in the homemade ranch dressing and go to town.

“I can’t stop,” I said. “Do you want a piece of this before it’s gone?”

He shook his head, too focused on the meaty task in front of him.

We took breaks, ate fast, ate slow. The service at Castle Street needs to be noted here, because everyone was incredibly attentive, and relaxed, and classy. And despite leaning back after our meal was done, and almost giving up, I still asked for the dessert menu. I’m no quitter. Neither is he. 

We ordered coffee (espresso for me, straight up for him) while mulling over the sinful situation that was the dessert menu. My hunch was correct, and so, the chocolate mousse cake (gluten free, $8) arrived in short order. For him, a classic crème brulee which I had no problem helping myself to. I made a half-hearted offer to share some of the cake (covered with homemade whipped cream and a fat strawberry).

The band was just tuning up as we were getting ready to leave. People were filing in, waiting, ogling the half-eaten cake on my plate.

“Well, let’s make room for the others,” he said.

From the outside, the place still had its warm, familiar glow. I leaned in to look at the “paperwork” taped to the window.

“Oh my god, they have paella and tapas on Wednesdays,” I said.

“Next time,” he said.

Castle Street Café
10 Castle St., Great Barrington, MA
(413) 528-5244
Open 5 p.m. until closing.
Closed Tuesdays.

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Posted by Nichole on 10/16/17 at 10:18 AM • Permalink

The Porchlight Is On In Sharon, Connecticut

By CB Wismar

It was shortly after Brian and Tracey Abut settled into their weekend home in Sharon, Conn. that they noticed a bulletin board sign advertising a small local commercial space for rent. It didn’t take long for their years of dreaming and discussion to turn to a decision. They would open a wine bar in Sharon and call it The Porchlight.

In a comfortable setting, tastefully designed and executed by HendricksChurchill, a new, sophisticated wine and food venue is fulfilling their dreams. “The Porchlight is a wine bar,” says Brian Abut with the assurance born of focus and commitment. As such, varieties of excellent wines are the focus of this quaint (30 seats) comfortable space in the heart of Sharon.

Both Tracey and Brian have enjoyed their global travels, which, in many cases, brought them into wine-producing regions. They sampled and tasted, made notes and sought out their favorites when they returned to their New York City home. Those wines now appear on the menu.

Priced well within reason — the current wine list has wines ranging from $9 to $15 a glass — both reds and whites are well represented with sparkling white and rosés also available. Reading down the countries of origin, it’s clear that the Abuts are well traveled, and that they paid attention. France, Austria, Spain and Italy are all well represented, as are California, Oregon and Washington.

Unsure whether the MacRostie Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay will be more to your liking than the Jacques Charlet Macon Village Chardonnay from France? Ask for a sample and they will be happy to comply. 

“Brian grew up in a Victorian house similar to this one, and the porch light was always on. It was home,” says Tracey. The Porchlight wants guests to feel just as comfortable.

With wine selection made, it’s time to survey the “Plates” section of the menu. This is not a full-course dinner restaurant, but a wine bar that offers food. Relying on the comfort foods of home, the menu is concise, but eclectic enough for the table to share. The Not-so-Deviled Eggs ($7) — Brian’s concoction — features locally produced eggs with dijonnaise, radish and a pinch of salt. A meat and cheese board ($20) with accompaniments features cheeses selected in consultation with the folks at No.109 Cheese and Wine in Ridgefield and Kent, Conn., and charcuterie from nearby Ancramdale, New York.

The flatbread with mozzarella, blue cheese, pears, arugula, walnuts and balsamic glaze ($15) is a wonderful combination of flavors in a serving size that can easily be a light supper. For more traditional snacking, the franks in a blanket ($5) served with a honey maple mustard feature a robust all-beef hotdog in puff pastry. The only caution is to plan on ordering two of them, since others at your table will likely need to sample your order.

For those who prefer a refreshing beer, The Porchlight has a modest but varied list of beers sourced from Texas to Belgium to right nearby in Connecticut. There’s even a non-alcoholic brew available for the “designated driver.”

The Abuts have been open since September, 2017 and business has been brisk, with several customers returning on a weekly basis — certainly a good sign. The list of wines will change with the seasons. Some of the lighter offerings have already given way to more robust selections as summer turns to fall. Winter will bring another shift in the menu.

It’s important to note that not only are The Abuts fully knowledgeable about the wines on their menu — and eager to share the reason each wine has been included — but their service staff has rapidly learned to answer any questions customers might have about the nuance and bouquet of the vintages. The resulting mood? Well, it’s like being at home.

The Porchlight
19 West Main St., Sharon, CT
(860) 397-5259
Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
No reservations. Parking available in the rear of the building.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/09/17 at 11:23 AM • Permalink

Railhead Jerk: Savory Dinner On The Right Side Of The Tracks

By CB Wismar

By all means, don’t let the name of the restaurant perplex you. “Railhead Jerk” is not a pejorative directed at an employee of Metro-North. It is, in fact, a delightful restaurant that has blossomed on Route 22 in the southern end of Amenia, N.Y.

When Julette Barker-Wilson came to a point of reflection in her life — the fashion company she had been with for 21 years as an FIT-trained fashion designer was sold and the jobs moved overseas — she decided to fall back on the things most enjoyable in her life: cooking and entertaining.

Enter Railhead Jerk, just “up the road” from the Wassaic train station, Barker-Wilson’s daily departure spot for more than two decades.

Born in Jamaica and well schooled in the recipes and cooking techniques unique to the island nation, Barker-Wilson [right] relied on the recipes she had known in her childhood — recipes she tweaked and modified to make her own. 

“I love the dishes we prepare,” she says with the radiant smile that has become a signature of her restaurant. “Everything on the menu is something I’ve cooked for years… something I still love.”

For those who have sampled and truly enjoyed authentic Jamaican cooking, Railhead Jerk is like a homing beacon. On any given evening, tables and seats at the bar are populated with customers who remember the savory jerk sauce cooking that turns chicken, pork and ribs into warming, satisfying meals.

The jerk specialties, all marinated in their own secret sauce (a secret recipe is just that — a secret) and smoked, take center stage. The restaurant uses fresh meats, only (Julette does not want a freezer) and all dinners come with two sides.

Port Antonio jerk chicken ($17.95), Port Antonio jerk pork ($18.95) and Railhead Jerk BBQ back ribs ($20.95) are excellent headline offerings. They’re so good that the menu offers a whole chicken with no sides ($22.50) and a full rack of ribs ($27.95), both of which drive a robust carry-out business. Smaller portion sizes (Likkle Tings) are offered on the menu, a welcome option for those who are not hearty eaters.

Island specialties are served with plantains and rice and feature dishes that belie the wide range of cultural influences that have been merged in Jamaican cuisine. Tallawah curry chicken ($15.95) and Tallawah curry goat ($17.95) hint at the Indian influence. Fricasse chicken done in a brown sauce that has great bouquet ($15.95) reaches to other influences — France and Spain.

If some additional spice is desired (no one queried at Railhead Jerk found any need to enhance the already bountiful sauces made in house) there are bottles of Spur Tree Crushed Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce on each table. Difficult to find in local retail establishments, bottles are for sale at checkout.

As the seasons turn, hearty soups will be in great demand, and the pumpkin soup with beef or chicken ($10.95) and pea soup with smoked beef or turkey ($11.95) will have great appeal.

For fish lovers, the Calypso fish ($18.95) is served with a spicy Junkanoo pepper sauce. Since Junkanoo is also the name of a holiday parade and festival in Jamaica, this dish might well have you eager to join the celebrations. Run Down fish ($19.95) is a bit milder, served with an elegant coconut sauce. And, for the Jamaican traditionalist, the ackee and saltfish ($16.95) is served with breadfruit dumplings and ripe plantains — the traditional “national meal of Jamaica.”

The choice of sides (Pon Di Side) makes each dinner an individual signature choice. Railhead baked potato salad features both sweet and “plain” potatoes while the oven-roasted vegetables are a medley of seasonal vegetables from local markets. Rice and peas can be deceptive to the first-time diner, as “peas” in the Jamaican parlance are really red beans, making this wonderful side akin to “red beans and rice” from Southern cuisine. Fried ripe plantains are in ample supply while the menu recommends bammy and breadfruit as appropriate accompaniments for the fish dishes.

Barker-Wilson has not forgotten dessert (Sweet Tings), and the sweet potato pudding ($4.75) [above] is smooth, richly flavored and served with a dollop of cream in a portion suitable to share. Jamaican fruit cake ($5.50) will be available shortly.

Railhead Jerk has both a beer and a wine license, and currently offers diners access to world-renowned Red Stripe beer. Wine selections are coming as the team decides what pairs well with the various entrees offered.

Service at the simply decorated restaurant is “Jamaica friendly” and the pride in the superb menu items is apparent. Although the décor appears to be an afterthought (a few requisite Bob Marley posters adorn the walls along with travel images) it’s clear that the focus has been on the kitchen and the food that brings people back again and again. In true Jamaican patois, if you’re yearning for food from “Jamrock,” then Railhead Jerk is “Big Up!”

Railhead Jerk
4789 NY 22, Amenia, NY
(845) 789-1540
Thursday, Sunday, Monday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Reservations and carry-out orders accepted.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/15/17 at 08:02 PM • Permalink

Updated Menus Still Pack People In At 2 Litchfield Cty Eateries

By CB Wismar

Longtime diners of The Falls Village Inn and The Woodland already know about the revamped menus at these places, and the new culinary fare is still bringing them back time and time again. Newcomers, we’re quite sure, are just as welcome.

The Falls Village Inn, Falls Village

The Falls Village Inn occupies an historic building — originally built 175 years ago as a railroad hotel — set in an historic town. When the iron industry dominated the Housatonic Valley and the surrounding hills, the town flourished with several banks, shops, markets and a lumber yard to supply the burgeoning building industry. The nearby waterfalls provided the hydroelectric power for its industrial base. 

These are quieter times. The railroad languidly rolls through town carrying only freight. The markets, banks and shops have moved out to more populous areas. The Falls Village Inn remains, offering Bunny Williams-designed guest rooms and a reliable, well-prepared menu curated by new Executive Chef Addison Todd.

Appetizers are carefully selected for a wide range of tastes. The bang-bang crispy calamari ($14) packs a pleasant “snap” nestled on a bed of lettuce. Maryland crab, jalapeno, scallion and goat cheese wontons ($14) offer a nice fusion touch to the menu. Crispy house wings ($13) are great to share and are a popular selection in the quaint pub room.

Salads rely on local suppliers during the growing season and add refreshing elements that set them apart from “just salad.” The Mediterranean salad ($14) includes roasted red peppers, artichokes, chickpeas, cucumbers, feta cheese and tahini dressing.

Entrees include the Falls Village Bridge burger ($15) that commemorates the re-opening of the bridge across the nearby Housatonic River and features local Whippoorwill Farms grass-fed beef. Long a favorite at The Inn, the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese ($25), features fresh Maine lobster, three cheeses (Vermont cheddar, Gruyere and cream cheese) and is topped with a Parmesan panko breadcrumb crust. The pan-roasted cod ($24) sits atop a bed of creamy white beans and ratatouille-style vegetables. The goat cheese-stuffed chicken breast ($24) is served over a wonderful ragout of potato, sweet corn, smoked bacon, fennel and mushrooms.

The signature entrée is steak and frites ($28), a New York strip steak grilled and topped with a bernaise butter, complemented by housemade fries.

Desserts change with the season and usually feature a fruit crumble ($8) that can be topped with vanilla ice cream for a pleasant end to a sumptuous meal. Portions are ample and “take home” cartons are often in view.

The Falls Village Inn
33 Railroad St., Falls Village, CT
(860) 824-0033
Tuesday – Sunday, dinner starting at 5 p.m.
Reservations accepted.

The Woodland, Lakeville

Let’s start with a word to the wise. Make reservations.

You see, The Woodland on Sharon Road is a popular spot. For close to 35 years, this country bistro has been a local favorite, consistently delivering excellent locally-sourced dishes enhanced with an exceptional sushi menu created by Chef “Leon” Li. Daily specials make the arduous task of selecting just one entrée a real, but most enjoyable challenge.

Appetizers run the gamut from an excellent charred filet of beef with ginger dipping sauce ($14) to tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, thyme and Parmigiano Reggiano ($12). Salads are ample and savory, with the arugula with roasted pancetta, pine nuts and Parmigiano ($11) a real standout. Daily additions bring a soup, additional salad offerings tied to the season and a semi-regular appearance of steamed mussels with garlic and white wine ($11). Frankly, it’s easy to simply order a few appetizers for an entire dinner.

That, however, would keep patrons from enjoying the magic of The Woodland’s entrée selections. Standouts are the pistachio nut-crusted salmon with lemon beurre blanc ($25) and the grilled pork chop, polenta and smoked bacon onion sauce ($22). We’ve long measured the sincerity of a restaurant by the way they treat their burger, and the burger with Grafton cheddar on Great Hill Blue (cheese) and house fries ($17) is fair indication that this is a sincere kitchen. The steaks are uniformly superior with the sliced hanger steak on garlic toast with sauteed spinach and house fries ($24) superb. The sauteed filet of sole meuniere on almandine ($26) is beautifully delicate.

Again, the daily specials offer great diversions with several pasta offerings. The basic spaghetti with Sungold tomato, basil and garlic ($19) appears in various versions throughout the year. Linguini, ravioli, penne and black spaghetti (made with squid ink) are all well prepared with a variety of complements. Prices range from $18 to $23 for pasta selections.

And, don’t forget the sushi. As an appetizer or an entire meal, the creations are fresh, skillfully prepared and beautifully served. Basic offerings — tuna roll ($7.75) and jumbo shrimp tempura roll ($9) are joined by the special Woodland roll with Cajun tuna, smoked salmon and sprouts ($9.25) and a wide selection of sashimi (3 pieces for $6) and nigiri sushi ($4/piece).

The fact that the housemade desserts are all priced at $6 (parfait with hot fudge, key lime pie, rum raisin rice pudding), $7 (vanilla crème brulee or warm chocolate cake) or $8 (peach, raspberry and almond crisp, bananas foster) makes ending the meal a real challenge. 

The wine list is solid without being overwhelming, the bartenders are known for a generous pour, and the serving staff is both friendly and knowledgeable. The Woodland is a classic dining experience. Just remember to make reservations.

The Woodland
192 Sharon Rd., Lakeville, CT
(860) 435-0578
Tuesday – Thursday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5–9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5–10 p.m.
Sunday, Dinner 4–8:30 p.m.
Closed Mondays.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/11/17 at 02:13 PM • Permalink