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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

Sowing Seeds: A Harvest Café In The City Of Peace

By Nichole Dupont

Summer is nearing its end. We all knew it would come. I was driving along with my 13-year-old son, Lucian. We had just dropped my daughter off at a leadership event at Ramblewild. And we were starving (we are always on the brink of hangry). I pulled into the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, my gut filled with hope.

“Baby animals?” He was confused. Disappointed even. He is obviously “too old” for the baby animals.

“Food,” I said.

It was a beautiful day; the landmark Round Barn gleamed in the distance. But more importantly, the little chalkboard sign of Seeds Market Café, the village’s reimagined eatery, signified that it was open, and ready to feed these two ravenous sojourners.

We scoped out a table, picked up a menu and perused the one page roster of Shaker brown bread ($6), smoked trout rilletes ($13), grilled vegetable panzanella ($14), poached salmon with sweet corn salad ($17), a BLT with basil aioli ($13) — all a creative and authentic twist on Shaker sustenance, and all sourced from local growers and purveyors. The menu carries the creative signature of Chef Brian Alberg, executive chef and vice president of culinary development at the Red Lion Inn and Main Street Hospitality Group, who is known for his close ties to local farmers and seasonal eats.

“I’m definitely feeling a hamburger,” my predictable second child said.

“How about a lamb patty with potatoes?”

“Hmmm. Okay. I’ll try it. ”

I ordered at the counter, every few minutes glancing at the lone teen boy gulping chocolate milk by the window. A bittersweet image. Other families had found the place, some with HSV passes stuck to their shirts, others travelers like us who were drawn to the idyllic farm while they were passing through. I brought my fresh cup of No. Six Depot cold brew to the table and people-watched through the enormous windows.

“God, what a beautiful day,” I said.

“I can’t believe school is starting in two weeks.”

The food arrived, looking almost like a spread from Lucky Peach. Lucian’s “patty” ($10) was the size of a baseball mitt. Thick, not dry, sitting on top of a mountain of fingerling potatoes, a healthy pile of pre-dressed greens, all interspersed with bright, chunky, house-pickled veggies.

“Nice,” my son said. And dove in.

On my end there was no shame either. It has been years — literally years — since I helped myself to a ham and cheese sandwich ($13). And this one was an icebreaker like no other, thick with tavern ham and Berleberg cheese. My sandwich also arrived with greens and the jewel-hued pickled vegetables. I bit into a carrot slice and looked up at my son.

“Good, right?!” He was crunching on the broccoli.

They were sweet and tangy and the not even a little bit mushy. We could have easily eaten several servings with zero regrets. Once the plates were cleaned completely, we mulled over the idea of dessert — blueberry pie ($7), lemon curd & raspberries ($8), strawberry pound cake ($9), SoCo ice cream ($3/scoop) and milkshakes ($8).

“We’ll have to come back,” he said, shaking his head and patting his stomach a little. “The vegetables were like a dessert in a weird way.”

Lucian walked over to a shelf that was displaying products for purchase including Bola granola, salsa and sriracha from Kitchen Garden Farm, Fire Cider, Barrington Coffee Roasting Co. beans, and house-made trail mix.

“I don’t see the vegetables,” he said, clearly disappointed.

“Yeah, we’re coming back,” I reassured him. “Summer isn’t over yet.”

Seeds Market Café at Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
(413) 418-9100
Open daily through November 12, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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Posted by Nichole on 08/28/17 at 07:32 AM • Permalink

Backbar: An Asian-Inspired Reflection Of Hudson

By Jamie Larson

There are few places in Hudson, New York that encapsulate the enigmatic modern style of the hip city as succinctly as Backbar. It’s a bit of a living altar to all the things that have come to define Hudson over the past two decades: art, antiques, historic architecture with a trademark layer of sexy grime, incredible food and booze, and a collective demeanor of crocodilian calm – laid back but ready to snap, strong and well designed by time. 

To imbue this complex identity into a casual bar and restaurant is an impressive feat. Backbar is the collaborative fruit of two of the city’s best known tastemakers, architect/designer Michael Davis and restaurateur/chef/author Zakary Pelaccio. Tucked behind Davis’ well-known 3FortySeven gallery (at 347 Warren Street) and opening onto a large hidden courtyard through big garage doors, Backbar is an urban oasis decked out in a curated hodgepodge. The design of the space, which has been slowly evolving since it opened in 2015, combines both refined elements that belie the city’s high-end commercial tastes and more worn industrial pieces that accent the historical texture of the bar, formerly a gas station. A heavy dose of vegetation surrounds and adds a secret garden feel to the outdoor seating area. 

Into this unique environment Pelaccio (of Fish and Game and formerly Fatty Crab and Fatty Que in NYC) has added a menu of Asian-inspired small plates that are a casual culmination of his years of culinary study of regional Asian cuisine and his obsession with farm-to-table cooking. The food is exciting and challenging at times — but enjoyably so.

A great way to start your evening, after ordering your drinks, is with the spicy eggplant dip called Nam Prik ($8), which comes with slightly sweet and slightly briny puffy shrimp chips, which are surprisingly satisfying. There are a number of dishes excellent for picking at between sips or sentences. Try an order of chicken wings in a garlic, pepper, curry leaf and fish sauce glaze ($9) or the iceberg wedge with smoked trout, Asian dried anchovy, coconut and mint ($12). They also serve up three types of satay skewers to mix and match including pork belly ($4), taro cake ($3) and skirt steak ($4).

Pelaccio isn’t afraid of spice or assertive flavors, which is welcome. It wouldn’t fit the space to serve safe, predictable bar food (even if it were elevated, as so much is in Hudson). The food, like the space, feels alive and vital. You feel like a part of a conversation.

For slightly more substantial dishes, there’s fried chicken with a chili-honey-vinegar sauce ($15), a spicy shaved pork laab, with fresh bibb lettuce for wrapping and cutting the heat ($14), assam laksa made with mackerel, noodles, pineapple, cucumber, chilies and cilantro ($15), and quite a bit more. All the “mains” are conducive to sharing with a group with the aid of a couple bowls of rice (additional $3 unless listed).

It should be mentioned that Backbar is also a fabulous bar. The bartenders are skilled and make excellent versions of your go-to cocktail. But if you’re looking for something different, they offer signature drinks including the expertly balanced mixture Cat’s Pajamas with chamomile-infused gin, lemon, honey, egg white and Szechuan pepper ($12). Or the whimsical slushy Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire ($13) that’s got a lot going on. That icy adventure mixes mezcal, Thai chili infused Aperol, lime, smoked agave and sumac. And, of course, the beer selection is excellent and focuses on local craft brews.

Backbar is a social place and the food reflects that; the dishes are easy to share or you can just linger beside your beverage as you drink alone. But even if you do show up by yourself, you’re likely to find yourself in conversation with a stranger or someone you haven’t seen in a while. There’s always a comfortable mix of tourists and natives in the courtyard, which gives off a feel of something happening, something unique and unmistakably Hudson.

Backbar
347 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
(518) 828-0567
Sunday – Thursday, noon–midnight
Friday and Saturday, noon – 1 a.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/21/17 at 09:33 AM • Permalink

Hanq’s: A New Perspective On A Menu… And A Town

By CB Wismar

The stairway to a second floor entrance at 131 Water Street in Torrington is the only notice you get when approaching Hanq’s. Is that enough to entice you? In this case, it pays to be curious. Because in all honesty, Torrington is not known for great dining establishments. That is, not until now. Hanq’s is more than a great restaurant… it’s an experience, one that you can have inside in the dining room or tap room, or outside on the rooftop terrace.

Hanq’s (the name honors Kris’ faithful dog) is the fulfillment of owner Kris Kelsey’s dreams of offering a varied, high-quality menu with an ambience that actually promotes lingering, sampling and relaxing. It combines the atmosphere of a Greenwich Village or Rush Street or Poydras Street club with a menu that cheerily offers the best seafood, meats, vegetables beers and wines available with signature drinks and desserts that call for return trips.

To start, the Santa Fe clam chowder ($6) is a savory departure from the typical Manhattan variety. Spices associated with Southwestern cooking give the chowder a spicy bouquet that supports the fresh ingredients. 

Two salad standouts, each with a secret ingredient are the Mediterranean salad and the panzanella salad (both $12). They are amply sized to be full meals and are certainly large enough to share as a first course.

During the growing season, the herb garden that occupies a space of honor in the rooftop dining area yields mint, pineapple sage, oregano, thyme, cilantro, rosemary, various flavorful peppers and cherry tomatoes. Salads feature these “just picked” accents as long as the frost holds off and the garden can thrive.

Kris Kelsey honors the fact that some folks are lighter eaters, so the assortment of “plates” is designed to cater to them. The marinated skirt steak ($14) is a great customer favorite that has well-deserved notoriety because the soy/garlic/brown sugar marinade keeps the steak both tender and flavorful. Served atop potato gnocchi with fresh tomatoes, baby spinach, pepper pesto and a “hint of cream,” it comes as no shock that the serving team is quick to identify this dish as their personal favorite.

Even a plate of wings ($13) — a pub standard — can be ordered one of four ways. Traditional Buffalo wings are joined by coconut curry, honey sriracha and truffle parmesan options.

The pasta at Hanq’s is made fresh and the lobster ravioli ($34) is filled with fresh lobster, spinach and a sherry cream sauce that is simply elegant. Also notable on the entrée menu is the “Air Chilled” D’Artagnan half chicken ($24) — brined for 24 hours, seasoned with a house-made dry rub, roasted and served over a fresh apple slaw with sweet potato crisps. Plan to take some home for the next day. 

To truly test fine American cuisine, it’s often suggested that the lowliest item on the menu — the burger — be used to judge the sincerity of the chefs. There are two ways to test that theory at Hanq’s, and both are memorable. The Hanq’s burger ($14) is black angus beef done to each customer’s exact directions served on bibb lettuce, sliced heirloom tomatoes, pickled onions, white cheddar cheese and crispy bacon on a toasted brioche bun. In all sincerity, its gets an A-plus.

For the more sophisticated experience, the Asian burger ($18) starts with grass-fed wagyu beef, adds truffled potato strings, sriracha aioli and goat cheese. All sandwiches can be accompanied by the choice of sweet potato fries, dressed greens or “sidewinders,” thick-cut fried potatoes that could be a meal by themselves.

For other sandwich-type fare, the fish tacos ($16) featuring Cajun-rubbed Alaskan cod with avocado mousse and mango salsa are superb, as is Hanq’s Cuban ($14), which combines slow-roasted shaved pork with shaved pastrami, house-made dill pickles, melted smoked gouda and Dijon mustard on a toasted hoagie roll.

But, whatever your dinner selections may be, please leave room for the desserts ($8), all of which are made fresh in Hanq’s kitchen. The tiramisu includes coffee anglaise and chocolate- covered espresso beans, the hint of spirits and a cake that is moist and tender. The strawberry crème brulee is a unique combination created by one of the chefs. Smooth, elegant and richly flavored, it’s served with macerated strawberries.

One dessert special that elevates unbridled indulgence to new heights is Hanq’s take on coffee and a donut. On a bed of coffee anglaise, a split donut opens like an oyster to deliver its pearl of coconut almond ice cream (a Hanq’s signature item) and elegant berry preserves. Donuts will never be the same again.

A true “plus” to the Hanq’s experience is the periodic appearance of live musical groups who take their place in a corner of the rooftop when the weather cooperates or on the club stage in the main dining room. Kris Kelsey understands both hospitality and the complete entertainment experience, and the combination of great music and wonderful food yields memorable results.

Coming to Hanq’s is both a lunch menu (timed to coincide with the opening of the new courthouse in Torrington) and a brunch menu that will entice diners into the fall. Not a re-working of the current menu, both lunch and brunch menus will offer items uniquely Hanq’s.

Hanq’s
131 Water St., Torrington, CT
(860) 309-7200

Mon & Tues: Closed
Wed & Thu: 5 – 10 p.m.
Fri: 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Sat: 1 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Reservations encouraged.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/06/17 at 04:41 PM • Permalink

Game On: House Rules Café Offers Food And Board

By Jamie Larson

The New House Rules Café in Hudson, New York, is a tabletop game café, a playful new trend just reaching our region. House Rules offers up some elevated café fare and a stacked shelf of games, old and new. Proclaimed by friends a “board game sommelier,” the café’s owner and former wine seller Kathleen Miller prides herself on an innate ability to match you with the perfect game.

“Curating board games is very similar to curating wines,” says Miller, who spent five years at Hudson Wine Merchants. “It’s very personal to an individual’s tastes.”

While the games are what makes House Rules unique, Miller’s focus started in the kitchen.

“I’ve wanted to do something based around comfort food my whole adult life,” Miller says. “I worked for Hudson Wine Merchants for five years and realized that when I started my own business I didn’t want to contribute to the bar culture. There are already a lot of bars.”

The menu is simple and unpretentious and is tailored not to get in the way of your cards, dice, fake money or figures. There’s a grilled cheese with artisan cheeses and house-made roasted tomato butter ($8), a couple of homemade hummus preparations ($7), roast beef on olive ciabatta ($9) and more. There is also a list of sides and salads that can easily be treated as small plates or tapas, great for sharing with friends.

House Rules also serves a variety of coffee drinks and milk shakes using Ronnybrook dairy products and Jeni’s Ice Cream. Much of the menu is or can be made vegetarian and gluten free.

If you don’t have the time for a round of Settlers of Catan, House Rules is also excellent for takeout and they will soon be offering pre-made lunch boxes to grab and go. Miller is talking about delivery down the road.

“Board game cafés are this new industry and that gives me a lot of freedom to figure out what that can be,” Miller says. “I’ve always been a geek and now it’s sort of the age of the geek.”

Miller says that over the past 15 to 20 years there’s been a board game revolution. New games are coming out with innovative themes, mechanics and styles. One of the benefits of House Rules is you get to try them without buying them. There is a $5 charge for hanging out and playing games but that’s waived if your bill goes over $45.

For someone who hasn’t gamed in years but wants to try something modern, Miller recommends Qwirkle, a surprisingly deep tile-matching game. “It’s easy to learn at first but you can also play it with a high level of strategy.”

Miller actually didn’t think to incorporate board games into her culinary vision until 2015, but when she saw the corner storefront was for rent last year, she pulled the trigger. Miller and her crew undertook significant renovations and there are still more to come. The big comfy couches are on their way and plans are to complete a reading nook and the children’s area. 

“I know how hard it can be to go somewhere with a baby and a toddler,” says Miller. “I kept seeing strollers on Warren Street and there’s just really not a lot to do for families. I started thinking about how to make it kid friendly and parent friendly.”

Board games make anyone feel like a kid again, she says, adding that it’s really relaxing to get away from screens and everyday stress and just enjoy a game with some good food and friends.

House Rules Café
757 Columbia St., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-5938
Open every day: 7 a.m.–9 a.m. and 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Open until 9 p.m. Friday–Sunday.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/31/17 at 08:54 AM • Permalink

Farmers Market Fave Aba’s Falafel Now Available Year-Round

By Andrea Pyros

For those who frequent our area’s bountiful farmers markets, the final days of fall signify not only the end of the outdoor market season but the last time we can get our hands on Aba’s Falafel until the following spring. Talk about heartbreaking! Though winter is guaranteed to come again, at least now lovers of the popular vegan booth won’t have to suffer falafel withdrawal: Aba’s has opened a restaurant in the village of Rhinebeck, serving falafel six days a week, year-round.

Rural Intelligence chatted with Roy and Cathy Naor, the husband and wife owners of Aba’s, after their first week’s soft open to talk about their family — and family business.

The pair met in 10th grade in Israel, and were friends for years. After school, they stayed in touch while Roy went into the Air Force and Cathy studied neurobiology and traveled extensively. In their 20s, they became a couple, living in Israel and raising their two children, Kai and Mika. For 22 years, Roy was a pilot in the Air Force. After he retired, he became a commercial pilot for El Al, flying every week between New York and Tel Aviv. It was then that Cathy suggested that they “go live on the other side of the line.” 

Being self-described rural people, living in the city wasn’t an appealing option. Instead, they drew a circle around JFK and began researching spots within traveling distance that offered transportation to and from the airport. During his layovers, Roy looked around the tri-state area. When he’d describe what he and Cathy wanted from their new home, two different people told him to visit Rhinebeck. He did, after which he called Cathy to tell her, “You’d like it here, no one is wearing makeup and everyone is wearing jeans.”

In 2005, the Naors moved to the Hudson Valley, happily settling in. Except… “We missed the food from Israel,” Cathy says. “We loved living out in the country and coming to the farmers market and one day we said, ‘Why don’t we just sell falafel in the market?’” Plans came together quickly. “When we decided to do this, I was on a carb-free diet, and we took a bunch of recipes and tweaked them to be low carb.”

“We figured out a system to fry them even though there is no binder,” Roy adds. “The falafel don’t absorb a lot of oil, so it’s fluffy.” Not only fluffy, but extremely light and flavorful, which explains Aba’s massive lines at the markets each week.

They had no plans to open a restaurant, but they were looking for a bigger kitchen since they’re currently at three different markets each week, and when they saw the space in Rhinebeck become available, they couldn’t resist. “It’s such a great location, you can’t not do something!” Cathy says.

Although their storefront recently housed a small market and then a jeweler, for many years it was the neighborhood barbershop. “The amount of people who come in and say, ‘I got my hair cut here,’” Cathy says and smiles. To honor that history, the Naors bought a small barbershop sign and placed it in their restaurant.

“Many people tell us that we’ve revived this piece of the street,” Roy says. “It’s so nice on this corner, and that’s why we chose Rhinebeck. It has the feel of a neighborhood.”

There are no plans to expand beyond the lunchtime hours. “I want to eat at Terrapin! I don’t want to be here all day long,” Cathy insists.

Right now the couple like the way that people can come in to Aba’s (“Aba” is father in Hebrew) for falafel, then Samuel’s for coffee or Bread Alone for sweets, so don’t expect their simple menu — hummus, falafel, with pita ($8) or without; a variety of handmade Israeli salads; tahini, pickles and hot sauces, plus Roy’s special lemonade (made with anise) — to expand much, either. “Maybe espresso,” Cathy muses. Sundays, in order to avoid competing with the Rhinebeck market right across the street, they’re serving malawach, fried phyllo dough served with tahini, grated tomato and hot sauce, and sabich, which is fried potato, eggplant salad with tahini and a mango curry sauce in a pita (each $10.) It’s all delicious, freshly made, vegan and incredibly satisfying. Visit now, or in the dead of winter. They’ll be there.

Aba’s Falafel
54 E. Market St., Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 876-2324
Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/21/17 at 10:46 AM • Permalink