Prana Bar: The Great Re-Imagining in GB
Photo: Scott Barrow.
By Nichole Dupont
I admit, I think it’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen 325 Stockbridge Road after 2 p.m. Its last incarnation, Haven Bakery and Café (sister eatery to the Lenox mothership) was a bright, almost stark daytime joint where I would gobble down polenta and pesto after a self-destructive leg day. With vaulted ceilings and an odd shape (like a fat L) the space, which was more akin to an art gallery, is not one that I would ever have called cozy. But somehow, the newly branded Prana Bar is warm, even inviting, at night. Soft lanterns float high above, reminiscent of a Shanghai side street, and the walls are painted red and black and adorned with a giant gold mural of Krishna and other henna-esque imagery, with a few vintage posters scattered around for edge. (Fear not, the Venetian plaster by Isha Nelson still adorns the walls at the “back alley” of the space.)
Prana Bar, which is still owned by Haven creator Shelly Williams, markets its fare as “global street food,” and this description is totally on point. The menu is divided up according to appetite; by the bite, in a bowl, on a crust, and sides and snacks. There is a hidden invitation here to stick around and experiment as the night wears on. Specialty drinks have their own menu, and classics like Mai Tais and caipirinhas offer transport to faraway places. An extensive beer and wine list boasts Bengali IPA, Monchof Schwartz, Bodegas Breca, and Hook & Ladder chardonnay. I stick to the familiar, and nurse the hell out of a maple old-fashioned with Bulleit Bourbon. Made strong.
We pore over the menu, eyes darting up and down, as if we are actually visiting a foreign place and need to choose carefully lest this be the “last supper.” My foodie companion settles on the smoked eggs and I go “traditional American’” with the veggie fries. Truth be told I wanted to dive into the toasted sesame chicken poppers or the wild mushroom polenta, but thought I’d go with something basic.
Yeah, right. There was nothing basic about the giant mound of crispy beets, sweet potatoes, and thinly sliced squash sections that the super nice server put in front of me. The veggies came with three dipping sauces: a sweet grainy mustard, a Thai curry ketchup with respectable heat, and — the star of the show — a garlic mayonnaise, which I could have seriously eaten by the spoonful if I weren’t in public and wearing a black dress. And the portion was ample and therefore shareable. The smoked eggs, which were accompanied by a crispy pile of pickled cauliflower and carrots, are treasures you savor. One bite and I was already scheming on how I could replicate that smoked Gouda taste in my own kitchen. Compared to the veggies, the presentation of the eggs was spare, yet the rich, creamy flavor did the heavy lifting.
The small bites simply whetted the appetite. The main dishes are more akin to “food moods” rather than entrees. The selection is unique — braised beef rice bowl with roasted daikon, arugula salad with poached pears, banh mi pizza (swear to god). My friend the shameless omnivore decided on the ramen nori, a gorgeous cacophony of tender, slow-roasted pork, bright bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and a second appearance of those coveted smoked eggs. That noodle-y, sweet broth concoction smelled like heaven when it came to the table.
After a little too much pondering, I justified going all out due to the looming shadow of Lent (and the big 4-0).
YOLO, people, with duck confit over spaetzle. The exterior of the duck was crispy and buttery; I thought I was eating a croissant. The meat inside perfectly salty and tender, in delightful contrast to the little “al dente” dumplings and vegetables, all covered (not smothered) with a grainy mustard sauce. It was perfection. My gluttony was totally satisfied.
We opted out of dessert, it seemed over the top. But out of curiosity I asked the server about the sweet treats, which change almost daily. A flight of cookies with dipping sauces? Damn.
Before we could extract our delighted tongues and full bellies from the restaurant, we were presented with two slightly suggestive, melt-in-your mouth fortune cookies. I don’t remember what my fortune said, but I left Prana with a newfound wisdom.
“We’re coming back here, a few times,” was all I could muster as the barkeep waved goodbye.
325 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Thursday – Monday, 5-10 p.m.
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East Chatham Food Company: The Firemen’s Dream Come True
By Elizabeth Hartley
If you ever drove through East Chatham in years past, you were no stranger to The Cottage, a folksy low-slung eatery on the edge of town. For years, this popular spot served simple diner-style food and fresh-baked bread to locals and downstate travelers. Change eventually caught up with The Cottage and its owners retired some five years ago.
Several new owners tried their hands, but none seemed able to get the traction needed to survive, let alone thrive. After its last failed incarnation, the place sat shuttered for 15 months. In stepped Rick Newton and Dave Shea, a couple of volunteer firemen from East Chatham, who bought and renovated the place and recently rolled out their own new eatery, the East Chatham Food Company, a whimsical take on their alter-identities in the East Chatham Fire Company.
“Once you go through a few house fires together, you know whether or not you can work with a guy,” Newton says. Shea laughs and agrees. Trained as a chef at the CIA, Shea ran the respected Applewood restaurant in Brooklyn before moving full time to East Chatham a few years ago. He joined the fire company in 2012 and is now a lieutenant. Newton, a construction supervisor, moved to rural Columbia County as a kid. Also a lieutenant, he joined the fire company in 2008 and is its current president.
Dave Shea and Rick Newton.
There’s no denying the trust that develops among men who have each other’s backs — and we mean that literally. Newton says, “We’re the two knuckleheads you see on the roof in a fire.” Their bond, it turns out, helped the two men transcend much of the normal stress associated with launching a business.
“Dave’s got the ability to do the food and I had the construction skills, and we respect each other’s expertise,” Newton says. Once the purchase was final in May 2016, he got right to work on overdue structural and cosmetic improvements: new lighting and flooring in the dining room, a new handicapped-accessible restroom, new HVAC system, all-new plumbing and a totally re-configured kitchen, as well as a handsome new bar (built by the local Hooper Cabinet Company), even correcting traffic bottlenecks in the main hallway, bar and kitchen. ECFC opened to the public in October 2016 with a clean new look and exciting menu, while retaining much of the familiar comfort of The Cottage.
“We both really wanted to make the restaurant a community place, to be with the people we know and enjoy being around,” Newton says. “Finding the right staff happened for us quickly because we knew the whole fire company community.” That word — community — at ECFC begins with family; both men’s teen-aged children (five between them) welcome customers, bus tables or do kitchen prep. The restaurant became a family affair, with many hands attending to its decor, training, menu creation and other aspects of its progress.
There’s a special for each night; Saturday night’s is prime rib with baked potato and salad. Photos: East Chatham Food Company.
“We follow the same general model as The Cottage and welcome the local community,” Shea says, but the emphasis at ECFC is on fresh and local ingredients (the owners even encouraged the farmstand in the parking lot to reopen) and a hipper menu. He buys from local purveyors as much as possible — easy to do with so many farms nearby. Grass-fed beef comes from Cynthia Creech’s Artemis Farm in New Lebanon, eggs from Feather Ridge, and most vegetables from Dick Klingler at Whistlestop Farm. Even libations are local; the bar features locally brewed beer from Chatham Brewing and S & S in Nassau.
The menu is sophisticated but family-friendly, with the usual fish and chips, burgers and grilled sandwiches (BLT, Reuben, goat cheese and roasted peppers, open-face roast beef) balanced by excellent salads (Caesar, Greek, roasted beet, wedge). The appetizer sampler, with a shrimp skewer, fried mozzarella and chicken tenders, is perfect for adults and their small children to share.
“You know, you often don’t know you want to do something until you do it,” Newton says. “Now, I can’t imagine my life without the fire company or the restaurant.”
East Chatham Food Company
1267 Rt. 295 (just outside the hamlet of East Chatham, NY)
Open daily except Tuesday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Reservations recommended for parties of 6 or more.
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Brew & ‘Que Hits Home in Sheffield
By Nichole Dupont
Just a few short months ago, the only sign of life after dark in the center of Sheffield, Mass. was the light shining from the congregational church tower. But Berkshire native Jesse Watkins and his business partners Jim and Ana Olivieri changed all that when they opened Bash Bish Brew and ‘Que, a no frills — but still warm and welcoming — barbecue joint.
The thick wooden bar is the centerpiece of the vintage-style eatery. Bright red chairs and stools lend an ironic pop to the space, which is often full, even on week nights.
The simplicity should not fool you. The extensive beer selection — local Big Elm collection, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, Allagash White, Pabst, even Coors Light — is a perfect whistle wetter while you mull over the one-page, no-regrets menu.
And what a menu; the stuff of roadhouse dreams. Starter plates include loaded fries (with pulled pork, mozzarella and house gravy, $11); homemade pretzels with beer cheese and horseradish mustard, $6; and a slew of wings with your pick of sauce including Carolina vinegar, habanero-maple or buffalo, $11.
It goes on from there. Sandwiches — pulled pork or chicken, brisket — and burgers, including the Beetnik black bean, beet and quinoa patty ($14), are piled high and served with a healthy side of fries and coleslaw. Dinner platters, all served on aluminum trays, include thick brisket ($18), four-piece fried chicken ($25), St. Louis-style ribs ($16 for quarter rack), and the Pitmaster, a meat extravaganza of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken ($39).
There is no pretense of Southern authenticity here. All of the meat is smoked in-house, using rubs and an alchemy that Watkins and his pit team developed through a series of trial and error, and then success.
The meat is smoked to perfection. Maybe it’s the wood they use, which includes old whiskey staves from Berkshire Mountain Distillers and massive bundles of pear tree kindling that used to line Great Barrington’s main drag. Even the pulled chicken, which always runs the danger of being dry without some added sauce once it hits the plate, is juicy. Each meat has its own unique flavor, unaltered by an overabundance of sauce or so much doctoring it could be anything. The portions are generous. And the buttermilk batter is solid, not corn-flaky, yet it melts on the tongue and gives way to a tender, herby bite.
Meats are the star of the show, they almost have to be, but less than halfway through the meal we realize that the sides are not obligatory ornaments. The crisp and colorful coleslaw is fresh. The golden cornbread — made with a recipe handed down from Watkins’ preschool teacher to his mother, then to him — is nearly as thick as cake, the outside crisp and buttery. The baked beans (made with black beans) are rich with molasses and little bits of bacon. In fact, rendered bacon becomes the base for many of the sides, including the not-to-be-dismissed collard greens.
Brew & ‘Que collards will haunt you after the first bite. They’re salty in the best possible way, and soft (not soggy) and creamy. You can’t get a bite big enough to satisfy what is happening on your tongue. Watkins won’t reveal the exact secrets of this alchemical miracle, but he admits to using rendered bacon (among other ingredients) to etch out the bitterness and bring forward the earthy green.
My dinner date took a bite. Then another.
“I was not expecting that,” she said.
None of us were expecting Bash Bish Brew & ‘Que. We in South County had grown accustomed to the comfort food void. No longer.
Bash Bish Brew & ‘Que
113 Main St., Sheffield, MA
Monday & Wednesday 5-9 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday, 12-3 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.
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The CIA Takes “Special Culinary Event” To The Next Level
Photos courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America.
By Lisa Green
Somewhere on our “reasons why we love the Rural Intelligence region” you’ll find this: the famed Culinary Institute of Institute of America is right in our own back yard in Hyde Park, New York. The CIA may set the standard for excellence in professional culinary education — and it supplies our region with some of the finest chefs anywhere — but it’s also home to several distinguished restaurants at which the public is invited to sample the institute in action. It provides training for the students and a dining adventure for the rest of us.
Throughout the year, three of the restaurants in the CIA Restaurant Group present special dining events. The CIA has been offering these events for 25 years, and continues to come up with new themes. We had our eye on “Grandmere’s Kitchen” at The Bocuse Restaurant. That event has been filled, but that’s not stopping us, because there are other themed evenings coming up. In March, for instance, truffles — not the chocolate kind — figure prominently in one of them, as does pork (prepared five ways) and the street foods of France. (Note: Those three are not listed on the website yet, but we have it on good authority that they will be offered, so check the website periodically.)
If you’ve dined at the CIA, then you know the meaning of dining well. The maître d’ and restaurant managers are right out of central casting, and the student servers, who have been coached within an inch of their lives, explain each course upon presentation with aplomb.
Unlike at a non-themed meal, however, guests should expect to share their table with other dining enthusiasts (although private seating can be requested). There may be live music complementing the cuisine, too.
“At our Beefsteak event, we had the accompaniment of a brass band,” says Wally Malouf, director of Restaurant Operations. “We had a French horn player and bassoonist play lovely background music at our 2015 French Champagne Christmas event in The Bocuse Restaurant. Each event has a very special theme, and although they do not all have live music, they all give the guest something special to take away from the experience.” It’s unknown whether that includes doggie bags.
And a bit of advice: plan to let the experience unfold in a leisurely manner. The meal might take two-and-a-half to three hours (or more, according to some reviews on the website). While the CIA doesn’t have any special lodging packages, this is the kind of thing you don’t want to have to rush home after, and there are many hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns throughout the Hudson Valley that can accommodate special event guests. (You can find that sort of information on the Rural Intelligence apps.)
Even if the remaining special events of the year have been filled, you can still go for a non-themed meal at The Bocuse, American Bounty or Caterina de’ Medici restaurants…or plan now to attend one in the new year.
Jan. 18, Chowders and Stews at American Bounty
The four-course lunch includes samplings of corn, New England and Manhattan clam chowders, braised beef stew and stewed chicken, and a dessert of braised fruit. $55, includes tax and tip.
Feb. 4, Fourth Annual Beefsteak in Farquharson Hall
A traditional “Beefsteak” banquet, which originated in the mid-1800s, to celebrate the pleasures and camaraderie of the communal table over food, beer and song. $150, includes tax and tip.
Feb. 8, Bold Blind Tasting, Danny Kaye Theatre and The Bocuse Restaurant
First, a blind wine tasting, then a meal of French classics created using modern techniques. $95, includes tax and tip.
Feb. 28, Cucina Regionale Piedmont at Caterina de’ Medici Restaurant
The five-course dinner includes tuna and anchovy crostini, bagna cauda, potato gnocci, zuppa di cipolla, mattonella al gianduia and biscotti, paired with three regional wines. $55, excludes tax and tip.
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Firefly Gastropub: A New Vision, And Better Than Ever
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
Photos by Jocelyn Vassos, courtesy of Firefly Gastropub.
The old Firefly restaurant in the walkable center of Lenox signed up for a makeover and re-opened in May as Firefly Gastropub with new décor, a new menu, better-trained staff, and food and drink offerings good enough to sustain it during slow Berkshire winters and hip enough to satisfy all comers in those other seasons. Chef-owner Laura Shack, a long-time Berkshire restaurateur and co-owner of 20 Railroad Public House in Great Barrington, kept what worked about Firefly — its charming name and her chef, Zee Vassos, who’s been with her for 26 years — but reconceived virtually everything else, including its new orientation as a gastropub (think gastronomique and pub) that serves high-quality comfort cuisine in a casual setting.
Firefly’s front and back porches, as comfortable as ever, now boast a friendly string of lights that literally mimic the warm glow of fireflies. Inside, Firefly glows with golden light, too. If two distinctive styles of décor — Art Deco and Craftsman — met, married and had a baby, the result might be its new interior.
Firefly’s oval-shaped, double-sided bar is elegant and comfortable. A variety of textures cover the restaurant’s walls and ceilings in a restrained palette of eggplant, purple and soft gold, unifying several dining alcoves with built-in booths. Shiny panels and light coves in the coffered ceilings reflect and diffuse light from many sources, dampen sound and evoke the feeling of dining inside a large, lovely jewelry box. Wood of different thicknesses and different species creates more texture along the far side of the bar. Even in the restrooms, the texture in the dark floors is echoed in the large-scale wall stencils.
The pros behind the bar are welcoming, and provide excellent and attentive service to accompany their creative list of cocktail options, which include an Elderflower Gimlet (made with Tito’s Vodka, fresh lime and St. Elder’s Elderflower Liqueur), a Spaghetti Western Old Fashioned (made with Vida Mezcal, Cocchi Rosa, Aztec chocolate bitters and house coffee bitters), and the aptly named Lava Lamp (made with Prosecco, Crispin Hard Cider and cranberries). The beer and wine list is extensive, much of it locally sourced, and offers some pleasant surprises, including the Green Flash West Coast IPA that both my date and I enjoyed.
The menu is long on small plates (there are 20 interesting dishes alone under “Noshes” and “Just a Bite”) but features only five entrees and a couple of dinner specials. This allows for flexible dining — order two “Just a Bites” and you’ve got dinner — and easier plate sharing.
While the mission, to “eat, drink, laugh and lounge,” makes Firefly an excellent place for friends to meet after work or for a quick bite before a cultural event, it’s also a serious fine-dining destination with entrees that are beautifully conceived and prepared. Grilled rainbow trout ($27), super fresh and perfectly cooked, was served with a lemony herb sauce over a flavorful corn and potato “risotto.” It was served in a narrow appetizer dish, which is neither good enough for this entree ($27) nor respectful enough of diners who need the margin of a larger plate to maneuver food as they eat.
The roasted half chicken ($24) reminded me of the baby chickens broiled to perfection at one of my favorite restaurants in NYC years ago. Firefly’s small and tender bird was richly flavored, locally sourced and perfectly seasoned. Mashed potatoes and roasted root veggies alongside were equally well prepared. Preceding that, we ordered the guacamole ($12), which lacked the customary spices, but the Caesar salad ($7) was a pleasure — we tasted subtle anchovy and could tell the dressing was freshly made. For dessert, we ordered the berry compote, every bit as good as your grandmother’s. Our server, Jeff S., was a delight throughout. If anything needs correcting at Firefly, it’s the knives, whose handles are so oddly shaped they don’t stay where placed.
The atmosphere, food and drinks at the new Firefly are first-rate, with service that ranks among the best of any restaurant in the Berkshires. And it might just be one of the most lively pubs, too, offering music every Friday and increasingly on Saturdays (no cover). Thankfully, Shack retained the popular $5 Burger Night — that happens on Wednesdays — and has added $10 Taco Thursdays.
71 Church Street, Lenox, MA
Open daily, 4-11 p.m.
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Oak Pizzeria Napoletana Makes A Great Thing Extraordinary
By Jamie Larson
I love pizza, but it’s not often I’m surprised by it. The new Oak Pizzeria Napoletana in Hudson, New York is surprisingly, shockingly good. To my taste, the clam pizza is, frankly, the best single thing I’ve eaten all year. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the experience that there are also small plates inspired by southern Italy with thoughtfully paired wine, all in a beautifully designed space that blends modern style with rustic charm.
Owners Juliana Santos, a Brazilian CIA grad, and husband Joe Alvarez, who grew up in and around Hudson before culinary studies at Johnson and Wales, have been dreaming up every aspect of this restaurant for years.
“We always had a plan for the place,” says Santos, who manages the front of the house with a welcoming smile while Alvarez mans the oven. “We were looking for a city that needed us. We want everyone to feel comfortable here.”
At the restaurant’s core is the handsome, domed, wood-fired oven. Everything cooked is cooked there, exposed to the extreme heat and flavor of burning oak. Alvarez says he loves the balance of cooking something delicate using such a powerful elemental technique. With produce from local farms, fresh seafood delivered daily, imported and domestic Italian meats and cheeses, and pizza dough cultivated from a house sour dough mother, Alvarez is forging nuanced flavors where the quality of minimal ingredients takes center stage.
“With our oven it’s wood and that’s it,” Alverez says. (The day I was there he was catching smoke from the oven between a large mixing bowl and a sheet pan to smoke white fish.) “It forces you to be more creative. One day I had fish, octopus, potatoes and apples all cooking in the oven at the same time. It’s fun because you have to stop and think, how do I do this?”
“I catch him just staring into the oven sometimes,” says Santos, joking that the beautiful device has become their second child.
All the pizzas are personally sized, but also great if you want to get a few and share. There is of course the straightforward marinara ($10) and a classic Margherita with mozzarella di bufala ($15). Then there are signature pies shaped by seasonality and the owners’ travels and influences. The aforementioned clam sees bubbling sourdough crust covered in a generous amount of shellfish enhanced by just garlic, chili flakes, Parmesan and parsley ($16). They have a balanced sauceless bianca ($14) and currently on the menu is a farmer’s pizza with new potatoes, leeks, Hawthorne Valley alpine cheese, chili flakes and garlic ($15).
For small plates Oak offers traditional plates of excellent cured meats and cheeses while focusing the oven’s flames primarily on seafood and veggies. Flavors and preparations are very Mediterranean. There’s octopus with egg, chickpeas and buttermilk dressing ($9), whipped salt cod with potato and lemon on housemade bread ($9), marinated head-on shrimp with tapenade ($9) and more. Vegetable-forward plates include ember-roasted leeks with sardella ($7), yellow bean salad with a pancetta-sherry vinaigrette ($8) and roasted cauliflower with apples and balsamic figs ($7).
Oak actually incentivizes trying a little bit of everything and eating communally. You can mix and match three small plates for $21, or five for just $35. Getting a few small plates, a couple pizzas and some wine, for a small group, is an ideal way to spend an evening, or afternoon, or an afternoon that turns into evening. Specials and regular offerings change seasonally and depending on the chef’s whim.
“It’s the style of how we like to eat,” Santos says. “Fish is nice for small plates because it allows you to create a lot of different textures. We wanted some things other than pizza that, at the same time, doesn’t compete with it.”
Santos and Alvarez met working in the kitchen at Vidalia in Washington, DC. She then went to Citizen, where she perfected her wine and front-of-house expertise and he went to Two Amys, where he became deeply addicted to dough, Neapolitan pizza and the controlled chaos of a wood-fired oven.
After five years in Portland, Oregon and the birth of their daughter (now two), they were back in Columbia County last year for Thanksgiving with Alvarez’s family and happened to take a walk down Warren Street, where they saw the building (previously Earth Foods) undergoing a total renovation.
“We immediately knew it was the place,” Alvarez says. “We were just enjoying the feel of walking down the street, we had a drink at the Spotty Dog, everything just felt right.”
If the food isn’t enough of a draw, the interior of the restaurant is a delight all its own. The formerly cavernous space was renovated by architect Kenneth Kraus to be open, warm and bright. Clean white walls and exposed metal beams give it a modern feel, and a huge vaulted skylight bathes the rear half of the long dining room in natural light, giving it the feel of a garden villa. When it’s warm enough, the front wall of windows can be slid open to turn the restaurant into a kind of indoor-outdoor breezeway that feels very relaxed and European. Alvarez and Santos brought in natural wood that works perfectly with the dark metal beams and almost cottage-like angles of the glass roof. The key is balance, not too rustic and not too modern but enough of each that both styles influence each other. It takes great skill to make it look this easy.
I’ll say it again: I love pizza. I’ve eaten more of it over the years than any other type of food, in a lot of different places, across the country and while living in NYC. So I don’t make the following statement lightly. Oak might just be the best I’ve ever had.
Oak Pizzeria Napoletana
523 Warren St., Hudson, NY
11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
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Camp Fire: The Hot New Spot From The Meat Market’s Masters
By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett
There is a transparency about the food at Camp Fire in Great Barrington, Mass., the standalone eatery located next door to The Meat Market where, surmises Forbes contributer Hal Rubenstein, Jeremy Stanton is serving up the best burger in America. The open-concept kitchen at Camp Fire sets the tone for the restaurant’s vibe where the food, and how it is being prepared, is the main attraction.
The bulk of what is served at Camp Fire is sourced from local farms and purveyors, and the fuss is minimal. The restaurant’s aim is to serve straight-ahead food in an inviting, laid-back setting — right next door to The Meat Market, where Stanton has been carving up fresh, local, pasture-raised meats cut to order for the past four years. The proximity of Stanton’s two ventures allows for true collaboration between chef and butcher, who work side by side to craft menus that showcase the best seasonal and local ingredients. The purveyor and farm list, hanging from a clipboard in the kitchen, includes Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, Rawson Brook Farms in Monterey, Equinox Farms in Sheffield, Sky Farm in Stockbridge and Rock City Mushrooms in Old Chatham, New York. This local bounty, coupled with a ready source of local meat, is quickly becoming the talk of the town. (Note: At the time of this writing, Camp Fire is awaiting its liquor license.)
Straight-shooting and well-informed chef Thomas Lee [in photo, right] is making real food for kids and adults. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he chatted at length about the simple yet conscious philosophy behind Camp Fire, a place he sees as “a diner, a burger joint, with a local bent.” As we chatted, a box brimming with local produce arrived: long, slender carrots, bunches of beets with soil still clinging to the roots, hairy parsnips and leafy kale. I recognized the contents as the likely ingredients for the root veggie hash served with poached eggs ($9), from the breakfast menu. At the same time, Lee is honest about what menu items are selling fast.
“The fact that we have three cows, hanging in the back for ground beef, defines that we’re a burger joint,” he says, adding that for the 30 customers who had come in for lunch, 20 had ordered burgers.
And the burgers are good. I ordered The Meat Market Burger ($13), a half-pound grass-fed burger served with cheddar, pickles and aioli on a challah bun with a side of hand-cut fries. Delicious. The burger was cooked perfectly, and the flavor was outstanding. The juicy grass-fed beef, sourced from three different local farms, is ground fresh every day and the superior quality is apparent. My 12-year-old was delighted by the Reuben sandwich ($10) that came piled with corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss on grilled Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread with a side of fries that she deemed, “salty and super good.” An extra side of the aioli, for dipping, made us both happy.
My 9-year-old daughter opted for The Mini Meat ($9), a quarter-pound grass-fed beef burger with cheddar, pickles and aioli on a potato roll with a side of hand-cut fries. It was good, and she enjoyed the chance to order a smaller version of “the best Burger in America.” In retrospect, I should have directed her to the kids’ menu, an entity I usually deplore but now understand is taken very seriously at Camp Fire. One choice from each of three categories — all for $9 — sprang from Stanton and Lee’s collective experience that eating out with kids often equates to “paying way too much for buttered noodles and having to feed [your kids] when you get home.”
At Camp Fire, the thought put into building a square meal for kids is evident: first, choose a hot dog, cheeseburger, crispy chicken fingers, grilled steak or grilled cheese; couple that with a side of hand-cut fries, mac-n-cheese or buttered noodles and add either fruit, veggies or a green salad to round out the meal. In short, it’s a kids’ menu that’s not only palatable and full of whole foods, but also offers variety.
In many ways, Camp Fire has chosen to go against the grain. Rather than define what an individual’s experience will be, Lee has relaxed into the kitchen and is letting the customers define their own experience. The constant, according to Lee, is “affordable, delicious food that makes you feel good.” He likens eating at Camp Fire to grocery shopping at the Co-Op Market, also in Great Barrington. Sure, you might spend a little more, but you leave knowing that you have chosen good, wholesome food. In the end, the tradeoff is invaluable.
389 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Breakfast menu is available on weekends until noon.
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The Farmer’s Wife Opens A New Kitchen In Millbrook
By Don Rosendale
For decades, the rustic Mabbetsville Market on Route 44 outside of Millbrook, New York was where Millbrook residents enjoyed their morning coffee and flank steak takeout. I’d shared a table with the local farrier, a captain of industry and a guy scribbling notebook pages on what later turned out to be a best seller. Then five or six years back, it closed under murky circumstances. The only sign of life was an occasional paragraph in the local paper about the local planning board demand for improvements before it could reopen.
Job Yacubian and Emilie Sommerhoff in the kitchen of The Farmer’s Wife — the Ancramdale location.
Then, September midweek, a sign, “The Farmer’s Wife” sprouted, and when the doors opened on a Saturday with no advance notice, the tennis court-sized parking lot was overflowing onto the highway.
There’s no farmer’s wife here — just the farmer’s son-in-law — and the near-Millbrook location is a satellite of the successful café of the same name in Ancramdale, 20 miles up Route 82. The hand at the range is Job Yacubian, who with his wife. Emilie, runs the café.
Yacubian attended UMass Amherst aiming at a business career. He was lounging on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard when he received an emergency telephone call from a restaurant-owning friend. “He’d fired his entire staff and to get over there immediately,” Yacubian recalls. Though he’d never held a whisk before, he had immersion training as a restaurant chef. That led to his “staging” — he pronounces it with a hard “G” and explains it is French restaurant patois for interning at restaurants to see if they like you — in the kitchens of Daniel Boulud, David Bouley and Rocco DiSpirito in New York City.
And then, a decade ago, he packed his utensils and headed for Ancramdale, where four years earlier Emilie’s stepmother Dorcas Sommerhoff had opened the original Farmer’s Wife. Romance blossomed over the carrot and ginger soup and Job and Emilie wed seven years later, eventually taking over the restaurant.
They spotted the vacant café in Mabbetsville in February but it took six months to navigate through the red tape minefield.
Gone is the rustic Cracker Barrel atmosphere of the old Mabbetsville Market, replaced by floor-to-ceiling white tiles, whitewashed walls and a sea of stainless cooking appliances. The one Yacubian is most proud of is a vertical rotisserie, which, he explains, allows him to grill two different meats at once without the juice from the upper dripping onto the one below.
While the Ancramdale café is renowned for its sophisticated soups and sandwiches, the Mabbetsville menu is even more sophisticated than that of the mother ship. On opening day, I savored porchetta, an Italian recipe of pork loin and herbs roasted in a pork belly, served with roasted leeks (under $10) — Boulud quality.
My next two visits were for breakfast and a newspaper. The blueberry muffin ($2.50) was ethereal, but the similarly priced almond croissant had too much croissant and not enough almost for me taste. I took some home, though, and was outvoted.
One of Yacubian’s specialties is Korean-style barbecued salmon (with fried brown rice, $13), a dish he learned from Asian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. He promised that the sauce would not be a cloyingly sweet BBQ sauce and it’s not. At first it has a hint of soy sauce and then a tingle sets in. The verdict: I ate every morsel.
Just as in Ancramdale, the produce is from local farms. The café’s squash, zucchini, beets and radishes are fresh from Rock Steady Farm in Millerton. A few steps outside the front door is the Tomato Shack, with picked-that-day produce from Longfield Farm in Amenia. Right now, it is proud of the 22 kinds of tomatoes it grows, with the county fair blue ribbons earned by them on display. Those tomatoes come fried with the Maine crab salad, ($13).
For now, the the latest the café is open is 6 p.m., but Yacubian thinks there is a market for a dinner menu of the kind of rustic-but-urbane cooking he offers. If we’re lucky, those 24 tables will be filled in the evening.
The Farmer’s Wife
3809 Route 44, Millbrook, NY
Open Sunday, Monday & Wednesday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Thursday – Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
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Review: Blue Plate Revisited, And Happily
By Jamie Larson
It’s worth catching dinner at the Blue Plate in Chatham New York, on the early side, while there’s still some light in the sky. You’ll be surrounded by big beautiful windows, as evening light filters through the trees onto the butcher-paper tabletops. Then, by the time you’re drinking coffee and devouring a piece of rich chocolate bourbon espresso cake ($8) or smooth green tea cheesecake ($7), the night lights of Chatham will shine down around you.
Blue Plate is owned by Chatham’s patron saint of small town culture, Judy Grunberg, and it exudes her personal mixture of good taste, generosity and laid-back nature. The vibe is unpretentious class. Since 2014, the kitchen has been run by Dominic Giuliano, a CIA grad who opened the Choza Taqueria kiosks in the city before moving to the Hudson Valley.
Grunberg recently expanded her humble empire, opening Prepared, a novel takeout bistro on Main Street, which specializes in hot dishes made from what local farms have in season, with the offerings overseen by Chef Giuliano. They’ve coined the novel phrase “Farm to Takeout.”
But back at the always-friendly Blue Plate, there’s a well-regarded wine list and signature cocktails that are complex and vibrant. The pineapple chili margarita ($11) isn’t that all-too-common oversweetened fruit punch but well restrained and balanced, highlighting the tangy notes in pineapple with a kick from the chili-lined rim. The bourbon ginger julep ($11) was also easy on the syrup and refreshing, with enough whiskey to make itself known.
The small plates work well as appetizers or mains and often give Chef Giuliano an opportunity to highlight the quality of local produce. The spinach-potato pancakes ($8), full of bright flavor, were soft on the inside and well crisped on the outside. Similarly, the roasted “Rock City” mushrooms ($11) were given a welcome high-heat treatment, so they were seared on the outside but retained their interior firmness.
There are always mussels on the menu, in a classic broth or sometimes something more adventurous on the specials list, which is a good place to experience the Blue Plate’s slogan, “The American Bistro with International Implications.” Mussels, especially when done right, as they are here with the classic white wine garlic and parsley ($12), are one of those dishes that transcend seasons, reminiscent of summer beaches and warming on the coldest night. Other small plates include the grilled lamb sliders ($14) and the flatbread with four cheeses, pesto and spinach ($11).
The Blue Plate’s entrees feature dishes from across the globe as well as homestyle comfort food. From a curried chickpea stew ($15) and vegetable pad thai ($17) to cavatelli pasta in a pork sausage ragout ($21) and the restaurant’s signature meatloaf ($15), the menu is wide ranging yet unintimidating.
The grilled brook trout ($23) is a standout, as head on whole fish usually is. Impressively, the delicate fish, looking fully intact, is expertly deboned. Over brown rice pilaf and drizzled with a lemon glaze, the flesh was perfectly cooked, soft and not the least bit dry. The sauce and rice were classic but well executed enough to be fondly nostalgic rather than tired.
Overall, we love the Blue Plate like family. It’s been there for us forever, yet finds delicious new ways to surprise us. It’s a huge, charitable part of the community and frankly, Chatham wouldn’t be what it is today without it. If you haven’t been, do yourself a favor and go. Enjoy the food and the view. (There’s also live jazz downstairs at the bar every Wednesday from 6:15 - 9 p.m.)
1 Kinderhook Street, Chatham, NY
Tuesday - Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
20 Main Street, Chatham, NY
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
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Vong’s Thai Restaurant Hits The Sweet Spot in Pittsfield
By Regina Burgio
With the arrival of Vong’s, the long wait for a Thai restaurant in Pittsfield, Mass. is officially over, and its owner, restaurateur Jae Chung, has definitely hit the sweet spot. While his eponymous Jae’s Asian Bistro in Lenox (which will soon be moving to Pittsfield, as well) is an eclectic mix of Pan-Asian cuisines, Vong’s is primarily Thai with a sprinkling of Vietnamese dishes.
“I’ve always loved Thai food and wanted to do something authentic, relaxed and at a good value,” Chung says.
Just a stone’s throw from historic Wahconah Park and kitty-corner to Berkshire Medical Center, Vong’s has taken over the former location of Paul’s Greek Restaurant. The Thai place has been especially well received by the medical staff and hospital visitors who appreciate the all-day, continuous hours and quick service.
With the new renovation, Asian-inspired Buddhas of various shapes and sizes mix seamlessly with elephant tapestries in one compact room that’s casually inviting. The undersized dining room includes a 10-seat full bar with three silent TVs that only add to the chilled vibe. Outdoor tables with umbrellas help to extend the 50-person seating capacity.
The night my friend Kim and I were there, the place was packed. A full cocktail menu of 20 Thai-inspired libations ($9-$10) made our decision difficult. A Blue Thai Mojito for her and a Thai-style Bourbon for me turned out to be perfect choices. Sweet, tangy and refreshing, the fragrant citrus of the kaffir lime and the piquant ginger beer with the bourbon were a homerun combination — it went down way too easily. Other ingredients like Thai chili pepper, lemongrass, Thai tea and coffee, and cucumber syrup and basil make ordering off the cocktail menu a must. (And yes, there is a scorpion bowl.)
In addition to a large assortment of appetizers ($5.95-$14.95), the specialty of the house is Vong’s Wing, ($8.95) a deep-fried chicken wing stuffed with glass noodles and vegetables, served with a sweet chili sauce.
Yaya, the dining manager, says the dish is very old school. “The younger generation of Thai cooks don’t even know how to make that. We try to serve Thai food like my grandmother would make.”
We did not try any of the eight salads on the menu but the Green Papaya ($8.95), mango salad ($9.95) and Yum Nua with grilled beef ($8.95), looked delicious when served to our neighbors.
They say we eat with our eyes first and this is definitely true at Vong’s. Entrees are presented beautifully but without pretense. I ordered my favorite, the Panang Curry with shrimp ($13.95). The contrast of vibrant red and green peppers, verdant string beans, and bright carrots against the white plate was striking as the vegetables and shrimp floated in the fiery curry sauce. The somewhat soupy consistency of the dish is what I loved most. It’s served with a spoon so you can properly savor the aromatic broth.
Kim, who had never tried the pho before, ordered their signature dish, the Dac Biet Xe Lua ($13.95). Steak, beef, meatball, brisket, flank, tendon, shrimp and rice noodles floated in a huge bowl of rich, savory broth. The staff seemed very amenable to making any adjustments to our order and didn’t bat an eye when she asked them to hold the tripe.
Chef Steven Vong
There’s a large assortment of entrees featuring seafood, noodles, fried rice, curries, vegetarian options, house specialties and a back page for Vietnamese dishes, starting at $12.95 and topping out at $15.95 with Vong’s Duck.
So now to address the real elephant in the room. Where does the name Vong’s come from? It’s the surname of Jae’s longtime friend and the head chef at the restaurant. Originally from Laos, Steven Vong spent seven years as a Buddhist monk in a monastery in Thailand before honing his skills at the first Jae’s Restaurant in the south end of Boston in 1990.
Open daily with continuous hours from 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Vong’s serves lunch until 3 p.m. but customers can order off the dinner menu all day. “That’s the way we do things,” says Jae. “I’m Asian. We never close.”
Vong’s Thai & Vietnamese Restaurant
157 Seymour Street, Pittsfield MA