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Tuesday, January 17, 2017
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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
(413) 248-1187
Monday & Wednesday 5-9 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday, 12-3 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.

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Posted by Nichole on 12/02/16 at 08:44 AM • Permalink

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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.

2017 Special Events at The CIA

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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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/30/16 at 05:35 PM • Permalink

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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.

Firefly Gastropub
71 Church Street, Lenox, MA
(413) 637-2700  
Open daily, 4-11 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/15/16 at 11:10 AM • Permalink

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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
(518) 671-6300
11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 11/07/16 at 11:09 AM • Permalink

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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.

Camp Fire
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.
(413) 644-5559

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/10/16 at 04:08 PM • Permalink

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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
(845) 605-1595
Open Sunday, Monday & Wednesday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Thursday – Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/02/16 at 10:29 PM • Permalink

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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.)

Blue Plate
1 Kinderhook Street, Chatham, NY
(518) 392-7711
Tuesday - Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Sunday, 5-9 p.m.

Prepared NY
20 Main Street, Chatham, NY
(518) 392-3200
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/26/16 at 10:00 AM • Permalink

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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
(413) 442-6000


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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/12/16 at 10:37 AM • Permalink

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Bartlett House: Newly Reborn As Kitchen, Bakery & Cafe

Photos courtesy of Bartlett House.

By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett

After 11 years of standing dormant, the three-story square Italianate-style brick building on Route 66 in Ghent, New York has been revived by a trio of entrepreneurs keen on curating a neighborhood destination known for its hospitality and old-world charm. Unyielding devotion to authenticity, craftsmanship and hospitality permeate the newly reborn Bartlett House Kitchen, Bakery & Cafe.

Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg have spent the past 25 years cultivating their passion for transforming everyday routines into sensorial rituals; the founders of the iconic oval-shaped Fresh soaps, in a new collaboration with partner Damien Janowicz, have their sights set on coffee, pastry and hospitality in an often overlooked corner of the Hudson Valley. For this trio, inspiration comes from 18th century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier’s sentiment, “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” beginning with the very building in which they have set up shop. “A destination that you actually name is one thing; a destination that already has a name is a whole other thing” remarks Roytberg of the historic railroad hotel built in 1870 and resuscitated over the past year. 

In this case the destination, on an unassuming stretch of Route 66, is well worth the drive. Upon crossing a full-width front porch, and spilling through a pair of original mahogany swinging doors, “individuals are greeted as if they are coming into [our] home not into [our] business” says Janowicz. This old-world sense of hospitality is quickly nourishing the community. 

The flour-laden surfaces visible through windows on the ground floor reiterate that this place is, first and foremost, a bakery. “As long as I’ve known Lev, he’s been dreaming of baking bread,” says Roytberg. This 26-year dream came to fruition in the waning days of August. Head Baker Craig Escalante’s ovens are turning out myriad offerings from traditional baguette and pain de mie pullman, to multigrain pullman, country sourdough and apricot currant walnut sourdough loaves. The bakery menu is punctuated by croissants — classic ($3.75), dark chocolate ($4) and twice-baked pistachio ($4) — as well as muffins ($3.75), running the gamut from a traditional whole wheat buttermilk blueberry to the seasonal zucchini and the exotic pear rosewater. Cherry cornmeal scones ($4) are a staple, along with dark chocolate chip cookies and candied lemon zest shortbread ($2.50). The sleek coffee bar serves up exceptional coffee sourced from Sightglass, a San Francisco-based company specializing in sustainable harvests, as well as a carefully curated selection of fine organic teas from Divinitea.

Executive Chef Amy Stonionis has a penchant for creating menus around local farms and artisan producers. Her breakfast menu includes yogurt, house-made granola and berries ($8), a farmer’s breakfast consisting of two farm eggs, breakfast potatoes, toast, choice of bacon, house sausage or vegetable ($9) and French toast served with strawberries, balsamic reduction pistachio, creme fraiche and mint ($11).

For lunch, the local bounty is transformed into Grains and Greens ($7) featuring kale, quinoa, radish with shallot dijon vinaigrette; burrata, basil, pea greens, olive oil and sea salt ($12); the more substantial chicken salad available as a sandwich or a plate ($9/10) made with creme fraiche, radish, dill and scallions; and the house-cured salmon ($12) served with horseradish, creme fraiche, cucumber, radish, dill, scallions and multigrain. For the more traditional palate, there is the Bartlett House burger ($14) served with aioli and fries, as well as a fried chicken sandwich ($10) that comes with red cabbage slaw, sweet pickles, chipotle aioli, on a house-made sesame bun. Bartlett House also offers a cold deli case with daily prepared specials for quick pickup.

The collective passion among Roytberg, Glazman and Janowicz translates as palpable energy; what ensues is a veritable hub of culinary creation, inspired by the area’s rich harvest. The convergence of these three is nothing short of “kismet,” a word they use to describe the fate of their meeting. “People are always drawn to authenticity” says Glazman and this sentiment, echoed by his partners, is what has allowed for them to simultaneously build a dream while nourishing the community in a place firmly rooted in the history of the Hudson Valley.

Bartlett House Kitchen, Bakery & Cafe
2258 Route 66, Ghent, NY
(518) 392-7787
Thursday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/06/16 at 11:03 AM • Permalink

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Traghaven Whiskey Pub Brings West Cork To Tivoli

One of the delicious burgers at Traghaven.

By Jamie Larson

Traghaven Whiskey Pub & Co. in Tivoli, New York has some magic to it. The pub is transportive, seemingly pulled from another time and place (namely West Cork, Ireland). It’s beautiful in a way pubs can be and the care that owner Gerard Hurley puts into the atmosphere, food and drinks make it feel like a community pub in the truest sense.

“It’s the essential West Cork pub experience,” says Hurley, who hails from Ireland’s largest county. “There are no shamrocks on the wall. You come in and it’s just the real deal. Traditionally a pub serves a community in more than one way.”

You may be wondering if that place used to be that lovable yet problematic dive called The Black Swan. Well, yes — but a lot has changed, aside from the cozy layout and the old black and white photographs that include portraits of President Kennedy and Noam Chomsky.

Gerard Hurley

Hurley immigrated to the U.S. alone at age 17 and bounced around the country working odd jobs, acting, writing and pushing his first screenplay. When the production of his story fell through at the eleventh hour, he moved to Tivoli and figured he’d open a pub, a comfortable place that felt like home, where he could play chess, read a book, drink and socialize. He ran the Black Swan from 2001 to 2004. He then went back to Ireland to make the films The Pier and The Pride. While he was away the Swan was run by a tenant and became notorious as a fun, loud and increasingly grimy place to drink and party. In 2012 the state shut the place down for its, shall we say, liberal ID policy. Hurley had to leave his Irish projects behind to come back to the States and save his business, literally cleaning house.

“If I didn’t come back I would have lost my home and my connection to this place,” Hurley says. “I like and have a lot of respect for the other business owners in town. The difference with this pub, rather than a restaurant, is you can just hang out for a couple hours.”

A regular haunt for locals, travelers and of-age Bard students, the pub’s new draw is the excellent food, prepared by Chef Christopher Murphy.

The bar menu is straightforward but elevated by great local ingredients. There’s an Irish Burger with Dubliner cheese and stout onions ($15), and the Pig Candy Burger with thick-cut bacon, fried onions and BBQ sauce ($15), but there are also vegetarian options and less ordinary sides like a balsamic marinated portobello sandwich with arugula pesto and sundried tomatoes ($13), and roasted Brussels sprouts with pecans and capers. There are also well-executed pub mains like a half roast chicken ($16) and steak frites ($20). Hurley has a few head of cattle on his small homestead farm nearby and all the beef served at the pub is from his herd (really).

A recent tuna special at Traghaven.

“The food’s really simple. We always source local,” Hurley says. “We’re not trying to be something we’re not, but we also refuse to cook out of a box.”

The bar and dining area are warm and welcoming and there’s a large, attractive patio out back. Drink business can get pretty busy and loud late at night, but there’s a mellow vibe at Traghaven at dinnertime.

But this is a whiskey pub and Hurley says he has the biggest selection of Irish whiskey in the United States. (He’s looked into it and says he doesn’t give a s*** if you don’t believe him.) There are 70 options behind the bar and more in a private reserve he’s not allowed to sell. Hurley knows his stuff and is happy to talk at length about the history and tradition behind Irish whiskey, which is in his blood. His father smuggled whiskey through Ireland in the volatile 70s and 80s and his grandmother owned a distillery in Boston, during prohibition, before returning to Ireland to open a pub.

When the weather turns cold, Traghaven is the perfect spot for a hot toddy.

“If someone wants to talk whiskey, I will,” says Hurley, who has a deep knowledge of the spirit’s history, “but we’re not snobs. I love turning people on to whiskey who don’t know they like it.”

For the uninitiated he usually recommends Greenore for women and Concannon for men. Traghaven uses Clontarf as its main whiskey, though they’ve got Jameson’s if you want it. Hurley also loves pushing his hometown’s own West Cork Whiskey.

And there is beer, too. In the Irish style, it’s kegs and pints rather than bottles, and all the beer is either from Ireland or NY State.

Hurley says that unlike scotch, which has a narrow flavor profile, different kinds of Irish whiskey lend themselves to a wide swath of mixed drinks, and Traghaven has come up with some seriously good cocktail specials and mainstays including the Boulvardier made with Power, Campari and sweet vermouth ($11); the Gingeroo with Devlin whiskey, ginger, ginger beer and crystallized ginger ($10); or the Whiskey-rita with Paddy’s, triple sec, fresh lime and hot sauce ($10).

What’s not on the menu is how the place makes you feel. What Hurley has done with Traghaven is not unremarkable. It’s a gathering place now, a lively, sociable community hub. There’s regular live music, karaoke, quiz night and television for important political and soccer-related events. This is a pub at its best and an elegant merger of what’s good about West Cork Ireland and the Hudson Valley.

Traghaven Whiskey Pub & Co.
66 Broadway, Tivoli, NY
(845) 757-3777
Hours: Tuesday—Sunday, 5 p.m.—1:30 a.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/30/16 at 11:39 PM • Permalink