Farmed & Foraged: Restaurants Where the Wild Things Are
There was a time not so long ago when a locally grown item might have been a novelty on a menu hereabouts, but for years now in this bastion of enlightenment we call the Rural Intelligence Region, locally grown and produced food is what good restaurants routinely serve. Nonetheless, this weekend, not just in Berkshire County, but in the Pioneer Valley and in the city of Hudson as well, chefs will dig deeper into their own imaginations and into the storehouse of locally-grown food to show their support for Berkshire Grown‘s annual Farmed & Foraged event.
In addition to putting special emphasis on the locally grown produce, cheeses, meats and breads they always feature, some participating venues also will be offering wild edibles. Just as she did last year, Chef Katherine Miller of EnlightenNext, a spiritual retreat center in Lenox, will go whole hog (not to slur her scrupulously vegetarian menu) with the forage, serving up such exotica as cattails, the ubiquitous wetlands plants. Michael Ballon, the owner-chef of Castle Street Cafe in Great Barrington had hoped to enrich his usual locavore menu with shad roe, but nature (or Global Warming) intervened. There was no shad on the Hudson River this spring or last, so instead, on Sunday from noon - 2 p.m., Ballon will showcase the new brunch menu he will be introducing this summer, when the restaurant adds an outdoor serving area. To compensate for the absence of the shad roe, Ballon is offering a special brew. “A friend who lives on Mt. Washington is gathering birch branches for me, so we can make birch tea,” he says.
The Red Lion Inn is another shining example of the triumph of the locavore movement. The Inn’s dining room, once famous for its New England clam chowder and Yankee pot roast, has been transformed, especially since Brian Alberg took over as executive chef in 2004. “Everybody knows I routinely buy from local farmers and foragers,” Alberg says. “But an event like this makes me be more creative, boosts my energy and keeps me interested.” One dish on his prix fixe menu this weekend—a McEnroe Farm Organic Tomato Soup with a swirl of arugula puree and a generous garnish of chopped ramps and bacon from pigs Alberg raised himself. “It’s my version of a BLT,” he says.
Even Baba Louie’s is getting in on the act. This weekend, when you chomp on that slice of pizza, the green stuff may not be basil, it could be wild ramps.
Berkshire Grown’s website offers sketches of some two dozen restaurants’ Farmed and Foraged offerings (some prix fixe, others a la carte, some all weekend; others just Saturday night) but strongly encourages diners to contact their chosen venue directly for updates and reservations.