In Chatham, Bimi’s Cheese Shop Opens Not A Moment Too Soon
By Pamela Dreyfus Smith
Going from zero to open in three months isn’t much time to launch a new retail establishment. But for Bimi’s Cheese Shop in Chatham, which opened over Labor Day weekend, that construction period over the summer created an anticipation among passersby as they watched the owners turn the empty storefront on Main Street into a rustic market. Anticipation spawned excitement. And the crowds in the store since day one tell the story: the shop has not disappointed.
“We wanted to give something happy to Chatham,” says Ellen Waggett, one of Bimi’s four owners. The new cheesemongers are actually two couples, each of which comes with a skill set that contributes to the making of a specialty market. Waggett is a production designer for TV; her husband, Chris Landy, is a lighting designer; they created the welcoming décor with repurposed local barn wood and cabinetry, tall ceilings with a pressed tin pattern, stone countertops and large glass cases.
The owners: Chris Landy, David Shea, Ellen Waggett and Laura Shea.
David and Laura Shea had a weekend garden and kitchen internship at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Inn Restaurant in 1998, prior to opening applewood restaurant in Park Slope, where they were among the first to serve locally-sourced, sustainably-grown foods. After eight years, they left the daily management of the restaurant in excellent hands and moved to East Chatham to run applewood farm. They’re here full time; Ellen and Chris still do the back-and-forthing from the city to their country house.
Although all four are committed to local sourcing, they do sell an impressive selection of European cheeses to add to the mix. The couples vowed to take the intimidation factor out of the cheese-shopping, so each cheese in the case is accompanied by a sign detailing its company’s origins, if it’s produced from pasteurized or raw milk, and whether the cheese has a vegetable or animal rennet. A lighthearted cheat sheet offers phonetic pronunciations for the foreign varieties.
Even better, the proof is in the tasting: Bimi’s is generous with sample plates so shoppers can try, for example, a traditional aged Parmigiano or a savory cheesecake made with blue cheese (no sugar added).
Grilled cheese lovers will rejoice: Every day, Bimi’s offers a revolving selection of three mean grilled cheese sandwiches ($5-$7) to go. The menu might include a grilled Mortadella, Sopresatta and Mozzarella, or duck liver pate with Pecorino and mustard on rye. There are also grab-and-go cold plates ($12-$15), each one named after the Columbia County Land Conservancy areas, such as The Ooms Pond Plate, with Blue cheesecake, aged Gouda, crostini, chutney and Seth’s Sauerkraut. Big fans of the CLC, the owners reached out to the conservancy with their idea of creating tote-friendly plates for people to take on a CLC walk, with a portion of the plate sales going to the organization. The picnic-motivating packages come with a trail guide and map, courtesy of the CLC, a nice local touch.
While cheese gets star billing at Bimi’s, there are a host of supporting products on the shelves that will keep customers coming back for an adventure in regionally produced quality food. Mindful of the other businesses in town, the owners have carefully curated their products so that there is no crossover of inventory with any other nearby retailer. There are homemade crostini and crackers, as well as other regional brands, duck liver pate (made in Laura and David’s applewood restaurant), Vermont Quince (localized version of Italian Membrillo,) Big Spoon flavored nut butters, dry fig salami (the vegetarian answer to charcuterie), The Gracious Gourmet chutneys, tapenades and pestos. From Hudson there is Seth’s Sauerkraut, Puckers Gourmet pickles and breads from Bonfiglio & Bread.
There are also unusual items such as goat milk caramels, grilled cheese earrings, folding Opinel knives for picnics and backpacking, many kinds of cheese slicers, artisan crafted wood cutting boards — those fun “hostess gifts” that you’d rather buy for yourself.
Bimi’s shoppers might even find evidence of the store in other places in the neighborhood. The owners are partnering with the Chatham Bookstore, Chatham Brewing and Thompson-Giroux Gallery to provide food for receptions and other events. For Bimi’s, it’s really all about the town — and people — of Chatham.
“The response of the community has been wonderful,” says Waggett. “It’s such a joyous place.”
The wait, after all, was worth it.
Bimi’s Cheese Shop
21 Main Street
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Housie Market Cafe Is Another Gem In The Heart Of Housatonic
By Nichole Dupont
Shea is a rough and tumble 11-year-old with the kind of tan that belies an entire summer spent outside. He glides in on his bicycle which is beat up and laden with fishing gear. He is a man on a mission when he walks into the Housie Market Cafe on a Saturday afternoon.
“Peanut butter and bacon sandwich on sourdough, that’s what I always get,” he says. “And a Snapple.”
I ask him if he comes in here a lot and he grins and looks at owner Amy Hagerty, who opened the market—formerly the Corner Market—in late June.
“Yeah, when I have the cash. Even when I don’t have the cash.” He gets his sandwich and rides off to find more friends and presumably, throw in a few more lines before the school year whisks him away forever.
Shea is just one of the rapidly growing crowd of regulars infiltrating the Housie Market Cafe, located at the corner of Pleasant and Highland.
“We get a lot of kids in here,” says Hagerty [in photo, right], who was one of the original masterminds of the Baba Louie’s empire. “They come in and they each have their ‘usual’. We have moms and dads in getting coffee and breakfast—actually this place is like a baby festival every morning. People on their way to work. Tree guys on their lunch break.”
The Housie Market feeds them all. People have been waiting anxiously for a neighborhood take out/sit down/coffee spot since the former Corner Market closed its doors last year. Patrons were practically banging down the door to get at the new café’s homey menu of breakfast goodies, thick deli-style sandwiches, baked goods and on-the-go shelf stock (chips, snacks, bottled drinks and other market fare). Hagerty says that when she was envisioning the menu in the 11th hour, something was still missing from the chalkboard of specials that includes the standard eats but also more unique creations like the peanut butter kimchi sandwich ($5.50), the polenta egg bowl ($8) and the roast ‘beast’ sandwich (with braised kale and horseradish mayo, $8) to name a few.
“It was the week we were going to open and I was driving with my friend Tess Diamond and telling her we need that one thing, that signature thing that no one else has,” Hagerty recalls. “She told me she once had a muffin when she was traveling in Brazil that had a soft-boiled egg inside. I told her we needed to find that muffin. We looked up recipes, one was three pages long! I kept modifying the recipe, changing it up, simplifying. We finally got it.”
The Diamond in the Rough muffin ($6.25, presumably named after Amy’s right hand gal) made its debut on opening day, and has been a hit at the café ever since. How could it not, there is an entire hard-boiled egg in the middle of the thing? Made with buttermilk, it eats more like a meal than a snack, laden with asiago, cheddar and parmesan as well as chives and salty bits of bacon, served with a side of smooth house-made salsa for dipping. While we were chatting one patron approached Hagerty about her signature “dish.”
“So, I think I’ve figured out how you cook egg, or the muffin around the egg,” the patron says, sipping his coffee brushing the sawdust off his shirt. “You parbroil it, right? I mean, that the only way you can cook it around the egg…”
Hagerty just smiles and shakes her head. “Nope.”
The muffin is a savory symbol of what Hagerty and her staff prepare every day for their hungry patrons: home cooking with a twist. Instead of lettuce, there is arugula, instead of bologna there is olive tapenade, instead of blueberry muffins there is the diamond.
“I’m not a chef,” Hagerty insists. “I’ve been cooking all my life, but I’m not a chef. This is the stuff I make at home. You can’t get this stuff at a restaurant. Not that I’ve seen.”
If not a chef, then a damn creative cook and a never-sit-still community organizer. The Housie Market Café is part of a petit renaissance happening in the little hamlet along the river, which arguably began with the Brick House Pub, followed by Pleasant & Main, not to mention the treasure trove of hidden art galleries and other creative spaces that have popped up in the last decade. Hagerty is thrilled to watch it happen keeping her fingers crossed that all this good food will attract more full-time residents and inspire a renovation of the old school building that sits vacant just down the street.
“That would be a great space for a commercial kitchen. And those old classrooms would make great apartments. It’d be a fantastic community hub,” she says, eying the space from the café window.
Housie Market Cafe
226 Pleasant Street, Housatonic, MA
Mon.-Fri. 6:30 a.m - 6 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Preservation Society Pays Homage to Simple, Sublime Food
By Nichole Dupont
The relaxed, library-esque quiet is almost inconceivable, especially knowing what’s going on on the other side of the wall. But that’s just part of the magic of Preservation Society, located on the south side of the bustling Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington, MA. I’m sure there were large parties of five or more, I’m sure that the bar was pretty packed with folks just getting off work, but I heard none of it in the wood-walled seclusion of the reservations-only, cozy 12-seat dining room and raw bar. The space is the brainchild of the Grill’s head chef Christophe Jalbert, who had a hand in building the tastefully sparse space, including the highly lacquered bar/expo kitchen area complete with a built-in, repurposed copper kettle drum used to house oysters on ice.
Chef Jalbert also builds the menu every week—Preservation Society is open Thursday-Monday with seatings at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.—which includes a raw bar, rich charcuterie options and a menu of either five ($100) or three courses ($65) as well as an extensive wine list heavy with higher-end options like Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc and Catena Malbec and several dozen in between.
The atmosphere is elemental—white tablecloths, bulbous wine glasses, sturdy flatware—and deliberately allows for the focus to be on the eats. On this particular night, the raw bar/charcuterie included Wellfleet oysters ($3), ceviche, salmon tartare, gaufrettes with greens and bresaola served with orange, fennel and frisee ($12). I chose the latter, intrigued by the combination of citrus and crisp fennel and thin strips of salted beef, which was surprisingly mellow when they all hit the palate in unison.
Throughout the two-hour meal (be prepared to languish, and for god’s sake bring something to talk about and someone who likes to talk), the motif of unlikely pairings and textures was a delight. Part of the fun of languishing and taking your time with the five courses is watching the chef prepare each course at the expo kitchen behind the varnished bar. With just two small burners and a narrow counter space, Jalbert carefully curates each dish, swirling olive oil over sweet tomatoes, shaving Parmigiano so that it drops into the right spaces. Nothing he does is without purpose, and every ingredient he uses is at the prime of its season somewhere on land or at sea.
Our entrée arrived and at one point, after his first bite of the spit-roasted beef tenderloin, my date was, in fact, speechless.
“It’s like it’s been wrapped in bacon,” he whispered between chews of the buttery beef, surrounded by crisp Japanese turnips, a potent garlic puree and a hint of preserved lemons, which cut through the natural sweetness of the dish at just the right moments.
While he mowed shamelessly and silently on the tenderloin, I attacked the monkfish cheeks. Perhaps this needs some explanation, as you might be envisioning two sad little slivers of fish face on a giant charger. The monkfish is a monstrous creature, known for its freakishly large head which is so big that the rest of its body is referred to simply as ‘the tail.’
The dish that sat before me was a near-softball sized mound of tender, smoky fish. Chef explained that much of what is prepared at Preservation Society is first wood grilled or spit-roasted out back then brought into the small exposition space for final preparation. I watched him simmer the fish in a citrus broth laced with cardamom and coriander, the smell alone transforming the entire dining room into a spice market in a far-off land. Because of this voyeuristic opportunity, the first bite was met with anticipation. And it was savory, tangy and devoid of the fishy taste we all brace ourselves for on these seafood adventures, thanks to the simple science of the grill.
I know that the entrée should be the superstar of the meal. But as dessert made its way to us, looking like something out of a magical Dr. Seuss tale, it was difficult to really name the course that shone brightest. The swirly, melt-on-your-breath lemon tuiles, held together by a rich (not runny, hallelujah) vanilla custard and topped with fresh blueberries, rendered us silent. The flavors capture what is left of the summer, and honor a way of eating that we’ve missed in the hustle and flow of, I’m gonna say it, modern America. Preservation Society is gracefully twisting our arm to sit down, and taste everything that we think we’ve tasted before, but didn’t have the time to notice.
999 Main Street (South side of the Route 7 Grill)
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Thursday-Monday, seatings at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Grand Cru: A Place For Tasting Craft Beer And Artisanal Cheese
All photos courtesy of Grand Cru.
By Andrea Pyros
Rod Johnson often hears from people who claim not to like beer. His response? “You just haven’t had the right one!” Johnson, along with his wife Alicia Lenhart, is the owner of Grand Cru, a popular hybrid bar and retail shop in Rhinebeck that features beer — and plenty of it — along with artisanal cheese, wines by the glass and tasty local snacks. “If you don’t like star fruit, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to like an apple,” he adds. “There are so many kinds of beers out there today. There’s something for everyone.” Johnson gets customers who think they’d never like beer or who drink wine exclusively, and he’s able to find them a beer that absolutely “blows them away.”
Johnson and Lenhart have been ambassadors for craft beer in the Hudson Valley ever since they bought Grand Cru in 2012 from the original owners. The couple divides and conquers the store’s workload, with Lenhart helping behind the scenes on marketing, scheduling artists who showcase their work in the store and selecting the wine list. “She’s been drinking good wine longer than I have,” laughs Johnson. Together the pair picks the musical acts that perform, with Steven Spost, Cathy Young, and The Gold Hope Duo on tap for the coming months.
When it comes to finding new and exciting craft beer, the responsibility falls to Johnson, who works in the shop full time. Johnson [in photo, left] strives to locate beers no one else nearby stocks. Unlike wine, where a sales rep will come in and do a tasting for bar and shop owners, there are rarely samples for beer. Instead, Johnson seeks out craft beers whenever he’s traveling, talks to other beer lovers, uses a variety of resources on the Internet and scours the massive lists from distributors that arrive each week.
“It’s tough,” he says. “There is a brewery opening every day, so it’s hard to keep up. I can only have 300 beers and there are tens of thousands of options.” Johnson won’t carry the big brands, saying, “That’s not what we’re here for,” but he does offer affordable beers starting in the $3 range (and as low as $1.40 to go).
The bar has six taps (Johnson plans to double that in the near future), and almost every day there are changes to at least one of the beers listed. Every few weeks Grand Cru hosts a Tasting Team Event, featuring one brewery on all taps with free samples and reduced prices on growler fills or glasses in-house. Most recently Grand Cru welcomed Stone Brewing, one of the store’s top-selling brands, and Troegs Brewing Company is scheduled next.
Stop in to the casual and relaxed space and Johnson or his helpful staff will give you suggestions and allow you to sample the beers on draft. Recently, we tried the Chimay Premiere ($11), a very fine — and very rare Stateside — Belgian red, and Victory Brewery’s Summer Love ($6), a light, refreshing blond beer. Friends took advantage of the recent Stone Brewing tap takeover, enjoying the wine-like notes of the Stone Cali-Belgique ($8) and the popular Stone Go-To IPA ($6.50).
Don’t skip the cheese plate. There are typically five to choose from (one for $8, two for $12 or three for $16). Johnson tries to purchase cheese within a 100-mile radius. “I do believe in trying to consume locally. I know the farms and have visited a lot of them. I’m an ex farm boy and I want the animals treated well, the staff treated well. We’re lucky to have really great cheese makers in the Northeast and New York.”
Rich, creamy and flavorful cheeses hail from Sprout Creek (Poughkeepsie), Nettle Meadows (Warrensburgh), Chaseholm Farm Creamery (Pine Plains) and Berkshire Blue (Great Barrington) among others, and it’s why Johnson has plenty of customers who trek in for the Cru’s cheese offerings alone.
One evening, we sampled the rich, complex Truffle Falls cow’s milk cheese, and the sheep’s milk El Trigal Mantangeo, an excellent, not overly sharp selection. We added charcuterie ($2/$4), so our plate also included macadamia nuts, almonds, dates and bread from Design’s Bakery in Kingston. Grand Cru also sells other tasty vittles, like Deising’s soft pretzels, venison from Highland Farm, snack jars from The Local and Spacey Tracy’s pickles.
Though they welcome plenty of visitors who travel to seek out their craft beer, Johnson says at its heart Grand Cru is a locally driven business. “That’s important in Rhinebeck. You can’t rely on the tourists. Even with the winter we had, we still had double-digit growth from last year. Our locals and regulars really drive the heartbeat of Grand Cru.”
Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market
6384 Mill St., Rhinebeck, NY
Tuesday & Wednesday: Noon—8:30 p.m.
Thursday: Noon—9:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: Noon—11 p.m.
Sunday: Noon—7 p.m.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Market St. — Italian ‘Fusion Without Confusion’ In Rhinebeck
Photo by Matt Petricone for Roll Magazine.
By Andrea Pyros
You might think that after opening “30, 35” restaurants (he’s lost count), Chef Gianni Scappin wouldn’t bat an eye over launching a new eatery. When Rural Intelligence talked to the charming pro, he was deep in preparations for his latest launch, Gusto, in Poughkeepsie. We met up with him at Market St., his two-year-old homestyle Italian restaurant in the heart of Rhinebeck, where Scappin admitted that he’s “never comfortable” about starting another venture.
But at this point he’s earned the right to more confidence than just about anyone on Hudson Valley’s dining scene. After all, the Italian-born and trained chef has cooked at top restaurants in major cities throughout the world; served as a guest chef at the James Beard House; helped develop an advanced Italian cooking class for the Culinary Institute of America where he continues to teach today; co-authored four cookbooks, including one with friend Stanley Tucci; and is currently feeding happy diners at Cucina (Woodstock), Gusto and Market St.
Food photos by Keith Ferris.
Though it entered into a town with other excellent dining options, Market St. has managed to make a name for itself, and it’s become a popular spot for locals as well as weekend tourists who appreciate Scappin and his team’s fresh, vibrant menu and emphasis on hospitality. “It’s a little bit fusion, but without confusion,” Scappin laughs, adding that Market stays within his Italian/Mediterranean roots, for example by using extra virgin olive oil in the place of butter or cream to provide that “green freshness,” and updating the menu four to five times a year to work with the season’s ingredients.
During a recent visit, we started with rich, flavorful grass-fed beef meatballs with tomato and organic polenta ($8.50), a perfectly balanced bruschetta Parma with mozzarella, prosciutto, olive oil and aged balsamic ($9.50), and a simple salad of roasted beets, Coach Farm goat cheese and arugula ($11.50) dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. The wood oven pizzas and breads are a major presence on the menu (not surprising, considering Scappin made the wood-burning oven Market St.’s focal point). Try the Caprina (fig-herb spread, Coach Farm goat cheese, pear, arugula and truffle oil, $17) or Boscaiola (mixed mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato and herbs, $16.50). They’re cooked perfectly, with crispy, thin crusts and complementary flavors that provide maximum impact. Pastas and risottos are hard to resist — they’re bursting with top-quality ingredients, and gluten-free and whole-wheat options are available. But save room; Satisfying main dishes like a slowly baked salmon with snap peas, potato puree, and black truffle vinaigrette ($26) and a local aged ribeye steak with crispy fingerling potatoes, chickpeas, sage and spicy aioli ($32) are waiting for your enjoyment, too.
If you feel like exploring, try one of the specialty cocktails, such as the ginger margarita ($11) or a “Burnt Venetian,” made with vodka, aperol, lemon syrup, and prosecco ($12). Italian wines dominate the wine list, but there are a few French and California choices as well. Our party’s non-drinker had a mint iced tea special that provided enough kick to beat back the early evening’s heat, and there are also non-alcoholic house made sodas ($6).
Ingredients, whenever possible, are sourced locally from spots like Sky Farms, Hudson Valley Cattle Company, Wild Hive Farm, Heermance and others. Scappin has been in the Hudson Valley for close to 13 years, so he’s learned firsthand the difficulties of dealing with winter, and is as appreciative as anyone of the beautiful, bountiful spring, summer and fall seasons. The Rural Intelligence area is a “great melting pot,” he enthuses. His only wish is that there were more industries to bring work and money to the local population. “You want your children to stay in the area, not have to move to California or Boston.”
Scappin does his part, employing a good number of locals in his restaurants. At Market St., the staff — friendly, cheerful and uniformly gorgeous — will answer questions and steer you towards their favorites. Scappin believes strongly in the true meaning of hospitality: making people feel good and building a relationship. “If you’re abusive, you’re doomed,” he warns. “We concentrate on small details, and it’s always continuous work. We never give up. There is always something better we can do.”
19 West Market Street, Rhinebeck
Monday through Thursday 5-10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Sunday 4-10 p.m.
Brunch served from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays & Sundays.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Pera Mediterranean Bistro Brings A New Accent To Williamstown
By Amy Krzanik
The first thing you notice about Pera’s owner, Fahri Karakaya, is that he’s there. I mean, he’s in the restaurant and he’s handing you the menu and he’s pouring your water and he’s checking on your food. The restaurant employs friendly servers, so these things aren’t necessarily his job, but Karakaya does them gladly because he wants to make sure your visit to Pera is enjoyable.
Karakaya was born and raised in Turkey, and worked for ten years in the Pera district of Istanbul. Though very well traveled (14 countries and counting), Karakaya decided to move to his favorite country, the U.S., in 2001 to study Hotel and Restaurant Management in Connecticut. After taking an internship in Florida, he settled there for 11 years, earning an MBA, and working as a food and beverage manager at The Breakers in Palm Beach, one of the world’s toniest hotels. He returned to the Northeast only when his wife, Mel, was offered the job of innkeeper at The Porches in North Adams.
The Pera Sampler ($15) includes hummus, tabouli, grape leaves, falafel and smoky grilled eggplant puree. Photo by Ralph Hammann.
The move to the Berkshires was a lifestyle change in many ways for Karakaya; after excelling for years in the upper echelons of his industry, he now found himself unemployed and, frankly, bored. Karakaya looked for work for several months with no success. Even though he had 30 years of experience under his belt (the man had even taken a 6-month-long wine course!), Karakaya says he wasn’t looking for pay commensurate with what he was making at The Breakers. “The money was not important to me,” he says. “I just wanted to work, to use what I know to help people.”
He eventually gave up and had a heart to heart — with himself. “I said ‘Fahri, you’re old, short, bald and ugly. No one wants to hire you, so you need to start your own business.’”
He opened what is now TaBellas Italian Cuisine in North Adams in April of 2012, but had his eyes trained on Pera’s current home on Spring Street in Williamstown. He’d noticed the busy street had an international flavor (Indian, Thai and Japanese, Mexican), yet no Mediterranean establishment. “It was always a dream to have this spot,” he says, and last year, he got it. Pera opened this past October and weathered (sometimes literally) a long, slow winter. But locals have taken to his new venture, and the restaurant’s word of mouth is good.
From top: Sauteed falafel, Greek salad, and spanikopita that the author couldn’t wait to eat.
And, more importantly, so is the food. I’ve always been a fan of spanikopita, and Pera’s Executive Chef Randall Beaudoin does it well — a deliciously flaky appetizer with just the right spinach-to-feta ratio. Falafel, too, has always been a favorite, but until I had it at Pera I had absolutely no idea what I was missing. Falafel usually comes round and deep-fried, but Pera’s appetizer ($8) is flat, sautéed in olive oil and served with cusabi dipping sauce (a creamy concoction made with cucumbers and wasabi). Consider me a falafel snob from now on.
In fact, nothing on Pera’s menu is fried; the lamb for the lamb burger ($10, with arugula, feta cheese, and cusabi dressing) is ground fresh daily; the menu includes seasonal offerings like a summer watermelon salad; and the popular mussels appetizer changes flavors daily. Dinner ($15-$29) is a mix of American and Mediterranean dishes, and includes the popular Calamari Fra Diablo, Mediterranean scrod, and chicken or lamb kebabs.
Save room for dessert ($6-$7), though, because they’ve got amazing baklava, gelato from SoCo Creamery as well as flourless chocolate cake and Irish whiskey cake from Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery located right over the border in Bennington.
Karakaya and Beaudoin excel at their goal of serving quality food at affordable prices. And locals appreciate it, evidenced by a packed house at lunch and dinner times. Outside tables are available, but the inside, with its warm colors, elegant dark wood tables and nighttime candlelight, might be even better.
Pera Mediterranean Bistro
60 Spring Street, Williamstown, MA
Open Sunday—Wednesday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Review: The Bistro Box Is A Roadside Classic
By Nichole Dupont
There are those places that are just cursed. You know the kind. Switches hands every 1 to 3 years, nobody really knows what kind of food they serve anymore. You tentatively step into each new rendition only to leave disappointed or gripping your stomach with regret. There are a few “cursed” eatery locations here, so when I saw the new sign along Route 7 in Great Barrington I groaned. The perpetually red summer hot dog shack was now freshly painted and the new sign was up. The Bistro Box. I was skeptical.
But I should not have been. The Bistro Box, true to its name, is a roadside eatery that offers up fresh, homemade, hard-working picnic food. It’s a place you can take a lunch break or where you can proudly take a date for a vintage-inspired evening sitting under a pine grove enjoying the company of true love and damn tasty onion rings. On a beautiful day (which we’ve had several of), the parking lot is indiscriminately packed with vehicles and people – Ford F150s, Audis, minivans, grandparents with their grandkids, golfers, contractors taking a break. This is a place for everyone to enjoy the fleeting months of summer and the nostalgia of a perfect ice cream float.
Do not mistake roadside shack fare for “options limited: just deal with it.” The Bistro Box has all the basics but they’re the kind of “basic” that harkens back to a time when toys didn’t break on the first go-round: Wholesome, actual good food made from real ingredients (not pre-frozen, pre-packaged imposters). Take the onion rings for example. Fresh, dipped in a golden batter with a hint of cornmeal, lightly fried and served with a ketchup aioli (they call it box sauce) that we couldn’t get enough of. Fried dill pickles, same signature batter with a homemade buttermilk ranch dip. The menu also includes burgers and dogs, paninis, hand-cut fries (lots of choices like garlic and fresh herbs, parmesan and truffle oil, chili cheese), cold-brewed coffee, savory salads, and for starving, newly minted vegetarians, the falafel burger: a homemade chickpea patty topped with crispy “quick” pickles and red pepper feta spread.
Because we are talking essentially about a roadside stand, I have to mention that nothing that emerged from The Bistro Box was drowning in grease (which is the expectation for these little places). The food is crisp, the portions are perfect, and everything is reasonably priced (nothing more than $8). Obviously a lot of love has gone into making the little Bistro Box a place to come back to. Owners Nick and Birdie Joseph opened The Bistro Box in 2010 as a mobile food business. Their adventures have taken them from Nantucket to Florida to the Caribbean but they’ve always had an eye toward the Berkshires (Nick grew up in the area). When the little red shack went up for sale this past winter – they’ve been eying the place for awhile – the couple scooped it up immediately and so far everyone has pulled out of there with a faraway smile and maybe a little chocolate on their lips.
In a busy world, The Bistro Box is the perfect oasis of milkshakes (made with local ice cream) and memories. Get out of your car, stay and enjoy an impromptu picnic. No T.V., no iPhone, just you, your honey, and some damn fine food.
The Bistro Box
Rt. 7—937 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
Monday, Tuesday & Thursday—Saturday 11 a.m.—7 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.—5 p.m., Closed Wednesdays until summertime.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Copake Ag Center A Big Opportunity For Small Farmers
Jenny Elliott of Tiny Hearts Farm on the “new” 1951 tractor.
By Nichole Dupont
Pop open any regional real estate guide, and you will notice a cornucopia of old Victorians, rambling farmhouses and beautiful New England vistas. But the real estate that Monet would deem as priceless, in fact, comes with a hefty tag that for decades has threatened to push small farmers right out of the market and out of business. Yet, this region is fast-becoming a farm hub where growers, eaters, markets and restaurants collide and no one wants to see that human ecosystem break because of pricey land. Enter Northeast Farm Access (NEFA), a farm consulting organization (based in Keene, NH) — comprised of veteran community developers, loan underwriters, attorneys and farmers — that connects investors with farmers and farmers with land (and resources) from Maine to New York.
Project map of the Copake Ag Center.
“Our goal is to find farmland for farmers and to decrease the loss of good farmland,” says Laura Hartz, NEFA’s Director of Operations. “Usually we approach some kind of farm that is in transition and facing a critical decision, and see if we can work with the seller to make sure it stays on as a farm.”
NEFA’s latest project is the Copake Agricultural Center, a 197-acre amalgamation of land that crosses the town’s center. The organization and its investors closed on the land in December of last year, and despite the still-frozen ground, the Center became a hot ticket for those looking to farm in the area.
“We had about a dozen farmer applicants almost immediately,” Hartz says. “It’s a huge opportunity, when you think about what the lease — a long lease —includes: affordable housing, proximity to market, good soil and access to water. We’ve got some pretty excited farmers.”
Enthusiasm is great, but securing a long-term lease at the Copake Ag Center requires a lot more than a desire to sow some seeds and wear flannel year-round. Hartz says that when NEFA staffers were sifting through the applications, certain requirements — some flexible, some firm — were a must. For starters, farmers had to fit the USDA definition of a beginning farmer; one who hadn’t farmed for more than 10 years consecutively and who was willing to substantially contribute day-to-day labor on the farm. Definitely not a problem for Luke Franco and Jenny Elliott, owner/operators of Tiny Hearts Farm, a cut flower (and dried and hanging) business that had its base at a one-acre plot in Westchester. They jumped at the opportunity to join the Copake Ag Center. But don’t let their fresh faces fool you; Franco and Elliott are savvy growers with a veteran’s vision.
Tiny Hearts Farm stand at Cold Spring market (first market of 2014).
“Jenny trained for four years as a veggie grower, but we looked at who was doing what and we found it; our niche. Cut flowers,” Franco says. “The response was just amazing. We were surprised. You can’t live on bread alone and flowers feed a whole other part of our existence. If you look at the whole farm-to-table movement, the flower industry is super behind the curve. You still get wholesale, imported blooms that are loaded with fumigants and fertilizers and the scent has been bred right out of them. Sitting there in a vase next to your local, organic greens and grass-fed local beef.”
Since moving to the new plot in Copake (with room, lots of room, to grow), Tiny Hearts Farm may soon just be a name, as Franco and Elliott — both music majors before they were called to the soil — have a business plan that includes acres of dahlias and peonies, weddings galore and more farmers markets. Just recently, the duo made their first major farm purchase: a 1951 Farmall Super C tractor.
Max of MX Morningstar Farm prepping seedlings.
“We’re tripling production this year and we’ve got a lot more land to farm. That tractor is a beast,” Franco says, laughing. “It’s definitely a seat-of-my-pants learning curve. The other farmers have been very helpful with the tractor.”
Those other farmers include MX Morningstar, a 62-acre vegetable outfit and Sparrow Arc, also a vegetable producer originally from Portland, Maine. The farmers, despite being independent growers, end up spending a lot of time together sharing equipment, storage facilities and advice, and this is exactly what NEFA wants, especially in a region where big developers froth at the mouth when they catch wind of a possible farm for sale.
“We’ve had the support of so many different conservation groups to help us secure easements on the [Copake] property. They are critical partners in all ways,” Hartz says. “This is multilayered; it benefits everything from the local food system to species diversity. I don’t see it as a trend. People want to farm. They are choosing to farm.”
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Review: Pleasant & Main Is A Housy Hub
By Nichole Dupont
I have this friend who used to live on the Lower East Side, and I would take the train into Manhattan to visit her in her little shoebox on the ninth floor. Saturday would be devoted to museum hopping, bargain hunting, and a Broadway show followed by way too many drinks at a dive bar just downstairs from her place. And yet, despite the high-octane city shuffle of Saturday, what I looked forward to the most was Sunday brunch before catching the train back to the sticks. She had “a place” that was comfortable, a place that welcomed — with natural light, great omelets and strong coffee — our sad debauched souls. I’ve been on the hunt for “a place” for years, and it looks like, for certain, I have found it.
Pleasant & Main (on the corner of, well, you guessed it) in Housatonic, Mass. is a like a pirate’s treasure chest; the outside appears unassuming, even dingy, but once you open it up the realization that you’ve struck pure gold is immediate. High-ceilinged, red-walled, sprawling, the café has an old-timey ambience that meets somewhere comfortably in the middle of Cheers, a bistro in Paris and your grandmother’s front parlor. The wide-open dining room is flanked on either end by massive wooden shelves chock full of collectibles (most for sale), from silver candlesticks to kitschy 1950s fishing gear. Natural light floods through the front portion of the café, highlighting the giant stained glass window that is a definitive feature of the space, which formerly housed Jack’s Grill, a summer hub that closed some four years ago.
But grandiose windows and glittering knick knacks are just that without good food. Not surprisingly, Pleasant & Main does not disappoint on the gastronomic end. It has the kind of menu that diners will savor again and again, perhaps settling at last on a favorite dish.
The menu is unpretentious; a daily offering of veggie quiche (always with a side of fresh greens) delights with a light crust, the savory eggs Florentine is topped with a healthy dollop of classic hollandaise that literally melts in the mouth. The croissants are perfect and buttery and the coffee — be it espresso, latte, cappuccino – is never bitter and perfectly hot. A basic lunch lineup of turkey clubs, egg salad and burgers is thickened with European home-food options like savory ratatouille crepes, Croque Monsieur and beet and goat cheese salad.
These little extras pay homage to the café’s mastermind, veteran restaurateur Craig Bero, who spent the last 35 years on the food scene in Manhattan and the lower West Village, most recently as the owner/operator of the Cosmopolitan Café in Tribeca. Bero packed up his impressive collection of antique silver and fishing gear (he is an avid angler) and he, along with long time chef Sixto Rodriguez, set up shop in Housatonic in late March after seeing a for rent sign on the door in January. (Bero, a Wisconsin native, has a cabin in Hillsdale, N.Y. that was his escape from the Big Apple for decades.) So far, so very good. Along with breakfast/brunch and lunch, the café dishes up community suppers Thursday-Saturday nights, with a simple menu that rotates with the chef’s creativity, Bero’s fastidiousness and Mother Nature’s palate. In keeping with the simple sophistication of the daytime eats, the suppers provide simple, unfettered fare with a twist; beef pot roast with a burgundy gravy, lamb shepherd’s pie, orange sunshine cake.
Perhaps the real sunshine is Bero himself, who quietly yet purposefully trolls the dining room, making sure everyone is happy, well fed, and deep in conversation. Be warned, he is a generous and convincing soul (must be that Midwest spirit). I was happy with my quiche. I told him it was perfect. I sipped at my coffee, and yet somehow, there I was, with a pleasantly full belly staring down at a lemon crepe.
After polishing off the whole thing, it dawned on me, that that tangy, incredibly light, yet somehow nostalgic confection was what I was after. What we are all chasing after. That signature dish, you will find it here. I promise you.
Pleasant & Main
1063 Main Street
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
RI’s Hamburger Helper
When we came up with the idea of doing a hamburger roundup similar to the one we did on egg sandwiches,we wondered not if we could gather enough really great hamburgers in our region, but if enough people would be willing to do the reviewing. Turns out it wasn’t a problem finding burger tasters; most people seem to have their favorite go-to place for the classic American item.
This is not anywhere near a complete list; it’s just our small staff and some readers’ picks for their preferred hamburger spot. In the end, the “best burger” is often the one nearest wherever you happen to be when hunger strikes.
The Brick House Pub
Full disclosure: I go to The Brick House in Housatonic at least once a week. Everything is locally sourced and super fresh. The burger buns are from literally a mile down the road at Berkshire Mountain Bakery, the greens on top from Equinox Farms in Sheffield and desserts are house-made. The pizzas here are wildly popular but I always order a burger. It’s a steal at $13 because you get huge portions and I always customize it to suit my mood. Sometimes it’s avocados or jalapeños, or I switch out the meat for their awesome house-made veggie burger. This time, I got the farmer’s burger with bacon, cheddar and a perfectly prepared sunny-side egg on top. It comes on the aforementioned Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread and your choice of salad or the fries, but you can up-charge for truffle fries. And you should get the truffle fries. Seriously. The great food, combined with the relaxed atmosphere and spot-on service always makes for a good time at the Brick House. —Rachel Louchen
I don’t eat hamburgers all that often, but when I do, I go for the one people called the best long before hamburgers became a gourmet food. The Big Beef, six ounces of chopped sirloin broiled over an actual flame, mightily satisfies, with a charred crispness on the outside, and juicy with a smoky flavor inside. The basic burger is only $5 (I added lettuce and tomato for an extra quarter). A plain cheeseburger is $5.25 and $6 if you add bacon; traditional thin French fries are $3.35. The Lantern offers not just the best burger, but the best deal in town. —Paul Verdi
The Lantern Bar & Grill
455 North Street, Pittsfield
Public Eat + Drink
I’ve always been a big fan of buns (all kinds). But since I’ve gone gluten-free, my burger options have been severely limited unless I want to order one sans bun. But that’s no fun, and not very filling, either. That’s why I was “over the moon” to find out that Public in North Adams was serving burgers with a gluten-free bun option. They offer four kinds of burger, but my favorite is their BBQ version with house bbq sauce, cheddar, onion rings, and bacon, served with fries and a pickle (11.90 + 1.50 for the g.f. bun). You can also add a fried egg to any burger for an additional $1.50, but the BBQ burger is enough for me, what with the huge, sweet fried onion ring that comes on top of it. Be sure to let them know if you are severely gluten intolerant, though, as the fries and onion ring might not be a good bet for you if you are. —Amy Krzanik
The Marketplace Café
As a vegetarian, I know that anything that calls itself a veggie burger is a far cry from actual ground beef. But here’s the good news: the “Not a Hippie” veggie burger ($7.75) at The Marketplace Café is so much better! With its almost innumerable ingredients, it’s not something I would ever replicate at home. Here’s a partial list: chia seed, onion, carrot, basmati rice, lentil, bulgar and black bean, rendered into an oversized patty topped with tomatillo salsa and chipotle aioli, and slid between dense and slightly grilled ciabatta bread. The sauce gives it a kick, and the lettuce, tomato and onion makes it feel like anybody else’s hamburger. It’s as filling as a beef version, but (dare I say this) probably a lot healthier, and it’s vegan, too. —Lisa Green
The Marketplace Café
53 North Street, Pittsfield
Grazin’ is an all American neighborhood diner whose specialty is cheeseburgers, along with offering the complete farm to table experience in an iconic diner on the main street of a town notorious for its serious historic aesthetic. Grazin’ doesn’t simply buy from local farms,; they actually farm their own beef, and the chickens who provide the eggs for a slew of gorgeous omelets wander their 400 acre farm also. The night we ate at Grazin’, my compatriot was especially hungry so went for the big ‘ol burger, the “BOB,” ($18.75), a 10 oz-er, dressed with pawlette cheese (one of their favorites and while similar to cheddar is creamy and delicious) and onions sautéed in bacon lard, an arresting and mouthwatering detail. My “Uncle Dude” ($15.80)came with Hawthorne Valley Cheddar, Grazin’s own bacon, chipotle mayo and jalapeno relish, towered with fresh tomato and lettuce on a perfectly toasted fluffy bun. It was a rainy Friday night, and I was already planning a Sunday brunch back at Grazin’, for omelets and maybe a coffee milkshake. —Mary Vaughn Williams
717 Warren Street, Hudson
Old Chatham Country Store & Café
The cheeseburger at the Old Chatham Country Store is 8 ounces of USDA prime (80% lean), comes on a superior brioche bun with lettuce, a couple of slices of tomato, a crispy spear of dill pickle, and a generous side of freshly cut shoestring fries. It’s a bargain at $10.99 (or $10.25 without the cheese). Also on the menu: a turkey or vegetarian option for your non-meat eating companion. —Marilyn Bethany
Enjoying a meal at the Millbrook Café is similar to being spoiled at your neighbor’s dinner party. The family operated restaurant is run by Polish husband and wife team Alex and Dominika Kowalczyk. Chef Alex cooks using a 19th-century-style fired brick oven and grill while Dominika assists in the kitchen and provides attentive service. The Angus Beef Burger from Walbridge Farm (also located in Millbrook) is smoky and savory served on a ciabatta roll and layered with the usual fixings of onions, tomato and lettuce. In place of fries, you get your choice rice pilaf or potato salad , and the fresh fruit and dark chocolate fondue are part of the deal. The Angus Burger starts at $10; add cheese for $1 and bacon for $2. —Arvolyn Hill
The Millbrook Cafe
3288 Franklin Ave, Millbrook
White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant
The White Horse in Marbledale came highly recommended by Litchfield County foodies and the jam-packed crowd of guests who filled the restaurant on a sunny Saturday afternoon gave a good indication of the quality food that awaited. Everything here was across-the-board great: decor, service and of course, the delicious burgers. I went with the Akaushi burger which for $13.75 gets you a generously portioned kobe-style beef patty with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, poblano chillies and sriracha ketchup. It was unique burger with a bite (just one recommendation from the professional chef I was dining:: order them closer on the rare side). The plate presentation is also worth noting — a charming horse symbol comes seared on top of the brioche roll, just in case you could possibly forget where you were dining. —Rachel Louchen
White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant
Rt 202, Marbledale
The Village Restaurant
The Village’s Classic burger is just that: perfect in its simplicity. For $9 you get a choice patty of savory ground beef cooked to your preference, complete with lettuce, tomato and onion upon request and sandwiched between two halves of a golden-brown hard roll (crispy on the outside and malleable on the inside). Pick either the fries, fresh greens, or cole as your side order. Sticking to the basics isn’t always this rewarding, which makes this hamburger even more satisfying. —Taylor Cannon
The Village Restaurant
25 West Street, Litchfield
As the Kingsley Tavern reaches its first birthday, it is hard to believe the restaurant is still a newbie in Kent’s eatery scene. Residents and visitors instantly fell for owner Anna Gowan’s offerings of diverse entrees and eclectic draft beers. However nothing stands out quite like its staple sandwich — their very own Kingsley Burger. Made with local beef and pork from Truelove Farm in Morris, CT, it’s coated with sharp cheddar, bacon jam, (yes, bacon jam) and a fried egg that will leave you buoyant, plus a side of fresh-cut fries, $16. If you’re looking for a more traditional burger, Kingsley Tavern offers a Hurlburt Farm grassfed burger with fries, starting at $10.50; add cheese $1, add bacon $2, and a fried egg, $2. —Arvolyn Hill
14 N Main Street, Kent