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Chez Nous Bistro

Nejaime's Wine Cellars

Berkshire Coop

Guido's Marketplace

Berkhsire Coop

Haven Cafe & Bakery

Baba Louie's

52 Main

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Taste Your Way Down Taco Street In Red Hook

Quesadillas at Bubby’s Take Away Kitchen.

By Jamie Larson

In the past year, two new Mexican food joints have opened in Red Hook, New York, essentially across the street from each other. Thankfully, they’re approaching their menu and style from different angles. What we are even more thankful for is that they’re both great places that use the best ingredients and put a lot of care and passion into everything they make.

Bubby’s Take Away Kitchen is the casual, full-menu, bricks-and-mortar expansion of the summertime destination food cart, Bubby’s Burrito Stand; Modern Taco is bringing us upscale, updated Mexican eats with scratch-made tortillas, and serving inventive margaritas and desserts customers rave about. It’s worth finding a couple days in your schedule to try both, or better yet get Bubby’s for lunch and Modern Taco for dinner.

Bubby’s Take Away Kitchen

Bubby’s Take Away at night.

Following adventure, her heart and her stomach to Mexico and South America throughout her youth, Bjanette Andersen opened the Bubby’s Burrito Stand stand in 2001 when she was just 19. She worked the stand during the summers and spent colder months down south, all the while experiencing new dishes and flavors she wanted to share with her customers. The quaint stand at 193 W. Market Street sticks to vegetarian burritos for practical reasons, but that probably helped it achieve cult status with locals and Bard students.

“At the time, I wanted to be as transient and bohemian as possible,” Andersen recalls. “I traveled as much as I could, did art workshops, met my husband in San Miguel, and wanted to live here in the summer. I wanted to serve really good food but bypass the infrastructure.”

Anderson Bubby's Stand

Andersen in the original Bubby’s Burrito Stand.

While business at the stand has always been great, Andersen endeavored to expand her menu to include the meat dishes she loved while keeping things at a price point that would allow the food to be accessible to everyone, the way it was when she traveled. “Now I have a place, and it’s all about overhead,” she laughs.

Andersen keeps prices as low as possible by having customers order and pick up at the counter, and by using recyclable plates and cutlery. (There are tables at the Take Away, by the way.) Where she doesn’t skimp is the quality of the fresh, as local as possible ingredients. While the burritos, chorizo and chicken tomatillo are her signature, Andersen really wants people to try the other dishes on the menu, which are her take on some of the best dishes she’s eaten on the street or in small establishments throughout her travels.

Bubby's mexican popsiclesSome of those: chicken and mole tamales wrapped in banana leaf, Caribbean chicken (based on a dish she had in a small restaurant in Brazil) and her tacos, which are her closest recreation of the best tacos she ever ate on the streets of San Miguel. There’s a set menu on the board but there are also specials and little treats, among them paletas, Mexican ice pops, with flavors like peach and mint, cucumber, coconut, plum with lemon, chili pineapple and avocado.

“I try to keep things simple and good, and have a place where I can do whatever I want,” says Andersen, who also caters. “My food is based on the idea that I want people to be able to eat something they really, truly enjoy without spending a lot of money.”

Modern Taco

Started by brothers-in-law Thomas Turck and chef/owner Mark Brocchetti, Modern Taco uses fresh, healthy ingredients and modern culinary updates to elevate Mexican food into a fine dining experience with unexpected combinations. They also have entree options not usually found at a Mexican restaurant that make the quaint, rehabbed former bakery a source of flavor profiles unique to our area.

Spicy sweet potato croquette stuffed with chorizo, queso fresco and black beans at Modern Taco.

Turck said they aim to make people feel welcome while treating them to something original. Because everyone thinks they know what to expect of Mexican food, they’re pleasantly surpised when they taste something new in a relatable form.

“The philosophy is clean, healthy Mexican,” says Turck, adding that 80 percent of the menu happens to be gluten free. “We’re not your typical Tex-Mex restaurant; we use all authentic ingredients and we do it with a modern twist.”

The modern tacos at Modern Taco include, among a bevy of others, fried avocado with radish, jicama, pico de gallo, lime-cured onion and Mexican slaw. There’s also a chorizo taco with poblano peppers, those cured onions and spicy sweet potato with corn crema, as well as a barbecued pulled pork with a pineapple-habanero salsa, Mexican slaw, pickled red onion and avocado sauce.

Grilled pineapple mescal sour with cilantro agave oil at Modern Taco.

There’s a long list of wildly varied burritos, quesadillas, starters and of course drinks from the full bar. Turck also says people shouldn’t overlook the less traditional Mexican dishes like spice-rubbed Hudson Valley duck with grilled jalapeno corn bread, warm buttered carrots with chili oil and toasted pumpkin seeds, and barbecued salmon with spicy sweet potato croquette and warm black bean corn relish.

“It’s healthy food and it’s fun food,” says Turck. “But it’s fun food with serious ingredients.”

Turck says that when both his restaurant and Bubby’s were renovating simultaneously, it gave them pause. But when they realized they were offering such different approaches and running different kinds of hours, he felt they complemented each other and now make Red Hook a new kind of destination for Mexican food.

We would also be remiss not to mention Red Hook’s longstanding classic Tex-Mex place, Cancun’s, just around the corner at 7483 S. Broadway, a totally enjoyable “Mexican diner,” as Andersen, who often brings her son there for nachos, puts it. So, with four Mexican options within about a mile of each other, Red Hook, all of a sudden, is the go-to destination for south-of-the-border cuisine. While the surfeit is coincidental and may cause a little competition in the marketplace between hard-working, well-intentioned business owners, the victors in the new Red Hook taco wars are surely the hungry.

Modern Taco
46 W. Market St., Red Hook, NY
(845) 758-1414
Monday, Thursday and Sunday 5-9 p.m.
​Friday and Saturday 5-10 p.m.

Bubby’s Take Away Kitchen
19 W. Market St., Red Hook, NY
(845) 758-8226
Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/25/16 at 12:36 PM • Permalink

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Better Than Your Average Bar: Berkshire County’s Hidden Gems

By Amy Krzanik

We at Rural Intelligence eat and drink our way through the region’s towns as a service to our readers (you’re welcome) and we thought it was time for a followup to reporter Jamie Larson’s roundups on drink and snack places in the southern Berkshires and Columbia County’s oldest bars. Turns out there’s more in Berkshire County to explore. You may have overlooked some of these bars that have surprisingly good food and a friendly ambience.

The Red Herring
Tucked beneath Images Cinema on Williamstown’s main street, The Red Herring is a sometimes-overlooked spot for a quiet pre-show snack or a drink to finish movie night off right. During the height of summer, you’ll find Williamstown Theatre Festival actors and interns bringing the post-show party to the bar and outdoor tables. Lighter fare includes a hummus plate with artichoke, feta, olives and pita triangles; and fries or onion rings with sriracha mayo. More substantial fare can be found in the homemade shepherd’s pie; and chicken or pulled pork picnic plate (which comes with your choice of two sides: slaw, baked beans or mac and cheese). As it states on the menu, this might just be the “best little bar in town.”
46 Spring Street, Williamstown, MA
(413) 458-2808
Bar open daily from 5 p.m.-1 a.m., until 2 a.m. on Saturdays.
Kitchen closes at 10 p.m.

The Tavern at Haflinger Haus
This four-year-old restaurant, tavern, and inn offers Austrian cuisine (think wiener schnitzel, Hungarian goulash and potato pancakes) along with pub favorites like a great lightly breaded haddock; a soft pretzel with obatza (cheese); and crispy waffle fries. More options are available on the fine dining menu (served in the adjacent dining room but also available to tavern patrons) including an entire schnitzel section (one delicious-sounding example: slow roasted pork shank with Haus apple sauerkraut, handmade dumpling and Haus-made apple sauce), as well as classics such as filet mignon and Haus cordon bleu. A large wine selection, specialty cocktails, bottled beers and drafts such as Hofbrau, Franziskaner Weisse, Spaten Lager and others round out the menu. Offering live music on weekends and outdoor seating on the porch in the summertime, this haus is the perfect place to relax after a bike or snowshoe trip on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
17 Commercial Street, Adams, MA
(413) 743-2221
Tuesday-Thursday: 4-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday: 4-11 p.m.; Sunday: 4-8 p.m.

Paddy’s Bistro
Paddy’s, opened at the end of July 2015 in the spot previously home to Shamrock’s, is much more than your neighborhood Irish bar. Executive Chef Xavier Jones is at the helm of a surprisingly swank menu that makes it difficult to choose just one delicious and inspired entree. Fried oysters for a starter followed by boneless braised short ribs? Or bourbon butternut bisque and then a build-your-own pasta or polenta dish with a variety of meat and sauce options? Making tastebuds water even more is an entire page of specials every weekend that may include options such as seafood cioppino, cheese ravioli marsala and lobster mac and cheese. As for libations, be sure to check out the chalkboard near the bar for what’s on tap, as well as for specialty cocktails including coconut cream pie or peppermint mocha martinis and a selection of hot toddies.
645 Main Street, Dalton, MA
(413) 684-1111
Monday: 4-9 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Dewey’s Public House
Formerly known as The Milltown Tavern, the new Dewey’s Public House has kept the same set-up and loyal clientele, who nightly pack the bar area and enjoy meals with the family in the dining room. Quirky treats like beer-battered dill pickles and perennial favorites like truffle fries will keep snackers happy, while more serious diners can enjoy a nice ribeye, risotto cakes, or hand-tossed pizza with homemade sauce and beer-infused dough. A wide selection of brews keep the crowd coming back. Find out what Dewey’s has to offer at a special five-course wine dinner on January 28 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets will go fast, so call soon for reservations.
16 Depot Street, Dalton, MA
(413) 684-0900
Monday, Wednesday & Thursday: 5-11 p.m.; Friday: 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
Saturday: 12 p.m.-12 a.m.; Sunday: 12 p.m.-10 p.m.

20 Railroad Street

With something to please everyone’s palate – from bratwurst and bison burgers to Vietnamese spring rolls and a salmon salad – it’s no wonder 20 Railroad is a perennial South County favorite. The spot’s comfortable and classic pub feel is a step up from a “watering hole” for sure, but won’t alienate the lone diner who wants to grab some hot wings after a hard day’s work. Especially appreciated are the drink options not often found outside of specialty liquor stores, like Lindemans lambics and organic beer and cider. A note to newcomers: the front door is located down a short brick alleyway on the right of the building. Just follow the sign.
20 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, MA
(413) 528-9345
Everyday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Bar open until midnight.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/11/16 at 02:22 PM • Permalink

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Gather Around For Ramen Nights At The Meat Market

Jeremy Stanton does his best samurai move at the shabu shabu station as Director of Operations Tom Ellis looks on.

Beginning this week, The Meat Market in Great Barrington, Mass. continues its popular theme nights with a bow to Japanese cuisine. Ramen Nights will feature the soup with housemade noodles and sake-marinated pork belly. Shabu shabu will also be on the menu.

“I love ramen and shabu shabu — it’s such a communal meal,” says Jeremy Stanton, The Meat Market’s owner, “and The Meat Market is all about community.”

It’s also a perfect way to highlight the cuts of pork that are a trademark of the butchery. Ramen uses every part of the pig, including the less prime cuts, while shabu shabu is the opposite, employing the very finest, select cuts of beef and pork.

The noodles will be made in house (Stanton founded a pasta company in the late 90s, so knows a thing or two about making pasta) and served in a broth with green sprouts and watercress, pickles and a soft-boiled egg along with the pork. Vegetarians take note: there will be a veggie-only version as well.

Stanton calls the shabu shabu “a DIY one-pot wonder.” Similar to a fondue meal, people gather around a steaming cauldron and cook their own slices of pork, beef and vegetables, then plop the tidbits over a bed of rice and add some dipping sauces. By the end of the night, the shabu shabu (which means “swish swish”) water has turned into a tasty broth served with glass noodles. “It’s fun to watch people interact around this pot of hot water,” Stanton says.

To complete the theme, there will be beer, sake and dessert and a samurai film. It’s the ultimate in communal dining, and in all ways, a warming option to a chilly Saturday night.

Ramen Nights at The Meat Market
Saturdays at 6 p.m.
Ramen $17; Shabu-Shabu (minimum of 4 people, up to 8) $30
389 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington
Reservations: (413) 528-2022

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/10/16 at 12:09 PM • Permalink

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Review: A New Nest For Mockingbird In Bantam, CT

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

The wait has been long. For those of you, like me, who entertained friends and clients over an icy martini at the bar or savored the crunchy kale salad near its blazing fireplace, the loss of restaurant Mockingbird Kitchen at historic Tollgate Hill Inn was soothed only by assurances that Chef Samantha Tilley would soon bring her bold cuisine to Bantam. Many months in the making, that promise has been fulfilled in a larger space and more elaborate menu – but don’t fret, many favorites still make an appearance.

While the contemporary interior is quite a departure from its original home in the Captain William Bull Tavern, the Mockingbird Kitchen and Bar suffers not for the change. Yes, the gambrel-roofed colonial house was a stunning setting, but that location has its drawbacks, namely being so far set off the road with little room to expand. Get past the past. The new spot boasts ample seating, plentiful windows, a gorgeous wood bar and that ever-appreciated instant ambience-maker, a fireplace.

Owner/Chef Tilley’s “locally sourced, globally flavored” cuisine, however, remains the real draw. Pairing far-flung influences with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, her dishes are consistently creative yet approachable. Miso glazed salmon and a tofu curry spiked with lemongrass honors treasured travels while a rich confit de poulet or bright beet salad highlights the bounty found in our part of New England. This pleasure in highlighting a variety of food cultures with a touch of homegrown pride carries through to the desserts and brunch menus. I’ve happily devoured a chocolate bread pudding and dug into my dinner companion’s carrot cake served with ginger ice cream. Brunch is no less decadent, with a beautifully presented, fluffy French toast with berries or spicy huevos rancheros on offer.

Sugar-dusted biscuits, gratis at brunch; beet and citrus salad with micro greens and capers; huevos rancheros.

If you’re looking for fare on the lighter side, Asian dumplings might fit the bill or if it’s an “R” month, perhaps a plate of oysters. Actually, the bivalves are perfectly good in the winter months as well, the cold waters of the East Coast ensuring a briny liquor.

Speaking of the more spirited variety, the handsome bar has an imaginative list of cocktails and several craft beers on draft. Chef Tilley has been known to pickle ramps in the spring, making for a knockout Karlssons Gold martini — another treat to look forward to as the seasons change and the menu evolves.

The friendly service has already hit its stride and Chef Tilley continues to be inspired by the mockingbird, who “masters a wide variety of bird songs,” making eclectic dishes woven with tradition, sing. Despite some major surface changes, some things stay the same. We can all be thankful for that.

Mockingbird Kitchen and Bar
810 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
(860) 361-6730
Closed Monday & Tuesday

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/05/16 at 01:44 PM • Permalink

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Open House: PlaceInvaders Dinners Pop Up In Great Barrington

By Amy Krzanik

If you’re anything like us, you love to see how other people live — how they decorate and use their space, what they collect. You also love being the first to experience a new restaurant — the more eclectic, the better. On Friday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 6, you can do both at once when PlaceInvaders, a team of pop-up dinner party planners, takes our two loves and combines them for a one-weekend-only secret dinner party.

While the location of the three dinners and two brunches won’t be released until the day of the first event, we can tell you that it’s in a Great Barrington, Mass. home with lots of space. PlaceInvaders owners Hagan Blount and Katie Smith-Adair are excited to have room to move after beginning their business in Brooklyn two years ago and having so far created events mostly in urban areas.

What began as monthly events in the New York City area has become a full-time job, and Smith-Adair and Blount now travel the U.S. year round in a truck with a purple trailer towed behind. Hagen, who is not formally trained but has years of restaurant experience, is by all accounts an amazing chef. “He’s the kind of person who finds the best thing to eat in a new city and then thinks ‘How can I improve on this?’” says Smith-Adair. As for her, Smith-Adair, who formerly worked in marketing and tech start-ups, now serves as host, flower arranger and anything else for which the event calls.

A friend in Hillsdale, N.Y. recommended the Berkshires as one of their stops and the Invaders agreed that it had all the ingredients they were looking for. Smith-Adair says, “I’m excited because there are a lot of interesting locals, and I enjoy meeting adventurous and social people who like to try new things.”

The couple likes to get to town early, in order to meet with local farmers, wineries and distillers, and make use of the best the area has to offer. Smith-Adair considers it to be one of the most fun parts of the job. “We get to meet people who raise animals and grow food, and talk to them about what they do.”

The meals they create are based, in part, on what fresh and interesting items they discover. That could mean anything from foraged berries and mushrooms to fresh-caught salmon, based on the season and location. The duo has some staple recipes they’ve honed over time, like grilled oysters in different iterations, and others that are inspired by what they find from local partners. For their Berkshire pop-ups they’ll be featuring meat from The Meat Market in Great Barrington, along with vegetables and flowers from Sol Flower Farm in Millerton, beer from Big Elm and wines from Domaney’s, and their signature drink will be based around Berkshire Mountain Distillers liquor.

Each event is guaranteed to have a five-course dinner, which includes a passed appetizer, wine and a signature cocktail served while guests mingle. For their Berkshires debut, Smith-Adair is leaning toward a sparkling mulled wine she calls “Christmas in a glass.” A sit-down dinner follows, where members of the guest list, capped off at 24 per meal, can get to know each other. 

PlaceInvaders Pop-Up in Great Barrington, Mass.
Friday, Dec. 4: Dinner at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 5: Brunch at 1 p.m., Dinner at 8 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6: Brunch at 1 p.m., Dinner at 7 p.m.
$125 for dinner and $75 for brunch.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/10/15 at 12:48 PM • Permalink

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Chefs Weigh In On A Tradition At The Tipping Point

By Andrea Pyros

Should restaurants do away with tipping and switch to a service-included policy?

News that famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer plans to eliminate tipping in all 13 of his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants has chefs, restaurant owners and diners all taking notice. Meyer’s “hospitality included” move, which will impact renowned spots such as The Modern, Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, is aimed at making salaries fairer between the front of the house, where tipping is allowed, and the back of the house (think dishwashers, cooks and reservationists) as well as addressing other industry issues. Meyer’s prominence in the dining world means the decision will have major ramifications. We looked to some of the Rural Intelligence region’s top food professionals to find out what they think about the issue, and how it might affect our area.

Josephine Proul, Chef and Owner, Local 111, Philmont, NY

I was right in the middle of getting a worker’s comp audit — I passed it just fine — when I heard [about the no-tipping policy]. I have to pay each month to worker’s comp and project how many wages I am going to provide. Tips are not included. My first thought was, “I can’t do [service included], no way, my worker’s comp is already so high.” I’d pay more sales tax, more withholdings, more worker’s comp; everything would go up.

There have been some pretty big tipping scandals lately with the house meddling in the tip pool, which has caused class action lawsuits. If you are a large corporation, then moving to a non-tip system where you are looking for an expense to write off makes sense, but with me it would force me into the red. This would price me out of the market; I could never have a $40 price point. I would have to pull a lot of people off the floor, and it would take away their hours so they might need to find another job. There’s a stigma that the back of the house doesn’t make as much, but the front of the house has slow nights, too.

Maybe instead of taking out tips they should reform tipping so that the pool does benefit the back of the house. We pool tips among the waitstaff here and everyone works together. It creates more of a camaraderie vs. “this is my section, these are my tips.” And I pay my kitchen staff very well because I value their good consistent work. I don’t know why these restaurants are not paying their kitchen help!

I see both sides of it but, long story short, my servers would be so disappointed and this would sink me as a small business owner.

Photo: Roy Gumpel

Josh Kroner, Chef and Owner, Terrapin Restaurant, Rhinebeck, NY

The points that Danny Meyer makes are really valid. It’s a terrible system. I like the system in Europe. There they are professional servers and it’s a professional industry. Here you feel like you’re asking for handouts so it’s hard to embrace the profession. I’m trying to gauge what people’s response to [switching to no-tipping] would be, and people say, “What if service gets terrible?” But why would that be true? Why does anyone do a good job? Because they like their job and they like doing what they’re doing. Not because they’re getting tipped.

It just seems, as an employer, it would be so much better to not have it based on tips, but instead say, “Okay, I am going to train my staff and pay them really well and have the best staff around, do all the right things.” It’s no secret that happy people make good servers and good food, and if you have a staff that is happy then you are going to have a good restaurant. That’s been my success. I try to take care of my employees and I think it shows with the longevity of my staff.

But I’m scared of losing the customers. Let’s say my entree is $28 and now it has to be $33 [to reflect hospitality included]. People will notice that and might not even understand it. They might just think, “Terrapin has higher prices than other places in our area.” You’re going to lose a percentage of customers who don’t take enough time to figure out what’s going on with the higher prices and why it’s set up like that.

We have a tip-pooling system [for the front of the house] but it should be spread out a bit more evenly. I’m keeping an eye on the trend. It’s the customer’s point of view I’m most concerned with in making this change. With Meyer doing this — and I think he’s great for doing it and he’s doing it for the right reasons — it’s probably inevitable, but it’s a challenge for sure.

Chef John McCarthy, The Crimson Sparrow, Hudson, NY

I think we’re probably going to see this [no-tipping] trend more and more. Once more people realize you can do this, and the American diner becomes comfortable with not leaving extra money on top, it’s going to professionalize the entire restaurant industry. I’m seriously considering doing this very thing. We’ve talked about it not only as a way to pay everyone better but to inject some degree of certainty into the equation.

In the city there’s a real issue getting qualified kitchen line cooks and prep cooks, and my experience in the Hudson Valley is that times a hundred. It’s hard to find kitchen staff. There are a myriad of reasons for that, well articulated by Danny Meyer and others, but 45 minutes away we have the CIA educating future cooks who are graduating with significant debt. If there is any hope for getting young people into the kitchen, they need to make more money.

I was a lawyer for many years and the thing that has been missing in this entire discussion is the fact that the tips provided by the customer by law cannot be shared with the back of house. This situation where the front of house is high-fiving [after a busy night] and the kitchen staff are in the back going, ‘Man, we really sweated that out,’ could be made a bit better if the New York legislature would consider allowing such pooling. What we have tried to instill in our operation is that the whole restaurant is considered as one entity, with front and back working synergistically.

The idea is to really consider whether this proposal can be monetized properly so I’m not cutting front of house by 30 percent. That’s not fair to them; they’re doing a job and anticipating a certain level of pay, and I’ve had people here who have been with me since day one. There are many other moving components, too. The IRS now treats mandatory tips differently that voluntary tips. For example, if I have a party of six or more and a 20-percent gratuity is automatically added, the IRS said that’s no longer a tip, it’s salary. It became a huge issue for smaller operations like myself that can’t afford a lot of the accounting and other things that go into compliance to track what was salary and what was tip. Every time there’s a change in regulations and meddling by the legislature, they have the best intentions but an utter and complete lack of understanding of the operation.

I think you’ve got significant tax issues here, and that’s an expensive process, but Mr. Meyer is the standard and I think at the end of the day he’s going to make sure he doesn’t hurt his employees. It’s incredibly brave and he’s extending a significant amount of financial capital and reputation capital to do something he’s thought long and hard about to help this industry. I’m so glad he’s trying it, I really am.

Photo: Tricia McCormack Photography

Rachel Portnoy, Co-Owner, Chez Nous Bistro, Lee, MA

This is very complicated and I appreciate that smart, successful restaurants are putting their heads to a solution, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t see everyone jumping in. There is no perfect solution. I’m a pastry chef and I run the front of the house, but previous to that I was in the kitchen where I was working twice as long as the servers and making half as much as they did. I always said, “When I have my own restaurant, I’m not going to have an unfair pay structure.” We pool tips and the staff loves it; it makes everyone work better as a team and that’s what the customer should see.

But I was fascinated when I saw Mr. Meyer say he can’t find kitchen staff, because we can’t find cooks up here, either. I thought it was because we’re in the Berkshires, but it turns out that even in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, there’s an industry-wide kitchen shortage. We pay extremely well, we provide paid vacation and pay for health insurance but we could not find anyone to work in our kitchen! This year what we did was import people on a one-year French visa and we’re housing them, but my husband still can’t find a sous chef after two solid years of heartbreak. I really don’t think it was money related in our case.

The one thing that makes our living possible is the tax credit for all the tips and you’d be giving that up. In Massachusetts last year they changed the tax structure, so if you say parties of six or more are gratuity added, that is now salary and you have to separate it out. Danny Meyer can absorb this because he has a huge empire, but the move to no-tipping is not doable for a mom-and-pop operation like ours. It would kill me to raise prices more than 20 percent. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but it’s not feasible for places on a smaller scale.

Laura Pensiero, Owner, Gigi Hudson Valley, Rhinebeck, NY

I’m for paying people for what they are worth. I know my staff and they serve my clients well—they know the brand, the menu, the beverages. They should be compensated for that, and not by the customers but by the business. I’d rather pay people for their value and let customers tip for “exceptional,” which is what gratuity was supposed to be. I love a career waiter, which is so rare in this country but so common in Europe. If I go to a restaurant in Italy or France, I can watch one waiter run an entire room better than six people can do here. It’s amazing!

Do I really have to re-hire people every spring? I’d rather keep great employees and not have them feel like they have to figure something out for the winter. I understand things from their point of view, but it’s exhausting as an owner because people can’t make an honest wage in the winter based on tips, so they jump to another job. For a small business, like most restaurants are, to reboot, re-hire and train every spring to give customers the best knowledge and great staff, it’s complicated and it’s hard. If there were some sensible arrangement for restaurants to budget, it would be great to spread out payments.

But it’s very challenging, given the setup right now [to switch to no-tips]. Small businesses are taking enough of a beating. If they’d allow us to pay people without being taxed on it unfairly, I would love it, because the tipping system is so wrong on so many levels.

If they want to include a tipping system, let’s do a pool at the end of the night [with the entire staff]. There is no “I” in the restaurant business. Right now it’s a disengaged system; the kitchen works hard to produce great food and they hang out after hours with the people who work in the front of the house who have cash in their pockets, but everyone worked equally hard that night. It seems there is an absurdity to this that anyone would admit. It does not create a team. If we want the best service for our customers, then we want professionals serving them, and we should be able to pay people who are equally invested in the success of the business without being taxed on that!

David Wurth, Chef and Owner, CrossRoads Food Shop, Hillsdale, NY

Servers work very hard and they’re asked to maintain a lot of knowledge about the food and the wine, and they represent the restaurant in a very important way. They are the face of the restaurant and there is a lot of responsibility. That said, the cooks and the dishwasher contributed to that in a substantial way and they too should be rewarded. I understand the goal of the move that Mr. Meyer is making in striving to stabilize and eliminate the huge pay disparity when a server is making $300 on a busy night and another person is making $100.

If a restaurant is able to predict its revenue, then it makes sense to put this policy into effect. At Danny Meyer’s restaurants, he can probably say they are going to make X amount of dollars on any given night; I would think it’s a pretty solid number that he can count on X thousand and divvy it up among his staff. If you don’t have that ability, it’s riskier for the restaurant because they are guaranteeing the wage of the server based on tips, regardless of how much the restaurant makes. As it pertains to our area, we are a seasonal place and we do better business between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and that has to be taken into account. I don’t how this could be done, you have to figure that piece of it out.

It’s challenging and maybe even a little scary, but what owners may get out of it is golden as far as commitment and longevity from the employees. If this brings the [back of the house] up a few steps and they are doing better as a wage earner, it helps everyone. The mood is better, the feeling of the team is strengthened and the customers would pick up on that and want to support a business where there is that feeling of equal pay.

Scott Short, Proprietor, Kemble Inn | Table Six Restaurant, Lenox, MA

This is a complicated issue and goes beyond just server pay made up mostly by tips left by customers. I think that if consumers are interested in more fully understanding the costs of dining out, this extends further than just the cost of labor, but equally important is the cost of food and ingredients that go into dishes.

Restaurant margins are razor thin, and so while I applaud the notion customers have of wanting to have more reliable pay for workers in the restaurant business, I hope that over time this view will extend this fairness to the food purveyors, farms and other ingredient suppliers, too. Quality, non-scary, not-laced-with-chemical ingredients are expensive. When you see a $5 burger, or an all-you-can-eat something or other special, and you wonder how a restaurant can afford to do that, the first question everyone should be asking themselves is “What the heck am I actually eating!?” Stepping back to look at the big picture, this could be a real opportunity for consumers to understand what it truly costs to provide quality food, with quality service, in a delightful restaurant setting.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/01/15 at 07:09 PM • Permalink

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Wm. Farmer And Sons Raises A New Bar In Hudson

By Jamie Larson

There’s a lot new in Hudson, New York these days (see this week’s accompanying story). All over town, recently opened businesses are raising the bar in lodging, food, drink, design and style. One of them is bringing all those aspects together in a truly impressive way.

Wm. Farmer and Sons Boarding and Barroom on Front Street has created a beautiful and professional lodging and dining experience. The rooms, coffee bar and other boarding amenities are elegant and comfortable, employing a style reverent of Hudson’s history while acknowledging its modern relevance. But the big gem at the center of it all that’s a gift (not just to guests but also to spoiled locals) is the barroom.

“Barroom” is a bit of a humble misnomer for the two-level, fully formed restaurant. Owned by W. Kirby Farmer (the chef) and Kristan Keck, and designed and built by SchappacherWhite, DPC, the space takes inspiration from the bones of the 1830s building, employing raised, exposed brick fireplaces, dark stone, wood and finished industrial fixtures. Every seating option is unique, from the cozy two-tops by the windows and a single recessed booth, to the long central table and a large round arrangement. And, of course, there’s the namesake bar on the upper level. The space is unified in overall style but the individualized experiences lend intimacy to the large layout.

But no one buys a ring for the jewelry box, so let’s talk food. With full recognition of its laudable competition, right out of the gate the chef, Farmer, has put together a menu that’s on par with the best in town.

For a starter or bar snack you can get boudin balls made with the forage-fed pork from Kinderhook’s Lovers Leap Farm, a grilled octopus salad or a frisee salad with pork belly and cambozola cheese with a grapefruit and sweet shallot vinaigrette. And don’t pass by the mushroom starter. This mix of top-quality fresh mushrooms on puff pastry in a ham-spiked chicken jus shows that umami is a flavor our region’s cuisine has some deep wisdom in.

There are also excellent barroom staples including French onion soup, a fried chicken sandwich and a perfectly executed burger in a town of great burgers. The mains as well are based around staple ingredients but elevated by execution and inventive accompaniments. Any tavern demands a steak with fries on its menu and there is an outstanding one, as well as crispy confit Hudson Valley duck with beans and a beautiful trout paired with crawfish, butter beans and a citrus emulsion. Let’s not forget the velvety gnocchi, squash, braised kale and apple in a Parmesan gravy that’s a hearty meatless joy.

Starters and mains range from $10 to $30 and the menu will change seasonally. Specials and dessert options are announced at the table. 

The cocktails at Wm. F&S is a reason in itself for a visit. The drink program was designed by Sasha Petraske, whose Lower East Side bar Milk & Honey has been directly credited for sparking the global Prohibition-era, earnest cocktail revolution. The drinks he created for the Barroom are boldly straightforward, focusing on quality and precision rather than flair. There’s the Water Lilly, made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and Violette, and an Old Fashioned for those who actually like Old Fashioneds. Some drinks are only slightly different on paper but create completely separate experiences due to their main component and balance, like the Fitzgerald (gin, lemon juice, sugar and Angostura) and the Brooklynite (Anejo rum, lime juice, honey and Angostura).

Even the more inventive drinks are about making a statement rather than providing a colorful ride up a twisty straw. The Penicillin, with scotch, ginger, lemon and honey is medicinal but bright and the El Guapo, with tequila, lime, cucumber and a dash of Cholula hot sauce has a complex but measured bite.

Tragically, Petraske, 42, died suddenly in Hudson after consulting with Wm. F&S and the drinks at the Barroom are a testament to the relevance and vitality of his prematurely arrested professional legacy.

Wm. Farmer and Sons is a strong new player in the major league Hudson restaurant game. As lodging close to the train station, river and Warren Street, there’s undisputed appeal, but the Barroom makes it a destination for all — and a hard place to leave once you’ve pulled up a stool.

Wm. Farmer and Sons
20 S. Front St., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-1635
Tuesday-Friday, 5-10 p.m.
Saturday, 3-10 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/28/15 at 10:01 PM • Permalink

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Burgers & Frites Elevates Fast Casual In Lakeville

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

Area Canadians rejoice: poutine has arrived in the Litchfield Hills. Or perhaps instead of the gravy train you prefer your spuds served alongside escargot sautéed in herb butter? So long as you like them double crisped and airy, you’ll find fries done right at Burgers & Frites in Lakeville, Conn.

Served with an intriguing assortment of sauces such as truffle aioli or crème fraîche and bacon, the hand-cut and twice-fried potatoes are just one of the draws at this unassuming new French-American spot.

Located in a wood-beamed building beneath a chestnut tree, B&F is not trying to reinvent the classic diner wheel, but is offering something refreshingly different around these parts in the form of a fast casual restaurant using local produce and churning out some incredible house-made ice cream and desserts. (I’m skipping ahead of myself, but the largely seasonal treats menu developed by Chef Tommy Juliano, Jr. is something to get excited about.)

But first, the burgers: juicy Pat LaFrieda sourced. You may opt to keep things simple or dress it up by adding frizzled shallots, blue cheese or Nodine’s bacon. The patty is just thick enough, and the snappy bibb lettuce and garden-fresh tomatoes show the little bit of extra consideration that elevates humble to homerun.

The same can be said for the B&F hot dog, served on a buttered potato roll with both traditional toppings like sauerkraut and/or the premium route such as caramelized Vidalia onions.

And yes, veg-heads, there is something on the menu for you as well, though it’s not an expected bean burger. Nope, here you’ll find a massive grilled cheese, thick with melted Cabot cheddar. One can also opt for the build-your-own salad, again with an array of delicious add-ins.

Diners order at the counter, cutting down the wait time and making the eatery more family-friendly. Hungry patrons are quickly satisfied. And just because B&F is “fast casual” doesn’t mean it doesn’t change its menu with the seasons like any fine restaurant.

“Although we have only been open a little over a month, we have already made a number of seasonal changes to our menu,” said owner Patrick Sinchak. “Our salad toppings, our tomatoes are local, our ice cream flavors…we opened making a sweet corn ice cream using corn from a local farm. We are currently working on a mint chocolate chip ice cream using mint from our garden and we are also working on a salted caramel and apple ice cream. We are also selling apple crisp [right] while it lasts.”

All of the desserts are made in the B&F kitchen, including that remarkable small-batch ice cream. Whether swirled into a milkshake or topped with salted caramel, the results are superb. The first time we stopped into the restaurant, I tried the sweet corn with Maine blueberries. I’ve truly never had anything like it — sweet summer corn spun into a cup. The French favorite crème brûlée is well executed and on a recent blustery autumn afternoon, I gratefully consumed a cinnamon-spiked apple crisp as I watched vibrantly hued leaves swirl about outside the solarium. This place is a go-to treat, no matter the season.

Burgers & Frites
227 Main St., Lakeville, CT
(860) 596-4112
Open every day 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/19/15 at 11:35 AM • Permalink

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Alana Chernila Launches Cookbook #2: ‘The Homemade Kitchen’

Alana Chernila at a recent cheesemaking class.

By Lisa Green

Regular readers of our recipes page might have noticed that our twice-a-month contributor, Alana Chernila, has been absent for a few weeks. Don’t worry — she’ll be back. She’s just really, really busy right now, and for the best of reasons: Her new cookbook, The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking With Pleasure, has just been released and it’s a Big Deal, not just for our own community (which she, as a Great Barrington resident, is a cherished part of), but for her legion of fans who helped make her first cookbook, The Homemade Pantry, the beloved resource it is.

Both books evolved from Chernila’s blog, Eating From The Ground Up, which is as much a personal journal as it is a blog about food. Likewise, The Homemade Kitchen is itself organized in a manner that runs parallel to the way we live, not how to plan a party from appetizer course to dessert. Its sections — Start Where You Are, Feed Yourself, Use Your Scraps, Put Your Hands In The Earth — offer a more experiential approach to making meals, recognizing that cooking, food shopping and spending time in the kitchen allow us opportunities to slow down, observe nature, love our family and friends, and appreciate garlic throughout its stages of growth. Life.

“It came out of phrases that have helped me stay on track in the kitchen, and to make it possible for me to eat the way I want to live,” the Great Barrington native says. “Every time I sit down to a meal, or walk into the kitchen to create one, I have the opportunity to do something in my own way and help me live better.”

Chernila’s writing has a way of making readers feel better, too. Every chapter in the book, like each of her blog postings, is a glimpse into her thoughts and life, but it’s a reflection of our own, too. She tells us about cooking with her family, the people who have shared recipes with her and how to gather the courage to bring a meal to a grieving friend. She admits she is a slow chopper and a messy cook and that her garden grows as many weeds as vegetables. Even her recipes — uniformly compelling, accompanied by photos that make you want to run to the nearest farmers’ market this minute — unfold as if she’s right there beside you, guiding you along, and, like a good friend, encouraging you during those tense moments when you’re not quite sure something is right. In fact, one of her chapters is “Do Your Best, Then Let It Go.”

The Homemade Pantry. Copyright ©2015 by Alana Chernila. Photographs by Jennifer May. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

“Perfection,” she says, “doesn’t really have a place in home cooking.” But feeling good about what you’re doing in the kitchen does.

The book’s official launch happens on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Six Depot Café in West Stockbridge, Mass. Chernila promises “tons of food,” art projects, giveaways and a special gift for everyone who buys the book at the event. Then she’ll be taking off on an ambitious coast-to-coast book tour (she just participated in a panel of other big-name food writers at the prestigious 92nd St. Y).

After the tour, then what? She’ll come back to Rural Intelligence, of course. There will be a package of online cooking courses Chernila recently taped in Denver for Craftsy, a website that offers hundreds of online classes. And yes, she’s already working on a third cookbook set to come out in 2018, but that’s about as much as she’s ready to reveal right now.

The Homemade Pantry, Chernila says, “is a map for how, day in and day out, food shapes my life for the better, in the kitchen and beyond it.” Try a recipe and see if it doesn’t make your life better, too.

Book Launch Party, Sunday, Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m.
Six Depot Café in West Stockbridge, Mass.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/12/15 at 09:20 AM • Permalink

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Arethusa Al Tavolo: From A Dairy To Dining Extraordinaire

Colorado lamb tartare tenderloin

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

By now, you’ve no doubt heard the backstory of Arethusa al Tavolo, or at least of the fashionable names behind the restaurant’s inception. If not, a quick primer: Partners in business and life, George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis of Manolo Blahnik shoes fame bought a farm near their home in Litchfield, Conn. Over the course of the next decade, the dairy and vat-pasteurized milk business prospered, in 2012 expanding into a creamery and retail space housed in the Bantam firehouse, renovated by the duo, of course. Apparently the stylish team likes to keep busy, and a restaurant and wine bar opened the following year, located next to what once was the Village General Store.

What’s often left out of the tale, however, is the attention to detail and love of things done well that is evidenced in all endeavors under the Arethusa name. From the pristine barn stalls of the dairy farm to the crisp tablecloths and large format, playful pictures of the “ladies” of Arethusa (beautiful bovines) that welcome you in the dining room, a dedication to quality and appreciation of locale are always on display.

Quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs

This proclivity towards excellence extends to the oft-changing, Progressive American menu. Chef Dan Magill is certainly reveling in the area’s bounty. Having fun with nearby food finds is often the lost ingredient when moving from farm to plate. Not here. Chef Magill inventively showcases both produce and protein, and brilliantly utilizes the incredible resource that is Arethusa’s dairy goods.

The farm is the exclusive purveyor of all things dairy at the restaurant. Their milk products pop up frequently and in the most delectable of ways, starting with a bite-sized cheese curd arancini as amuse bouche and an appetizer special of thin flatbread with truffled ricotta and farm cheese, foraged mushrooms and caramelized onions, a wonder of flavors. Other “Beginnings” of note are local squash blossoms in a delicate tempura crust and filled with romesco and farmer’s cheese. Served with ratatouille, basil aioli and tomato jam ($16), a salad is something we recommend you do not forego here. The local strawberries, watermelon and black mission figs with house-made ricotta, arugula and crisp prosciutto is delicious and remarkably light.

Villa Vizcaya

For those looking for a bit more heft, a long-running favorite is the quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs. Chef Magill elevates a standard by incorporating surprising – and rich – complements such as foie gras, smoked potato-bacon and jumbo lump crab. If you’re a table of four, prepare to place more than one order or fight for a taste of each half. All of the first courses are actually quite substantial, with lobster and avocado salad or the amazing Arethusa Farm dairy cheese plate solid choices should you want a “small bite” while enjoying a drink at the bar.

And while we’re sidled up, we must make mention of Brian Khoo’s cocktail program. A considered list of classic cocktails concocted with a hat tip to summer, drinks such as The Huckleberry Sunrise, a punch made with 44° North Huckleberry Vodka, Sauza Blue Tequila, plus the juices of orange, grapefruit and lime sounds like an intriguing choice for those wishing to extend the season. So too the Pavan, Prosecco and passionfruit found in the bubbly Villa Vizcaya. Beer and cider selections are abbreviated but trustworthy (think Palm and Dog Fish Head) while the wine selection is a bit more robust. More than 30 wines are available at any given time, with a few tucked safely away in the temperature-controlled Cruvinet system.

Back to the food, and onto the Mains, with a stop in between for the breadbasket – housemade ciabatta with herbed butter sprinkled with sea salt. Someone in the kitchen knows a good thing when presented with it, and the gifts of Arethusa dairy just keep on giving. Now, onto the entrees. My only objection to an otherwise stellar dining experience is that sometimes there seems to be just too much happening with a dish. The desire to use every seasonal ingredient I’m sure is only heightened when you have such amazing purveyors and produce at hand, but dishes such as braised artichoke filled with matignon and foraged mushrooms ($17) suffers slightly from the addition of Tapping Reeve cheese, pickled lentils, sunchokes and tomato fondue. Any of these elements on their own is a standout, but eaten all together, some of the flavors get lost. Still, points for the pickled lentils.

More harmonious plates were presented in the hibiscus dusted Pekin – no g – duck breast with farro ($32) and the pan-seared diver scallops with broccoli, bacon, almonds, sultanas and verjus nage. The more straightforward the recipe, the more unusual ingredients are highlighted and we respect the chef for truly creating signature dishes.

That enthusiasm applies to the dining room itself, bustling with animated servers and tables full of diners talking excitedly between bites. Mind you, we visited on a weekend night so the energy was high. Brunch is a more relaxing affair, but I must admit to enjoying being in the midst of people enjoying themselves, so I don’t mind a bit of din. It lends a celebratory atmosphere to an evening.

As does dessert, and Pastry Chef James Arena keeps you in a party mood with decadent treats like peaches ‘n’ cream tres leche and a chocolate tasting of a mocha hazelnut brownie “ice cream bar,” malted milk chocolate Luxardo cherry trifle and a warm chocolate beignet with Valhona chocolate sauce. I would have been happy with just the latter. The trio made me ecstatic. All desserts are priced at $12 and if you can actually keep your temptation in check, for good measure you still may want to take home a pint of ice cream made on premises next door.

And lest you think that Mr. Malkemus and Mr. Yurgaitis have completed their renaissance of this little strip of Bantam, plans are underway to open a breakfast and lunch spot across the street from the restaurant and creamery.

Arethusa al Tavolo
828 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
(860) 567-0043
Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday 5-8:30 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/07/15 at 09:50 PM • Permalink