Locavore Versus Organic Versus….
By Sam Pratt
Has local replaced organic as a prime selling point for the region’s top restaurants? Is farm-to-table a bigger deal to people than pesticide-free? And what about Animal Welfare approval? Rural Intelligence consulted with several of the area’s dining gurus to see where their—and their customers’—preferences lie, and what undergirds these food choices.
For years, many choosy diners preferred organic. Diners of Conscience would scan their menus with a microscope in search of salads and entrées with the organic label. Leading the charge since the 1990s in Dutchess County is Luna 61, originally based in Red Hook but since moved to Broadway in Tivoli. The highly eclectic menu at Luna is among only a very few strictly organic bills of fare in the region, right down to the beer selection—which includes standouts like St. Pete’s and Pinkus.
Owners Debra and Peter Maisel’s cooking draws from world cuisines, from Laksa noodle pots to tofu Sloppy Joe tacos (their pad thai is at left), and their dedication to delivering pure, vibrant meals has drawn (or convinced) many non-vegetarians, who find that exotic spicing more than compensates for an absence of meat. But to consistently deliver such diverse organic purity year round would be difficult on a strictly local basis. So for many years now, Debra says, they have relied on an organic food distributor based out of Northern California, making a trade-off between food miles and the guarantee of a non-GMO meal.
But now, from Allium to Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game, a growing number of area restaurants are highlighting their locally sourced products as much as, or more so than, their organic ones. David Wurth, chef and owner of CrossRoads Food Shop on Route 23 in Hillsdale, focuses on farm-to-table first, organic second: “I have come to see that local matters more than organic to my customers. My goal as a buyer of ingredients that will appeal to our customers is to purchase the best local products available.”
So while CrossRoads does mix in some organic ingredients, Wurth does so “not necessarily because they are organic, but because they have proven to be the best quality in their category. The organic label, depending on the product, doesn’t always mean it’s a better product,” he argues. “I know myself to be a very careful and picky buyer. I have relationships with a handful of farmers, not all organic, who I know to be growing and raising the best available.”
But while Wurth may prefer a lightly sprayed Columbia County peach to a pricier stone fruit from an organic grower, he feels it both more essential and more viable to offer organic meat and dairy. “Organic protein is another matter. A customer concerned about grass-fed organic beef, lamb, chicken or eggs will pay more for it, and I therefore can charge more. [And] the difference in the product is striking,” he adds.
As a chef, Wurth finds inspiration for his cooking in “the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables grown locally. That I know the farms and farmers is a comfort and a joy. [Whether] they grow organically doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re local.”
For some restaurants, the farm-to-table trend seems driven simply by the ease and relative affordability of obtaining quality local products—whether or not they’ve been doused in RoundUp. But for most, it’s also a philosophical choice: a decision to help maintain the area’s agricultural heritage, and a desire to make “know your farmer” more than a slogan. A recent culinary exchange between the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley, reported here in April, witnessed many chefs touting the local origins of their special tasting menus.
Grazin’ Diner on Warren Street in Hudson instantly made a name for itself with an ironclad commitment to sourcing its ingredients locally, right down to the ketchup sides which accompany their burgers. But manager Andrew “Chip” Chiappinelli (below, roasting a pig) has a take on organic vs. local that splits the difference between the Maisel’s approach and Wurth’s.
“We use as many certified organic ingredients at Grazin’ as possible, and where applicable,” says Chiappinelli. “The beef, eggs, chicken, milk, and some of the pork all come from Grazin’ Angus Acres in Ghent, which isn’t certified USDA Organic, but would be in a heartbeat if we decided to apply. In fact, the fields where [the animals] graze are in fact organic, but as a whole the farm is better than organic. It’s not worth paying the government for a certification that you exceed.”
Many of the ingredients that Grazin’ draws from other local farms are, in fact, certified organic. Their dry goods—flours, sugars, salts, peppers, and spices—are sourced from New York State organic suppliers. But others—such as their providers of potatoes and onions—slot into that organic-but-not-necessarily-certified category. “If they’re not officially organic, I don’t care as long as they’re local and doing it right,” Chiappinelli says.
Grazin’s début in 2012 was also marked by their designation as the first Animal Welfare Approved restaurant in the entire U.S. When sourcing products from other farms (such as the cheddar, quark, and buttermilk they buy from Hawthorne Valley Farm in Harlemville), Grazin’ is relieved that “those items are also Animal Welfare Approved.”
But do customers really care? Chiappinelli says that “Since we’re known for specializing in this sort of thing, most of our customers are in-house because they’re looking for it. Some walk-ins expect it to be a classic diner. But my best estimation is that 75% of these walk-ins are excited about what we are doing or at least happy to try it, while 25% may be looking for an old-school diner with a $5 turkey dinner plate.” But he finds that persuasion and experience overcome many obstacles. “Once they’ve asked 10-20 questions about each of the items, they liked each of our answers, and they liked the food, then they become regulars.”
Further south in Hudson on 3rd Street, Pelaccio and his wife Jori Emde’s recently launched Fish & Game is taking yet another approach for the benefit of customers concerned about the welfare of the animals on their menu: they make a point of using virtually every edible bit of the beast… which means brave diners may find everything from tripe to brains on the set menu, at least from time to time.
By limiting the range of options they have to cover at each sitting, a set menu also helps Fish & Game “give an example of the bounty of the area,” says Pelaccio. It’s a vertical, rather than a horizontal, model. Rather than trying to source an entire trifold menu from Columbia County farms, they control the number of dishes to be prepared so that the kitchen staff can focus on quality, and prices can be kept at a merely expensive, rather than an astronomical, level. Dictating the six or seven courses each night paradoxically “gives us a level of flexibility to make changes day to day, based on what’s available,” Pelaccio explains. “So just like many of the products we buy, there’s an organic nature to our model.”(0) Comments
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Dining: Smoked and Satisfied at Big W’s
By Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson
Husband Edgar had had enough. It was time to get off the sofa and on our way from NYC to our home in the Berkshires. “If you take me to one more locavore, non GMO, vegan, nouvelle vegetarian, organic, or whatever place, I’m not moving a muscle.” Although I’m often a fan of such places, a marriage is a marriage, and one must make… if not compromises, let’s just say detours. It was inevitable: big chunks of animal flesh have tended to be lacking in restaurants we’ve been patronizing as of late, healthier and more politically correct though they might be. “Yes, Edgar,” I said, “but it’s going to take us longer than usual to get there, and remember your blood pressure.”
“That’s fine by me,” he responded. “I’m doing the driving anyway.”
So last week we decided to go to Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q, a rib joint somewhat off the beaten path in Windgale, NY, requiring a turn onto Rte. 22 — not as fast as going straight up the Taconic but no less delightful at this time of year.
It’s always fun to discover a new dining place, although as soon as you do, your friends all say that they knew about it and loved it already. (It was included in a Rural Intelligence roundup of Route 22 food stops.) That’s the case with Big W’s, which turns out our friends had been visiting for years, first when it was just a truck stand and now in its more permanent shop-front locale. They liked it so much, some said that they’ve had their weddings catered by them. This time we concur: Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q is really a find. The atmosphere was unpretentious, the food excellent, and the portions were not just plentiful but somewhat overwhelming.
“You’re newbies,” our host, Warren Norstein, said when we had finally arrived and after we asked if the “Try it All Combination” really was enough for two people. Then he and his whole team turned to us as one and chimed out that it was “more than enough!” And because we were “newbies,” Warren insisted on adding an entire serving of beef brisket to the overwhelmingly large platter of food he was putting together for us, making Edgar a convert for life. (We ate some that night and had enough left over for several days.)
We had decided on take-out, but it would have been just as fun to eat at Chez W’s. While small, the dining area — three or so booths and about four or so regular tables all crammed together hugger mugger — is full of amusing kitschy decoration. Anyone for a flying pig or a large wooden relief of a cow on the wall?
When it comes to the menu, life is simple, clear, and straightforward: four choices of meat—chicken, pork, spare ribs, or beef brisket. All of it is dry rubbed and slow cooked. After that, you can make some small changes: pork “pulled” or “sandwich style,” meat by the pound, or some kind of combination thereof.
Our “Try it all Combination” ($25.00) was a revelation of tender, succulent, moist, smoky-flavored meats, and a choice of two sides; we topped off our order with a crisp and tangy coleslaw and smoky beans that were full of bacon, both excellent, as well as Aunt Lottie’s Apple Cake ($7.00) and Real Banana Pudding ($4.50), all of which we had to finish off the following night.
Afterwards, in the car, Edgar and I did dispute some issues: whether the brisket was better than the pulled pork, why the meat on the spare rib seem to melt in the mouth, and how did they get the chicken so moist if it had really been cooked for 30 hours. We decided that a return visit was necessary to try the meat chili, as well as the Brunswick Stew. Edgar was very happy, and did not speed as we drove the rest of the way home, two factors that no doubt added not only years to our marriage but — from my viewpoint at least — our life expectancy in general.
Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q
1475 Route 22
Wednesday - Saturday; Noon to 8 p.m.
Sunday; Noon to 7 p.m.
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Fish & Game: An Ode to Hudson’s Tasty Past
by Dale Stewart
It was around this time last year that Zak Pelaccio, pioneer of the nose-to-tail culinary movement, made his Hudson debut, holding court like a rock star at his booth at the second annual Ramp Fest. One could hear Pelaccio’s deep belly laugh throughout the packed building. Reporters, bloggers, and foodies lined up two deep to talk to him: He kept his sunglasses and straw hat on and a can of Pork Slap beer in his hand, giving passersby even more reason to speculate on who was getting a hero’s welcome, and taking the spotlight from the elusive ramp. (Photo at left from Carole Osterink’s Gossips of Rivertown.)
Over the next year, rumors of Pelaccio possibly opening a restaurant in Columbia County were in full swing, spreading from Old Chatham (near his family farm) to Hudson, where Pelaccio has just opened Fish & Game, immediately scoring key mentions in GQ, The New York Observer, The New York Times, Grub Street and Eater. “It’s a bit much, right?” Pelaccio says of all the attention. “It’s hard to do things quietly in a small town, and food right now is so hip. Opening any new venture, but particularly a restaurant, is very personal. We’re a small, tight-knit group and we’re still figuring out what Fish & Game is. We spent a lot of time building it, but it’s not until we got into the space and felt it out that we really understood what kind of animal it was.” This is a departure from the Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue empire Pelaccio built in New York City, and in which he will shift his role to adviser and occasional collaborator.
Pelaccio started this venture with Hollywood heavyweight Patrick Milling Smith and the chef’s “tight-knit crew,” consisting of general manager Scott Brenner, co-chef Kevin Pomplun, and bar director Kat Dunn. “We also have our friend Walter Grohs working with us in our baking program; he’s so amazing, he’s from another planet,” Pelaccio praises. And the team wouldn’t be complete without their secret weapon, alchemist and “wife,” Jori Jayne Emde, who collaborated with Pelaccio on his noted cookbook, Eat with Your Hands. “We’re not legally married,” Pelaccio jumps in to say, “We just say we’re married because we share everything and live together. We just haven’t gone to city hall.” More than year ago he and Emde left Brooklyn for permanent residence in Columbia County, just two hours north of Manhattan.
With his scruffy beard and wildly curly long hair, Pelaccio gives off a calm, laid back vibe: He seems more like a Coachella music festival attendee than a chef who’s earned a reputation for sparking culinary trends. He’s also a genuinely nice guy; a no-ego collaborator who has no fear of losing the spotlight, quick to praise the members of his staff as equals he couldn’t live without. Emde jokes, “He literally could not be in the kitchen for three weeks and everyone would still write about the amazing meal and what a great cook Zak is.”
The process and end results of his efforts are perhaps the keys to his fame. Fish & Game boasts an intimate dining room with seating for about 36 guests, with two prix-fixe menus ($68 each), “Omnivore” and “Vegetarian,” Pelaccio says. Many of the dishes themselves are spiked with house-made, one-of-a-kind condiments produced by Emde from Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, vermouth, vinegars, and kimchis. There are few things she has not thought of fermenting. “I put a lot of focus into not wasting anything, from carrot tops to their skins for a vinegar. I can make the bitters for the bar and all the tinctures, and even mustard.” It’s that zest that gives the flavors such unique layering. On a recent menu the grilled lamb was soaked in an anchovy marinade that really gave the dish legs.
The kitchen is equipped with both the latest gadgetry and some time-honored tools, including a CVap (Controlled Vapor Technology oven), rotary evaporator, and an old-fashioned wood stove with hand-forged rotisserie. Pelaccio executes the orders that come in, calmly reading the new tickets with the precision of a surgeon. He tastes almost everything that comes out of the kitchen, nodding his head in agreement with the preparation. The open kitchen serves as therapy of sorts; Emde points out that “It’s more motivational to not scream and yell in the kitchen,” although Pelaccio is quick to laugh and point out, “I can get snippy,” and jokingly says, “I usually sleep on the couch and Jori does all the work, and I wake up and take all the credit.”
Fish & Game’s seasonally driven ingredients are sourced from farmers and artisans throughout the Hudson Valley, as well as gathered and collected by the culinary team from local forests, fields, and rivers. The dishes come out of the kitchen exquisitely plated and thoroughly explained by a well-trained staff. The vegetarian version is often a subdued take on the meaty counterpart, with some serious standouts like the parsnip “abacus” dumplings with charred onions, cooked in whey and amaranth, and a rich mushroom broth with thinly shaved radish and sherry over akaogi farm rice ramp ragout. On the “omnivore’s” menu, a signature dish is smoked Vermont cut of pork with fiddleheads, red orach, yarrow, and mostarda, each with overwintered carrots with a maple sap glaze (and smoked pork belly for meat eaters) with pepperwort. On a particular night, both menus had asparagus with duck egg hollandaise, an assortment of leaves borage vinegar, angel flake salt, and ended with a chocolate cremeaux Vermont black walnut with spiced crème fraiche. The bar menu changes frequently, but dishes like country pâté with rhubarb kimchi will be likely mainstays.
Fish & Game found its home in a 19th century blacksmith’s shop, its boudoir meets men’s cigar lounge meets high-end brothel vibe a stylistic reinterpretation of Hudson’s past. All of the factions bonded together with the keen eye of architect and interior designer Michael Davis, who says, “This was a wonderful collaboration, among numerous people, to capture the spirit of Hudson. We had this very old building to contend with, and in the end we were able to preserve it with effort and affection.” In the dining room, Mid-century modern Italian chairs mix with handmade black walnut dining tables made by a local Hudson Valley artist. The fireplaces in the dining room and bar, and the wood-burning oven were made with brick and stone salvaged during construction. The space’s undeniable style is an ode to Hudson’s bordello past and stylish present, with deep-colored walls and red-velvet wallpaper, rich leather sofas, library-sized wing back chairs, and dark gray wool-like banquets encircling the dining room. (The space in its entirety was skillfully constructed by Hudson’s Peggy Anderson Associates.)
In the not-too-distant future, the restaurant will also offer an upstairs wine room/private dining room for intimate parties. Right now, Pelaccio wants to know a few things before he rests. “How are we doing with the menu we are serving? How is it being received by our guests? We can’t delegate that, we can’t hire someone for that. I’m sure at some point we’ll have some semblance of a life back. Or at least get a nap.”
Fish & Game
13 South Third Street
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A Connecticut Bakery and Cafe with a Brooklyn Pedigree
by Dan Shaw
When Audrey and Sam Leary left Brooklyn last summer to take over the bakery across from the Stop & Shop on Route 44 in Canaan, CT, they stumbled into a plot worthy of a sitcom about artisanal urban foodies who discover the business they’ve bought isn’t the bakery they thought it was. “We like and respect the previous owners but they did not approach baking as we do,” explains Audrey, 27, who has the daft charm of New Girl star Zooey Daschenel and blogs about her life at homerunballerina.com. “We bought a fully stocked kitchen and all their inventory, and the first day we discovered there was not a stick of butter! They used a lot of mixes and frozen items that just had to be defrosted.”
The Learys would have to start from scratch.
Being cost-conscious as well as sensitive to the tastes of the bakery’s existing clinetele, the Learys decided to phase in a new menu made with high-quality ingredients like Vermont’s Cabot butter and King Arthur Flour. Although Audrey, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, had several years of hipster Brooklyn baking experience—including stints at Baked in Red Hook and The Annex in Fort Greene—she and Sam, 30, were new to running their own business. “We decided we would take things slow and develop our point of view,” she recalls. They plan to change the name any day from the Black Forest Bakery to the Blackberry River Baking Company (as soon as all the graphic elements are in place.)
By last winter, the locals and residents of nearby Falls Village, Norfolk, Salisbury and Sheffield were buzzing about the new baked goods at Black Forest. They were ordering birthday cakes made with real butter-cream frosting. They were marveling at the Parisian-style macaroons, the dense tea cakes, the croissants, and the crusty loaves or rye and peasant breads. The buzz became a roar when they started revamping the menu, adding dishes like chunky corned beef hash ($7.50) and “green eggs with ham,” in which eggs are scrambled with house-made spinach pesto and specials like Italian Eggs Benedict (below) with prosciutto and pesto Hollandaise ($9.50) “We use a lot of egg whites for icing so we had leftover yolks that were perfect for Hollandaise,” Audrey explains. All the dishes are served with yeasty toast and addictive home fries. “We cook the potatoes in bacon fat,” explains Sam, who gave up vegetarianism when he fell in love with Audrey four years ago. “We don’t like to waste anything, and we always have leftover fat after cooking bacon.” But vegetarians can find happiness at Black Forest too, and Audrey allows that she borrowed the idea for the “red flannel hash” ($7.50)—beets, potatoes and goat cheese served with eggs—from a cafe in Brooklyn. “When I like something at another restaurant, I come home and try to deconstruct it so I can recreate it myself.”
The couple is slowly redecorating the cafe, adding a graphic blackboard menu wall and a buttercream-colored wall hung with a collection of bundt-cake molds (several of which are gifts from grateful customers). “People have really responded to the new menu,” says Audrey, whose repertoire ranges from pumpkin pancakes and cinnamon apple French toast to quiche and croque madame served with a fresh side salad of baby arugula. (To appease old-timers, they’re still serving a side of conventional potato chips with the more prosaic sandwiches.) The quality of the baked goods and entrees is important to them for personal as well as business reasons. “We eat at least two meals a day here,” says Sam. “We had to make sure the food was super fresh and delicious.”
Black Forest Bakery & Cafe
(soon to be Blackberry River Baking Company)
18 East Main Street (Route 44), Canaan CT
Tuesday - Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Special pop-up dinner with Canaan native and Master Chef Jake Gandolfo on Sunday, May 26 @ 7 p.m.
$30 per person.
Advance reservations required.
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No Yawns at Yianni’s in Chatham
By Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson
There are just some times when a restaurant brings out emotions that a mere dining experience shouldn’t necessarily bring forth. Edgar and I felt all sorts of things during — and after — dining at Lippera’s, located in a rather grand complex carved out of a once dilapidated and then quite nicely restored former hotel called the Chatham House in, you guessed it, Chatham. It’s a spot that created great expectations. Frankly, I’ve always found that grand spaces such as these, whether commercial or domestic, pose a serious probem (my own tends toward the cozily chic, half Bunny Williams, half Judendstil, with a tad of midcentury modern thrown in); people always expect something wonderful to happen in them, and heaven help you if you don’t provide. Meeting those expectations is a tall order and seemed to be the goal of Lippera’s, now closed after the sad passing of the owner, but also sad to say, the food itself did not always rise to the heights of the main dining room’s ceilings.
So Edgar and I would often feel a tad dispirited after dining there. The building looked so nice, the space had so much potential, and Chatham could use as many good places to eat as possible. But now, in comes Yianni’s Restaurant, just opened this month in the same location but newly reconfigured with a large centralized bar for drinks and sushi. Owned by Peter Stefanopoulos of the Four Brothers family (which also includes George, Christo, William) and fashioned after their fine Boathouse Restaurant in Lakeville, the admittedly impressive-looking spot is now serving, both for lunch and dinner, something worth climbing the rafters for. The answer to making these fine historic rooms come to life, it turns out, is being a little fresh, sassy, and culinarily all mixed up. But in a good way.
Contrary to whatever impression you might have gained when driving past one of their chain of mega restaurant/pizzerias spread throughout the region, The Four Brothers are also true cognoscenti about food, known for their delicious imported bottled olive oil from their own groves in Greece. They also use and sell their own salad dressings, goat cheese, yogurt, lamb, beef, and vegetables from (their own) Hudson Valley farm — using other locally grown veggies as well for the restaurants. This lends itself to a mix of influences that come together in a refreshingly spunky and tasty way at Yianni’s. There’s no hint of the chain restaurant here.
As it was in its former incarnation, one can choose to sit in the large elegant main dining room with tall brick walls, windows, and balconies reaching up to the 3rd floor, or in the more intimate tavern side of the bar. But this time, an extensive menu plus nightly specials showcase a great deal of variety and dextrous cooking experience, with seafood playing a star role. There’s an American/fine Greek/Japanese air to it all (talk about fusion!), with an abundance of choices from appetizer specialties such as escargot ($9) and Maryland crab cakes ($12) to a variety of seafood, NY strip steak, roasted duck or rack of lamb ($22-$32) in the main course section. Pastas include cioppino ($30) and shrimp and scallop risotto ($28), and, a rarity for the area, a raw bar (with oysters, clambs, shrimp, and a wonderful lump-crab cocktail, from $12-$20). Large salads are offered with various meat options. I chose the sushi; spicy tuna and Housatonic rolls (smoked fresh salmon, roe, and cream cheese; $8 each), which were fresh and delicious. Edgar, once again, opted for the burger, which comes with excellent steak fries ($12). Prosecco is on the wine list along with an excellent organic wine from Estate Brintzkiki, imported from Greece and distributed by a local Chatham resident, Greco Trading. There are many desserts to choose from, including cheese cake and an old-fashioned root beer float. The new waitstaff is still in training but seasoned members from the Boat House are there to oversee, and service ran smoothly throughout the meal.
This time, when Edgar and I got back in our car to drive home, both of us had smiles on our faces — and no mixed feelings in our minds or stomachs.
29 Hudson Avenue (Rt. 66)
Chatham, NY 12037
Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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Out of the Blue and Into the Mouth of The Red Lion
Jane, an old anthropologist friend who has been living overseas for many years, suddenly announced she was coming on a visit to the Berkshires and wanted to take a day to revisit a number of her favorite places here. “Could we get together for lunch?” she asked. Expecting her to want to go to some terribly exotic new place, she surprises me by adding, “I want to go back to The Red Lion. I hear that the chef is a locavore.” You’d have thought that after spending time in the wilds of Madagascar and the rain forests of Brazil, Jane might have preferred something other than was caught in the jungle the night before. But, I guess, we both have always liked fresh things.
And so I found myself sitting down in the more intimate and relaxed Widow Bingham’s Tavern, a space that adjoins the Red Lion’s main dining room but is more cozy and informal. The ceiling is low and the tables smaller, but it makes for a chance to chat quietly, just what we needed to do after not seeing each other for so many years. Jane had many Margraret Mead-like tales of cavorting with the Yananami and adventures in places you or I wouldn’t be caught dead in, while I just talked about Edgar and, of course, the blossoming food scene in the region.
I tend to enjoy a light lunch, but Jane is a big eater, and I knew from past experience that the extensive lunch menu would allow us both to do well. Moments later Kathy, our waitress, bustled over with water and a list of specials. I knew Jane would be pleased that they had hearty specials such as spaghetti and meatballs or the irresistible-sounding pizza with roasted yellow and red tomatoes, olives, and white sauce ((daily specials are priced between $10 and $22). Tentatively I say that I would like to take some time to review the long menu, while at the same time Jane states — quite firmly — that she knows what she wants.
Turning to Kathy she asks if the chicken pot pie ($17) is still on the menu, and if it was good as it was the last time she had it ten years ago. Now, my friend can be quite formidable, especially when dealing with lunch, but Kathy looked her squarely in the eye and, without missing a beat, said that it was as good as it had ever been. Whilst Jane was having her tête-à-tête with Kathy I had had a chance to pick one of my old time favorites for lunch: half a turkey sandwich and a cup of the vegan tomato soup ($12.00). Within minutes Bob, the ever efficient bartender, came over with our glasses of red wine.
My soup came, fresh and zesty with a sprinkle of herbs on top. My sandwich came on a large bed of fresh salad and the slices of turkey and stuffing were thick, moist, and full of flavor. One lovely touch was the smidgen of mayonnaise and cranberry sauce on the bread. Not too much or too little.
Now to the chicken pot pie, which comes in a bowl with a very light puff pastry on top. Kathy offered to help serve it and delicately placed the pastry down on a plate, covering it with thick chunks of chicken and vegetables. (The recipe is on the Red Lion web site). “Excellent,” Jane murmured, finally quieted.
Well, suffice it to say, that executive chef Brian J. Alberg really knows his stuff. The restaurants and bars at the Red Lion have not just kept their old standards up but have seen substantial improvements under his leadership. The ingredients are local and top quality. This is not so much a case of upholding strong traditions but building on them, setting high standards to which future generations will have to aspire. An hour later we had caught up with our news and started to think about more pressing matters: dessert, for instance. The choices were a lemon tart or Indian pudding ($9.00 each). But this was overkill for Jane, who was more than satiated and ready to go and run off to do more exploring. “Let’s see what they have done to the Norman Rockwell Museum!” —Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson(0) Comments
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The Greens Restaurant at Copake Country Club
I’m not a golfer myself but happen to be particularly fond of that breed of sportsperson. (For example, husband Edgar, dear man, is one.) At the very least, they certainly know how and where to dine. Take The Greens restaurant at the Copake Country Club for example. It is always a good sign (and quite a relief), when walking into a new dining place for the first time, to see someone you know and have them rush over to give you a big welcome, immediately singing the praises of the food.
There is no disguising the fact that The Greens is part of a golf club. This turns out to be a tremendous strength, atmospherically speaking: The restaurant is packed with a mix of golfers and families enjoying the quite extensive menu selections, and the bar is buzzing with linksmen discussing their last round (on the course, of course), keeping the barman on the move mixing and serving. In warmer weather, just around the corner we hope, the restaurant has a terrace that overlooks the golf course and Copake Lake; one can only imagine the gorgeous experience that will be when it opens. In the main restaurant, things are a bit more formal. At the center of the room is a wonderful free-standing, Swedish style fireplace that spreads its glow throughout the room. The chandeliers are made from deer antlers, and one side of the room is dominated by a handsome floor-to-ceiling wine rack, on its very own an impressive display. The staff are welcoming and bustle about efficiently.
The first thing my companion and I ponder over (Edgar is away for the weekend) is the wine list, a solid selection at great prices; $28 for a bottle of very nice chardonnay, for example, with similar prices for the reds. The bread arrives, an excellent crusty sourdough, and, joy of joys, the olive oil is already on the table — no need to ask.
Now to the menu. The shrimp and scallion tempura starter sounds delicious ($15), but we want to leave room for dessert and decide on the Equinox Farm baby greens with blue cheese phyllo turnovers ($11, pictured above) and the Equinox Farm baby arugula salad ($10) instead. My blue cheese phyllo is just excellent, full of rich and creamy melted cheese.
We had arrived a bit late and missed out on the swordfish special so chose instead the pan-roasted cod ($24, at left) and the unusual sounding “organic cumin and chili-roasted chicken” ($23) from the regular menu. The chicken is lightly spiced, tender and moist. The cod is a heady mix of flavors, a plate filled with red Himalayan rice, cipollini onions, spinach, and micro greens with a tomato caper vinaigrette. By now we are really relaxed and even though people are beginning to leave, the chatting and laughter from the bar next door makes us feel we are part of “the collective.” The service never waivers — keeping its eyes on us for whatever we might need.
Contrary to what we might have expected, portion sizes were more than generous, and we decide to skip dessert. We ask for our check, which turns out to be surprisingly reasonable, pack up the remnants of a bottle of unfinished wine, and make our way home. “Well,” I say to my partner in crime, “it looks as if we have found another great place for dinner.” — Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson
The Greens Restaurant
Copake Country Club
44 Golf Course Road
Copake Lake, NY 12521
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Gallic Goings On: The Newly Reopened Café Adam and Chez Nous
I haven’t been to Paris this spring and, what with husband Edgar always going off on business trips and my increasingly busy schedule as a freelance journalist and fundraiser, it doesn’t look as if we will be able to any time soon. All the more reason I’m pleased to be able to get our fix of French nearby, which we usually do at two of the region’s best local restaurants—places that have been noticeably absent the last few months due to either refurbishment or relocation to bigger and better premises across the “rue.”
Through the handiwork of chef/owner Adam Zieminski, Café Adam has long been a Great Barrington staple for French and Continental style dining. It’s always been one of my favorites, with a reliably Gallic menu of items such as Parisian-style hangar steak and fresh seafood bouillabaisse. Edgar particularly likes the “Burger à la Française,” Northeast Family Farms pasture-raised beef served with Gruyère, homemade fries, and garlic aioli, on a Berkshire Mt. Bakery bun, while I myself always look forward to inventive specials such as grilled sea perch with hummus fritters. Until this week, Café Adam had been located on Route 7 between Hammertown and The Meat Market. In the past, the L-shaped room could be a bit, shall we say, “cozy” on a busy night. But this is no longer a concern now that they’ve moved across Rte. 7 to an elegant and beautifully decorated space in the Jennifer Commons complex. The new space is relaxingly roomy and far less crammed when crowded, which it often is. Another addition, which is really going to make a difference, is the spacious and relaxing bar area, likely to become a destination in its own right. (Above.)
This is all good news. But has it affected the food and service? As always, we were greeted by Sylwia Orczykowska, Adam’s wife, and although we saw some new faces amongst the staff, much of the old team was there working as hard as ever. A large portion of the menu is new, but has been built on their tried and true staples. (My only disappointment was the absence of artisanal sausage, one of my consistent favorites over the years.) We tried the light and moist black cod, which came with a sauce that had a subtle hint of lemon. The chicken breast was stuffed with a delicate mix of herbs and came with a mix of fresh al dente peas and vegetables.
Meanwhile, just ten miles up the road in Lee, Chez Nous Bistro has taken advantage of its traditional winter break to refurbish and rebuild its bar area. Before the renovation, it was very traditional and had room for only three small tables. Now the room is more open and the wood paneling lighter. The bar itself is lower and more inviting. This is a great place to have a drink while waiting for friends to join you for dinner or even to take a relaxing and less formal meal.
Owned by two chefs, Franck Tessier and Rachel Portnoy, Chez Nous may be located in Lee but once inside definitely has enough of a Francophile vibe to feel transporting. This chilly week, I particularly enjoyed their cassoulet with crispy duck leg and the braised lamb prepared “Basque” style—dishes I certainly would never have the time and patience to prepare at home. And save room for dessert: Portnoy, a pastry chef who learned her profession in London and at “The Point” up on Saranac Lake, NY, offers goodies such as French almond macaroon strawberry shortcake with macerated fresh berries and lemon curd cream, and a warm apple and raspberry crumble with vanilla gelato. I dare you to resist.
All in all, with both of these refurbished and renewed dining spots, I am now able to put Paris out of my mind and look forward to summer, chez ici. —Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson
420 Stockbridge Rd Ste 3
Great Barrington MA, 01230
150 Main St.
Lee, MA 01238
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A Culinary Exchange Between the Berkshires & Hudson Valley
On Sundays and Mondays when his restaurant is dark, Bjorn Somlo (near left), the celebrated chef/owner of Nudel in Lenox, hits the road to see what’s cooking in neighboring towns and counties. He’s become friends with many competitors and a champion of contemporary regional cuisine, which led him to dream up ChefX, a culinary exchange program in which a group of Berkshire chefs will cook for one night in Hudson (at The Crimson Sparrow on Sunday, April 7) followed by a group of Hudson chefs—including Benjamin Freemole and John McCarthy III (above left)— who will cook in Great Barrington (at Allium on Monday, April 29. ) “My staff and friends go to Hudson all the time, but the community at large does not follow our lead so we are trying to make it easy for people to broaden their horizons,” says Somlo. “I thought it would be great to share our clienteles and offer our customers special one-night-only food experiences.”
Somlo has micro-tested the concept by inviting other regional chefs to cook in his kitchen, introducing his patrons to the pleasures of different restaurants’ dishes. In January, Joel Viehland of Community Table in Washington, CT, prepared a special tasting menu one night at Nudel and DA|BA’s Daniel Nilsson created a “pop-up” version of his Hudson restaurant at Somlo’s establishment for a single winter’s evening. “For a long time, people acted as if Hudson and the Berskhires were different worlds,” says Somlo, who recently spent a night behind the stove at DA|BA to help celebrate Nilsson’s birthday. “I want to bridge that gap.”
For the Berkshires’ traveling team, Somlo recruited Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn, Jamie Paxton of The Meat Market (who will soon be cooking at David Wurth’s Cross Roads Food Shop), Stephen Browning of Bell & Anchor and cheesemonger Matt Rubiner. The Hudson Valley chefs who will be cooking in Great Barrington on April 29 include Benjamin Freemole and John McCarthy III from The Crimson Sparrow, Hugh Horner of Helsinki Hudson, Jon Spoto and Chip Chiappinelli of Grazin’ Diner, Jeff Gimmel of Swoon Kitchenbar, and Josephine Proul of Local 111.
Alberg, who lives and farms in Columbia County and works in the Berkshires, believes that collaboration is a necessity in a rural area that is trying to establish itself as a farm-to-table food destination. “One of the things that I feel sets us apart from other regions is that we look past our individual goals and and focus more importantly on community goals,” he says. “It helps us accomplish our personal goals by strengthening our culinary stance in the region and beyond.”
Somlo, who is 33, notes that a younger generation of chefs and restaurateurs understand the importance of working together to develop a local food culture that is both environmentally and economically sound. “I am always encouraging my clientele to try other restaurants,” he says. “I firmly believe that if the guests have a good night out—whether it’s at Nudel or Bell & Anchor or Crimson Sparrow—they will go out more often. I believe in the rising tide.”
Jamie Paxton, who has worked in both the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, agrees. “I think there’s opportunity to expand and merge our customer bases, offering more options and variety to the people of the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, providing a larger market for the businesses in these two regions, helping to sustain and grow local farm and food businesses,” says Paxton, who will be making confit rabbit (from Wannabea Farm in southern Vermont) with local lettuces (from the greenhouses at the Berry Patch in Stephentown, NY) for the April 7 dinner. “We face similar challenges of running businesses within areas with limited populations with great seasonal fluctuations, which offers us the opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and solutions to these challenges.”
Somlo hopes that diners will respond as enthusiastically to the concept as the participating chefs and discover a newfound appreciation for the region’s culinary creativity and, perhaps, a willingness to drive an extra 20 or 30 minutes for an interesting meal in the future. “We designed ChefX to give the guests an experience they cannot have elsewhere or exactly the same way ever again,” he says. “It was designed so everyone involved comes out a winner.”— Dan Shaw
$100 per person, not including tax, tip and beverages.(0) Comments
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Where to Dine on Easter Sunday
How do we feel about Easter brunch or dinner in a restaurant? Well, it depends on the restaurant. The holiday calls for someplace with a sense of occasion, someplace pretty or festive that is serving spring lamb or ham. More than a few restaurants in our region fit the bill (such as the Red Lion Inn, left), and they were were still taking Easter reservations when we checked in with them this week. Easter is one of the last holidays where most stores don’t open, so it’s a wonderful day to take a drive and enjoy a leisurely meal that someone else has prepared. If you’re looking for another type of dining experience on Easter, check our Restaurant Listings (which are based on anonymous visits by the staff of Rural Intelligence, which does not accept free meals.)
Castle Street Cafe
Great Barrington, MA
After twenty years in the Berkshires, chef Michael Ballon knows how to serve up holiday meals with flair but no pretension. His family-friendly restaurant will be featuring a $33.00 prix fixe menu for adults and a $12.50 menu for children under 12. Noon - 6 p.m.
As you drive through horse country on your way to this traditional country restaurant, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the days when Bing Crosby’s “Easter Parade” was a pop song. The $39.95 buffet (half price for children under 10; under 2 free) includes eggs to smoked salmon, roast beef, vanilla French toast, assorted desserts, and more. 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
The grand old resort will be serving a lavish buffet brunch (including a waffle station, an omelette station, chef-attended pasta station, and a carving station with ham and loin of beef) in the mansion ballroom from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Adults: $45; children under 12: $24.95.
The Dream Away Lodge
The former bordello boasts an ecumenical life (and table) that mixes traditional fare – ham and lamb – spiced with international influences (think couscous and Greek yogurt) and rounds it all off with chef Amy’s amazing desserts.
Reservations: (413) 623-8725
The Greens at the Club
This home-away-from-home offers up brunch and dinner every Sunday, and has added a special menu to each in honor of Easter. Enjoy potato pancakes, braised cabbage, Scottish salmon, and, of course, the traditional lamb leg and local, roasted ham.
John Andrews has long been known as a restaurant that sources as much as possible from local growers and purveyors. Chef Dan Smith will be serving his always delectable regular menu on Easter from 5 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Reservations: 413 528-3469
Mezze Bistro + Bar
The weekly “comfort Sunday” menu ($20 for two courses and $25 for three courses) featuring dishes such as Mighty Food Farm eggs with ramp greens and East Mountain Farm bacon lardon and bacon brioche toast, will be served from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
The Old Inn on the Green
New Marlborough, MA
With intimate dining rooms illuminated only by candlelight, the Old Inn has a romantic Masterpiece Theatre ambiance. Thankfully, chef/owner Peter Platt serves audacious contemporary food, but in deference to tradition his Easter menu will include leg of lamb and smoked ham. Dinner: 1 p.m. - 8 p.m. $45.
South Egremont, MA
The Old Mill treats its customers like extended family, and the handsome dining room is homey in an elegant way. If you are putting together a group that includes friends from the Berkshires, Connecticut, and Columbia County, it’s perfectly situated for everyone, and on Easter Sunday you can dine early or late, from 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
You can have anything you want—from challah French toast to roasted lamb—at this luxe locavore spot in a pastorale setting. Easter brunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The Red Lion Inn
You certainly wouldn’t feel out of place wearing a flowery Easter bonnet in the landmark hotel’s Victorian dining room, while gorging on a four-course meal that might start with chilled asparagus-and-king-crab soup and end with lemon pound cake with strawberries & fresh cream
Noon - 4 p.m. Adults: $55; children under 12: $27.50. The regular dinner menu will be served from 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. There is a $109 room rate for anyone having Easter dinner or dining that evening.
If it’s warm on Sunday, you can have brunch between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the Riverside Patio at this hotel overlooking the Hudson River. The Easter Brunch buffet features carved beef, French toast, quiche, and a grand dessert table. There will even be an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids and live music by The Bernstein Bard Trio. $35 for adults; $16.95 for children ages 6 to 12.
Route 7 Grill
Great Barrington, MA
If you and your kids are not shirts-tucked-in and tablecloth kind of people, then Route 7 Grill is more a down-on-the-farm way to spend Easter Sunday. With its emphasis on locally raised food, this upscale BBQ joint is offering (in addition to its regular menu) a special three-course menu ($25 to $35) by executive chef Chris Pratt. 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Chef Serge Madikian will be serving his usual exotic fare such as katafi crusted halibut and chicken bastillia with orange-curry emulsion from 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. on Easter Sunday.
The historic tavern will be serving locally sourced deviled eggs with jalapeno, honey-pineapple glazed baked ham, homemade desserts, and more in its warm, rich ambiance. Surprise menu additions and revisions possible. They will be serving from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Pine Plains, NY
The only time I ever had Easter lunch in a restaurant was at Provence, the pioneering bistro in SoHo, which was owned by Michel and Patricia Jean, who own Stissing House in Pine Plains. Everything tasted like the essence of spring in the French countryside, and it is sure to taste that way this Sunday. They will be serving their regular menu from 11:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. and several seasonal specials.
It always feels like spring at Swoon, which be open from noon until 9 p.m. on Easter, serving its regular dinner menu the entire day as well as brunch specials from noon until 3:30 p.m.
What could be more appropriate for Easter than dining in a renovated 1825 church? Chef/owner Josh Kroner plans to serve his usual multi-culti fare—such as barbecued duck quesadillas and pork tenderloin with Thai coconut-orange curry—and Easter specials beneath the soaring ceilings of the former First Baptist Church [left]. Dinner: 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.
West Stockbridge, MA
Touted as the “Taste of Germany” in the Berkshires, this historic, plank floor inn offers a savory array of luncheon treats, from warm shallot marmalade to leg of lamb with rosemary-sweet garlic jus (and, of course, apple strudel!). Serving luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.