Elixir: Eat, Heal, Repeat in Great Barrington
By Nichole Dupont
“Make your food your medicine and your medicine your food.” The concept is an ancient one, but the carrying out of the creed is still one of the greatest challenges in this country. So many bad choices to make. Obesity rates and disease rates indicate that in our society, food and medicine live in separate houses, on separate lands.
But what a joy to find out that it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a healer in town who promises to be serving the masses once the word is out. Elixir is a tiny café tucked in next to the Triplex Cinema off of Railroad Street in Great Barrington. Its chairs and tables spill out on to the concrete patio of the building, immediately endearing patrons to the casual feel of the place, like a small café in Naples that’s been there for decades. Inside is a museum of mason jars and glass bottles, all filled with wildflowers and herbs and liquids at varying stages of “tincturing” and fermentation. A bowl overflowing with rose petals adorns a large center table.
We order tea. My husband and partner in almost all culinary crimes orders chilled pomegranate; I choose green Moroccan mint. And we wait, making small talk. A table of women is clearly having a girls’ night out. A man in a linen shirt is waiting for a date that is standing him up. Amazing, familiar, but not-from-this-continent smells are coming from the tiny kitchen area.
It’s when the tea arrives, on a silver tray, in a Turkish tea pot, pre-sweetened with honey and perfectly minted; that’s when the healing begins.
“God, this tea is good,” I say, reveling in the refreshing fresh mint and the ornate blue shot glass that I continually pour my tea into. I’m already starting to get that weird feeling of being in another place.
Elixir has only been open for four weeks and for now (and I hope forever), owner/chef/herbalist Nancy Lee is keeping the menu simple and the flavors complex. On this humid summer night, we set our gaze on hummus and vegetables —labelled simply as “snacks” — and potato leek soup. The hummus is a surprise. It’s creamy, and has a heat to it that is authentic. The soup is green, not overrun by the potato starch.
“This soup is different,” says my vegetable-reticent companion. He holds the spoon for me to taste. “Those leeks will not be ignored,” I say. “Not this time.”
We clean our bowl/plate, anticipating the entrees. The server (a really fabulous, kind of shy young woman who is learning the ropes about all the tinctures and herbal ingredients) brings our food…it wafts from the interior out into the street. He dives into his tempeh Reuben, I take a minute to smell my jasmine rice with Thai butternut-curry. There are plenty of crisp vegetables in just the right amount of sauce. The dish is piquant yet light, and colorful. It has not taken on the blandness of color that can sometimes befall anything with zucchini. It is, in essence, perfect. I am not hungry anymore, which is often my chief complaint besides being tired from rigorous physical activity sans meat.
“How’s your Reuben?” I ask. My husband has been more quiet than usual throughout the meatless meal. I assume it’s out of disappointment.
“It’s…amazing. You need to…just try it. The combination is amazing.”
He practically throws a chunk of the sandwich at me. The tempeh is a great texture, not rubbery, it’s got a slight smoky flavor to it. It’s smothered with spicy/sweet mustard and pickled beets (there might be an onion in there, too) and the whole thing is so crisp and tangy it may actually take the sweat away from the summer evening.
The mosquitoes take interest in our revitalized blood so we move the party inside, as there is still dessert to be eaten. Please trust me when I say that this is the kind of café where you do not ask for the check after the main course is eaten. Stick around for the dessert. Seriously.
Strawberry short cake with maple whipped cream — all totally fresh. Fudge made with currants, almonds, coconut sugar and drizzled with a honey lavender sauce. It is dizzying but so good. While lapping up the honey with the textured rich fudge and breathing in the lavender, I realize that there is no other name for that café.
“I feel good,” says my husband.
“I think that’s the point,” I say.
70 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA
Open 10 a.m. -10 p.m. every day but Tuesday.