Camp Fire: The Hot New Spot From The Meat Market’s Masters
By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett
There is a transparency about the food at Camp Fire in Great Barrington, Mass., the standalone eatery located next door to The Meat Market where, surmises Forbes contributer Hal Rubenstein, Jeremy Stanton is serving up the best burger in America. The open-concept kitchen at Camp Fire sets the tone for the restaurant’s vibe where the food, and how it is being prepared, is the main attraction.
The bulk of what is served at Camp Fire is sourced from local farms and purveyors, and the fuss is minimal. The restaurant’s aim is to serve straight-ahead food in an inviting, laid-back setting — right next door to The Meat Market, where Stanton has been carving up fresh, local, pasture-raised meats cut to order for the past four years. The proximity of Stanton’s two ventures allows for true collaboration between chef and butcher, who work side by side to craft menus that showcase the best seasonal and local ingredients. The purveyor and farm list, hanging from a clipboard in the kitchen, includes Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, Rawson Brook Farms in Monterey, Equinox Farms in Sheffield, Sky Farm in Stockbridge and Rock City Mushrooms in Old Chatham, New York. This local bounty, coupled with a ready source of local meat, is quickly becoming the talk of the town. (Note: At the time of this writing, Camp Fire is awaiting its liquor license.)
Straight-shooting and well-informed chef Thomas Lee [in photo, right] is making real food for kids and adults. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he chatted at length about the simple yet conscious philosophy behind Camp Fire, a place he sees as “a diner, a burger joint, with a local bent.” As we chatted, a box brimming with local produce arrived: long, slender carrots, bunches of beets with soil still clinging to the roots, hairy parsnips and leafy kale. I recognized the contents as the likely ingredients for the root veggie hash served with poached eggs ($9), from the breakfast menu. At the same time, Lee is honest about what menu items are selling fast.
“The fact that we have three cows, hanging in the back for ground beef, defines that we’re a burger joint,” he says, adding that for the 30 customers who had come in for lunch, 20 had ordered burgers.
And the burgers are good. I ordered The Meat Market Burger ($13), a half-pound grass-fed burger served with cheddar, pickles and aioli on a challah bun with a side of hand-cut fries. Delicious. The burger was cooked perfectly, and the flavor was outstanding. The juicy grass-fed beef, sourced from three different local farms, is ground fresh every day and the superior quality is apparent. My 12-year-old was delighted by the Reuben sandwich ($10) that came piled with corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss on grilled Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread with a side of fries that she deemed, “salty and super good.” An extra side of the aioli, for dipping, made us both happy.
My 9-year-old daughter opted for The Mini Meat ($9), a quarter-pound grass-fed beef burger with cheddar, pickles and aioli on a potato roll with a side of hand-cut fries. It was good, and she enjoyed the chance to order a smaller version of “the best Burger in America.” In retrospect, I should have directed her to the kids’ menu, an entity I usually deplore but now understand is taken very seriously at Camp Fire. One choice from each of three categories — all for $9 — sprang from Stanton and Lee’s collective experience that eating out with kids often equates to “paying way too much for buttered noodles and having to feed [your kids] when you get home.”
At Camp Fire, the thought put into building a square meal for kids is evident: first, choose a hot dog, cheeseburger, crispy chicken fingers, grilled steak or grilled cheese; couple that with a side of hand-cut fries, mac-n-cheese or buttered noodles and add either fruit, veggies or a green salad to round out the meal. In short, it’s a kids’ menu that’s not only palatable and full of whole foods, but also offers variety.
In many ways, Camp Fire has chosen to go against the grain. Rather than define what an individual’s experience will be, Lee has relaxed into the kitchen and is letting the customers define their own experience. The constant, according to Lee, is “affordable, delicious food that makes you feel good.” He likens eating at Camp Fire to grocery shopping at the Co-Op Market, also in Great Barrington. Sure, you might spend a little more, but you leave knowing that you have chosen good, wholesome food. In the end, the tradeoff is invaluable.
389 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Breakfast menu is available on weekends until noon.