Omelettes Meet Duets: 5 Musical Brunches In The RI Region
Bobby Sweet & Lara Tupper at The Starving Artist
By Jeff Kosmacher
“Let’s meet for brunch.” Who doesn’t love that suggestion? It evokes such a great vibe of hanging out around food and conversation, along with, if you like, permission to start drinking early. As if brunch wasn’t already a sublime creation, we must also celebrate whomever was inspired to add live music to the menu. Honestly, you can drop me into the sensory pleasures of a musical brunch and I will soon lose all track of time.
Lucky for us, the glorious alliance of brunch and live music is alive and well in our region, with inspired culinary and melodic offerings.
Musical brunch began the very Sunday this downtown eatery opened in 2011. “I still remember it like it was yesterday,” recounts manager Emmy Davis. “We had The Easy Ridin’ Papas play.” The laid-back place favors acoustic guitarists, with small jazz combos mixed in, all locally sourced (as is their art gallery). Brunch includes more breakfast items than their primary menu. A favorite is the Beet Sweet Hash crepe — sautéed local roasted beets, caramelized onions, uncured organic bacon, sweet potatoes and red potatoes, and local goat cheese, topped with two local sunny side eggs. Or go sweeter, with the crunchy breakfast crepe made with organic sliced bananas and strawberries, and topped with homemade granola, Greek yogurt and local maple syrup.
Brunch Hours: Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m., music 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
40 Main St., Lee, MA
It’s no coincidence that music (bluegrass, blues, jazz or gospel) is on the brunch menu here every Saturday and Sunday, considering the owner is Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame. Top touring and regional acts are on stage while you dine, such as on a recent snowy Saturday when I had the great fortune to hear two sets by the banjoist Hubby Jenkins from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This club, with its rustic and open feel, also takes good care of your tastebuds. Fried chicken and waffles, brioche French toast, and the crabmeat and avocado omelette are fan favorites. Or you can sink your teeth into a burger or fish and chips.
Brunch hours: Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., music noon-2:30 p.m.
130 Route 22, Pawling, NY
Sunday jazz brunch here goes back to 2008, when this haven alongside the Hudson (and an Amtrak station) re-opened after a thorough restoration. Look forward to a casual and fun atmosphere. The full English breakfast is hard to find anywhere else in the area — sausages, bacon, blood pudding and all — and is a testament to owners James and David Chapman, brothers from across The Pond. Or try the Timbuktu, a simple cheesy hash with onion and tomato topped with a fried egg. Their prix fixe includes juice; choice of mimosa, Bloody Mary or Prosecco; any brunch dish; and coffee or tea. You’ll hear straight-ahead jazz, often from small groups led by Bard professors or a vocalist like Elaine Rachlin.
Brunch Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., music 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
4 Grinnell St., Rhinecliff, NY
Two newcomers to musical brunching are also worth mentioning. Both present music on a more seasonal schedule:
Julianne Homola is proud that since she took over this cozy village spot in 2017, every dish has been made fresh daily in-house with local ingredients. She describes building her brunch with an “artistically plated menu.” For your appetite and eyes there’s the Rainbow Sandwich with beet hummus, red cabbage, baby spinach, cucumber, pepper, tomato and a slice of beet on local artisan brioche. The Brunch Bowl became so popular it’s now a weeklong offering — a large mixed baby green salad with sprouts, carrots and tomatoes, topped with edible flowers when they’re in season. J&J’s keeps the music light, mostly with guitarists and vocalists.
Brunch Hours: Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., music 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (March-Sept.)
1 East Market St., Red Hook, NY
Duke, Billie, Thelonious and Miles are smiling down from jazz heaven on the setting of this “cozy fireside Sunday brunch,” held in a beautifully maintained space from the 1760s. Sundays featuring area jazz musicians kicked off this January for a limited annual run through April (brunch is served year-round). Chef Laurel Barkan’s inventive menu is divided among savory, sweet, and side dishes, ranging from smoked salmon with potatoes to mouth-watering buttermilk biscuits with eggs. And prepare yourself for her grilled chocolate bread sourced from the nearby Berkshire Mountain Bakery. Talk about orchestration!
Brunch Hours: Sunday 11:00-3:00, music noon-3 p.m. (Jan.-April)
864 Undermountain Rd., Sheffield, MA
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Joel Viehland Resurfaces At Swyft In Kent, Conn.
Joel Viehland. Photo by Evan Sung.
By CB Wismar
For those of us who develop attachments to our local (usually renowned) chefs and make it a practice to keep up on their whereabouts, there’s good news. Joel Viehland, who conceived the award-winning Community Table in Washington, Conn. and left it a few years ago, has landed at Swyft, which he opened recently in Kent.
Located at the corner of Main and Maple Streets, Swyft is the casual half of a duo restaurant combination that will be completed in the summer of 2018 when Ore Hill, the formal half, opens in the totally renovated Swift-Bull House.
The gourmet vision of internationally celebrated, James Beard Award-nominated chef Joel Viehland will benefit from Viehland’s impressive credentials garnered over a career that spans Noma in Copenhagen, the Gramercy Tavern in New York, Herbsaint and Bayona in New Orleans and, of course, Community Table in Washington (which appears to be coming back to life soon under new management).
“I’m really excited to build upon some of the regional themes I was exploring at my previous restaurant and bring a rustic but elevated experience to diners in Kent,” Chef Viehland said.
Photo by Evan Sung
Both restaurants will take advantage of the excellent resources of local farms. The Swyft menu appears simple enough, but the chef’s attention to the detail is apparent with every dish.
Clearly, the signature dish at Swyft is the Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza. There are four “red” pies on the menu and three “white” pies. Prices range from $14 to $17, depending on toppings. Toppings, sourced at nearby Rock Cobble Farm, will change with the seasons.
The Al Diavolo red pizza ($17) has a refreshing snap to it, balanced by a hint of sweetness supplied by a touch of hot honey. The translation of the Italian may approximate “to the devil,” but the pizza is heavenly.
For all the pizzas, which are baked to perfection in a Pavesi oven that Viehland imported from Naples, the underlying crust is truly worth noting. Elsewhere on the menu, in the “small plates” section, there also is an offering of naan, the puffy Indian bread that is served hot out of the oven. The pizza dough — created from the chef’s 30-year-old “Sour Girl” dough starter — enjoys the puffy texture of naan, topped by such ingredients as house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, stracciatella cheese, pecorino, pancetta and sweet peppers.
Photo by Evan Sung
Further into the small plates section, Maine mussels in a tomato broth ($16, or $18 with fries), baby back pork ribs with a magical guanciale xo sauce ($15), and Parmesan gnocchi with leeks and dried tomato ($17) are standouts.
If full entrees are your preferred fare, then you may have to travel far to match Swyft’s rabbit Milanese ($25) or the stalwart of southern Italian menus, pasta Bolognese made with hand-cut pappardelle, beef, pork, veal and San Marzano ($21).
As we have noted in previous reviews, a fine measure of a new restaurant is how they treat the humble, yet important hamburger. The Swyft Burger boasts fontina cheese and basil aioli and comes with “old school fries.” At $17, it’s well worth ordering and was cooked to absolute perfection as directed to the server.
The staff at Swyft seems as young as the restaurant, but that is a very good thing. They are enthusiastic about the offerings, responsive to the guests and knowledgeable about the chef’s intentions as well as the ingredients. They’ve mastered the wine and beer offerings (which change from time to time) and can readily explain the choices of the whiskies, rums, tequilas, scotches and gins offered from the ample bar.
Incidentally, if you’ve left room for dessert, the citrus cake with yogurt and calamansi ($10) is elegant, as is the flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts, mountain mint and crème fraiche ($11).
The entrance to Swyft is a modest garden gate on the Main Street side of the building. Signage is in keeping with the understated rustic elegance of the building restoration. Care has been taken to preserve many of the 18th–century features, including the hand-hewn beams and the fireplaces.
3 Maple St., Kent, CT
Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30–10 p.m.
Reservations are encouraged.
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Garden Of Earthly Delights: Botanica Grows In Great Barrington
By Nichole Dupont
The first thing you notice about Botanica, the newest torchbearer of café culture in Great Barrington, is that there are a lot of plants. So many, in fact, that they steam up the windows — a marked tropical rebellion against the cold outside. Big glossy banana leaves, dozens of brilliant red and pink amaryllis, some succulents… all in pots, all beautiful and all for sale.
This is not the first time I’ve been to Botanica since its quiet opening the day after Thanksgiving. And I know I wasn’t the only one who was chomping at the bit, waiting for the café/plant shop to open. In fact, according to co-owners Carla Blades, a well-known local baker, and designer Adam Medina, they had to paper the windows while they remodeled the space at 34 Railroad Street (formerly the Seeds housewares store) because so many people were peeking in. Now, the 12-foot front windows give way to ample sunlight in the long galley cafe, which enjoys even higher, pressed tin ceilings and a clean, open layout that is equal parts sunroom, eatery and micro-market.
“A place like this is kind of like a cultural establishment,” says Medina. “There is an immediate sense of belonging where we can contextualize ourselves in our daily lives.”
The second thing you notice about Botanica: there is no official, recognizable percolator. Instead, eight single-cup glass filters hang from the wall behind the bar. It’s a guarantee that every cup of coffee is fresh, made with beans roasted exclusively for the café at Assembly Coffee Roasters in Pittsfield. In addition to pour-overs, the beverage menu includes the usual suspects — espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, flat white — all churned out from an impressive Slayer espresso machine and served in Botanica’s now signature red cups. I ask if they have milk alternatives for lactose wimps like myself. Blades is already shaking her head no.
“We don’t have almond milk, we don’t do soy milk,” Blades says.
“But I want to try the cortado,” I say. “I can’t do milk. It will ruin me.”
“Oat milk,” she says with finality. “Seriously. It’s delicious.”
Turns out I’m not the only one with a milk “difficulty” (a few of the charming baristas and Blades herself can sympathize). The oat milk cortado — I’m a devoted coconut milk girl — is rich, and, of course, complements the coffee. Other non-coffee beverage offerings include Burnt Sugar Lime and Rose Petal Honey house sodas, a Maple Steamer, assorted teas, and even root beer floats.
The temptations are many. And there’s the food. Everything on the one-page menu is familiar, yet foreign within the context of the Berkshire victual culture. Definitely something you’ve seen before, just needing a little nudge out of palate nostalgia. Steel cut oats served with rock salt and marmalade, or with seared pears and almonds ($9), baked eggs with bacon, leeks and fresh ricotta (served in a small skillet, $13), and egg tacos with a healthy hit of chorizo and lime sour cream ($11) all round out a simple, yet flavorful breakfast menu. Salads highlighting seasonal offerings — pears, oranges, olives, lavash crisps — give way to flavorful mains and soups.
“I love food, we love food,” says Medina. He is waiting on his own polenta bowl to power up for the busy day ahead. “What we have here, people are familiar with. It’s traditional food but it’s interesting. It’s not limited.”
There are subtle changes in the menu from week to week, but one staple that many revisit is the Sopa de Lima. I’ve had it at least three times. You can actually feel yourself not wanting to carry on casual conversation while savoring this wide bowl of chicken, mountain yam and chipotle lime ($12). It is… spoiler alert: cliché… healing. And the borscht is a delight for caraway lovers. Both soups, just like the rose geranium plant that I continue to covet and will most likely purchase, are fragrant, and require focus and reflection.
“We still have so much vision for this place,” says Blades. “We’re constantly stretching that to see where it can go.”
For now, Botanica is keeping pretty strict café hours, but plans to extend beyond the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. window are already underway. Talk of opening the back patio at the first sign of warm weather, as well as opening the house for special evening events, is already on the proverbial wind. But for now, excellent coffee and soup will suffice.
34 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA
Open 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.
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Yum Yum Noodle and Annabelle’s Open in Red Hook
By Jamie Larson
When the two most visible and well-situated business locations in the center of Red Hook, New York went vacant at the same time last year, we, along with everyone else, waited with bated breath to see what would open in the prominent, window-lined buildings, catty-corner from one another at the crossroads of Route 9 and and 199. The village and region has lucked out with the new arrivals, Yum Yum Noodle Bar and Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop.
The former is the third brick-and-mortar location of the hip and extremely popular Asian fusion restaurant company first opened in Woodstock, then Kingston. The latter is a quaint bakery filled with the aroma and flavor of top-notch artisan bread and mouthwatering pastries.
Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop
7501 N. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays
7 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends
When you first walk into Annabelle’s, the grand picture windows, high ceilings and elegant decor are almost enough to distract you from the siren smell of bread and pastries. Almost. The star of Annabelle’s is the long glass display case packed with bakery staples and an ever-changing array of goodies created by owner and baker Anne O’Doherty.
What makes Annabelle’s so well suited to the center of the village is O’Doherty’s approach to business: she listens to what the community wants. She changes the lineup of what she’s making nearly every day based on what people are clamoring for the most. Right now she says she’s selling a lot of raspberry bars ($2.95), quiche ($4.50 by the slice, $25 for a large, $15 for a medium), cinnamon buns ($3.95), croissants stuffed with spinach and cheese ($4.95) or ham and cheese ($5.95), and big cookies of all types ($1.50)
There are also all manner of pies, cakes, pastries and cupcakes rotating through the cases on any given day and O’Doherty will be happy to make whatever you like to order. She’ll even use your recipe. Haven’t had your grandma’s signature dessert in a decade? Dust off the notecard from the ancient recipe box and she’ll whip it up.
Her loaves are fabulous, as well. If you’re the type of well-meaning bread snob that judges a bakery by its baguette, then Annabelle’s is going to rocket to the top of your favorite bakery list. There’s a subtle depth of flavor, and a perfect texture to the crust and interior. The first time we tried it, it was a genuine and welcome surprise.
Annabelle’s opens at 7 a.m. so it’s a perfect spot for breakfast on the go, although you’re going to want to get comfortable at a window seat even if you’re just running in and out for a coffee and a scone.
Yum Yum Noodle Bar
7496 S. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
Open every day 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
We’ve sampled Yum Yum’s dishes many times over the years from its food truck, which pops up at events across the region, but now that Yum Yum is in Red Hook, the full menu and hip atmosphere that’s made it so successful at the Woodstock and Kingston locations is all ours.
The space is warm and inviting, with Yum Yum’s trademark raw wood bench seating and purple and green floral design. The window-lined walls draw you into the space, and once you’re in make for excellent viewing of the bustling town as you warm yourself with a bowl of noodles, dumplings and inspired signature cocktails. Even though this is the third Yum Yum (fourth if you count the truck), for owners Nicole Cawley and Erica Mahlkuch, there isn’t the slightest whiff of stale franchise. The space feels vibrant and part of the community already.
One of the best things about Yum Yum’s menu is how easy it is to personalize. If you’re getting a noodle bowl, you get to pick from a list of broths, types of noodle, and protein, so you can order what you’re comfortable with or try something new. It’s both an excellent place to take folks who don’t have a lot of experience with Asian food, as well as for those who are looking for more authentic regional dishes. Yum Yum also makes things easy for vegetarians and the gluten-free set.
For $13.50 you get a huge noodle bowl with your choice of noodles including ramen, rice, soba, udon or tonkotsu. Your broth choices are vegetarian, coconut curry, pork, chicken, dashi and miso, and you then add beef, braised pork, chicken, house-made seitan or tofu. Pork belly, shrimp or salmon are a few dollars extra. Every bowl comes with veggies, mushrooms, nori and a soft-boiled egg. Each customizable item is well balanced and dynamically flavorful. It’s the perfect meal for the current cold snap.
But there’s a lot more than “just” the noodle bowls at Yum Yum. There is a red curry fish stew ($17), vegetable pad thai ($10, proteins extra), miso-sake cured salmon ($16) and more. Yum Yum also has inventive daily specials. Whatever you get is perfect for lunch, dinner or takeout. It would also be a shame to overlook the small plates; they include steamed or fried dumplings ($8), steamed buns ($9.50) and satay, ($8) to name a few.
Once you start going to Yum Yum Noodle, it’s hard not to get addicted. It’s easy to find something you love and get it over and over again, but it’s also a place that rewards you for getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.
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All That Java: Walk Right Up For A Cup That’ll Make You Smile
All That Java, Rhinebeck. Photos provided.
By Lisa Green
This is a an unequivocally happy story.
After all, it’s a story that owes its genesis to coffee, and if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll understand why it’s a mood enhancer.
But it’s also about a couple of happy folks in the Hudson Valley who not only love their coffee, but wanted to bring some of that joy to others — and deliver that joy in the most efficient and, may I say, adorable way possible.
Samantha Sapienza conceived of ALL THAT JAVA and, along with her partner, Patrick Madden, manifested her vision to create small, mobile coffee shops emitting “stellar coffee and a happy vibe.” The first location, in Rhinebeck just outside the village, became an instant hit when it opened in August 2016. The second, on the Poughkeepsie side of Walkway Over the Hudson, took up summer-into-fall hours in May last year. This winter, the Walkway location has been moved to Windham (New York) Mountain Resort to offer coffee slope-side.
Sapienza, who lived in Millbrook, New York before she moved to Seattle, became a drive-through coffee fan out West, and when she came to Rhinebeck to visit her mother, was astonished they didn’t exist in this area.
“These places are all over the West Coast,” she said. “It was part of life out there — it was the norm to have one on every block. I always thought they needed to be here.” An idea was planted.
After 15 years in Seattle, divorced and with three young boys, Sapienza moved to Rhinebeck in 2012, and began planning her coffee dream. Getting her ducks in a row took longer than she expected, but she used that time to work on branding, at which she is expert. A former photographer, she had dabbled in graphic design, but her skill is evident in everything from the ubiquitous ALL THAT JAVA logo, her charming videos, ATJ’s Instagram feed, and even its whimsical tchotchkes. (The name, by the way, was always in the back of her mind. It’s a reference to her parents, who are jazz musicians, and a play on the Bob Fosse production “All That Jazz.”)
Madden and Sappienza at The Walkway Over the Hudson.
The coffee shops are actually tiny houses built on a trailer and are semi permanent. The 8x12-foot structures, which they put together themselves, are super efficient and meant to be run by one person, but can handle two or three when it’s busy. Since buying land is not part of the dream, the mobile aspect offers the best-case scenario.
For the first location, Sapienza drove around Rhinebeck to find somewhere convenient but not in the village. She approached the Rhinebeck Tack owners, who gave her free rein over their sizable parking lot. She wanted it to be a drive-through but Rhinebeck wouldn’t allow it, so it’s a “modified drive-up.”
The Walkway, too, was an easy sell. “We reached out to them, and they came back to us quickly. They’d been looking to do things like this and were thrilled to have us,” Sapienza said.
And the coffee? It’s not an afterthought. Sapienza procures the beans from a roaster outside of Seattle (“we leave the roasting to the roaster; they’re the experts”). It’s a really simple operation. There are two blends — one for espresso, one for drip coffee. The menu is fairly basic — for coffee houses these days, anyway — but includes Zoda, ALL THAT JAVA’s own coffee soda recipe, and Frappienza, a reflection of Sapienza’s name and the shop’s own version of a certain coffee house’s Frappuccino. There are coffee ice cubes for the iced drinks, gift cards (“All That Money”) and the beans are for sale. There’s ordering by text, too.
The convenience of the walk-up coffee is great, sure, but it wouldn’t have caught on and stayed popular if the java didn’t deliver the goods. A quick glance at the reviews on ATJ’s Facebook page indicates why the local coffee lovers have so quickly embraced their tiny java supplier.
“It starts with the coffee,” Madden said. “The coffee is great. Our customers come here and for a few moments there’s no red states or blue states, just a good moment to start the day. Coffee is a way to bond people together. And people come back.”
Back, then, to the joy that surrounds this mom-and-pop effort. “Our vibe is happy,” Sapienza said. “It’s how we are as humans, how we operate, how we want to treat everybody. And honestly, we spend so much of our time laughing together. We love our Java.”
And about their expansion plans: can you expect an ALL THAT JAVA to roll in near you? Quite possibly, if you’re in the Hudson Valley.
“We’re planning to expand as rapidly as we can,” Sapienza said. “The theory is to bring ALL THAT JAVA up and down the Hudson from Saratoga Springs to New York City. But we’re not trying to be a café. The mobility of the unit allows us to be a to-go-focused coffee location.” Drive-ups are still the goal.”
The cheerful baristas are clearly living their tagline: Smile. Drink Coffee. Be Grateful. Love Life. “It’s a little bit like Cheers,” Madden said. “We’re like daytime bartenders, but for only two minutes long.”
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Troutbeck, A Food And Lodging Legend, Is Reborn
Photos: Tanya Blum
By CB Wismar
If you are local to the Litchfield Hills, the Berkshires or the Hudson Valley, then venture to Troutbeck for the food. You should not be disappointed.
If you are bent on exploring the area, then add to your sojourn a night at one of 17 fully renovated guest rooms in The Manor House (c.1919). It offers all amenities and recreation opportunities, which begin with three trout ponds in the Webutuck River running through the 45-acre property, tennis courts and miles of hiking trails, with access to cycling, skiing and equestrian sports.
Corporate group, wedding or family reunion? The Century Lodge (c.1760) is a modernized four-bedroom cottage with an adjacent building housing 12 rooms and a large gathering space. The elegantly re-done ballroom can handle groups of up to 240, with smaller spaces for up to 40 participants.
In short, Troutbeck is back. After years of sitting quietly dormant on the outskirts of Amenia, New York, just over the border from Sharon, Conn., the entire complex of buildings and grounds has been carefully renovated, upgraded, comfortably furnished and enhanced.
Which leads us back to the restaurant.
Chef Marcel Agnez has assembled an elegant, seasonally influenced, farm-to-table menu that makes decisions difficult for the diner. The scallops or the black bass? The venison chop or the roasted chicken with braised endive? A vegetarian delight, an enticing pasta dish or one of the specials?
On days of operation (Thursday through Sunday) breakfast and lunch are offered, as well as a Sunday brunch. For dinner, starters range from fresh oysters with a blood orange granita ($3 each) to a refreshing Belgian endive salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and poached pears ($13). For a warm-up during colder months, there’s a savory baked oyster and leek chowder ($11).
Entrees are listed as “specialties,” and the designation is apt. Each dish offers a great use of flavors, textures and enticing aromas. The grass-fed grilled pork chop with apple sauce and haricots verts ($26) is moist and tender. Pan-seared scallops are elegantly set off with carrot turmeric sauce, red beet tartar and almonds ($21). A standard fare like roasted chicken becomes a tour de force when presented with braised endive, potatoes, sorrel, sunchoke and truffle madeira ($26).
The menu is adjusted with the season, so dishes will change as fresh items become available to the chef. Specials are added daily to enhance the options (and complicate the decision-making process). Troutbeck has turned to no fewer than eight local Hudson Valley farms to source their ingredients, supplementing their selections with daily shipments of seafood and other fresh ingredients.
Desserts are elegant. Cakes, crème brulee and other delights will tempt the table to at least “have one to share” as an accompaniment to an individual pot of French press coffee or selected fine teas.
The Troutbeck wine list is well balanced and reasonably priced, with the most expensive offering a French Delamotte champagne for $68. Clearly, great care has been exercised in offering both white and red wines from California, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Argentina. Four whites, three reds, a rosé and a Prosecco are available by the glass, most in the $12-$15 range.
Troutbeck’s website offers lodging and restaurant reservations as well as snippets of information about the property, the area and local activities. There are also some intriguing quotes from those who have made Troutbeck home and a vaunted destination for over two centuries. One such quote from noted naturalist, conservationist and nature essayist John Burroughs (1837 – 1921) about farmer, naturalist and poet Myron Beecher Benton (1834 – 1902) who spent his entire life at Troutbeck, captures the elegant, honest flavor of the property and the extent to which its re-birth has been successful.
“I liked Myron Benton from the first sight of him. He had the flavor of the farm and of the country — a rural quality of mind and character that had been touched and mellowed by the influence of the best literature.”
The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner.
Reservations are strongly suggested for dinner.
515 Leedsville Rd., Amenia, NY
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Rhinebeck Locals Serve Up Comfort Food At Bangers Gastropub
By Andrea Pyros
This fall, a restaurant opened in a historically tricky spot in Rhinebeck, New York, tucked away on 22 Garden Street across from Sunflower Natural Foods and adjacent to the popular Japanese standby Osaka. Other restaurants have come and gone from this location including, most recently, Puccini and, before that, Portofino Ristorante. But Vinnie Sassone and Colby Miller, co-owners of Bangers Gastropub, are hoping to make a success out of their new venture by tapping into their strong Rhinebeck roots and by offering crowd-pleasing pub fare at reasonable prices.
Sassone manages the restaurant while Miller, who trained in New York, serves as Bangers’ head chef. Both were born and raised in Rhinebeck, and worked in a variety of the village’s restaurants over the years, including the now shuttered Arielle where they bonded over dreams of opening their own space.
“We had a couple of drinks one night, and talked about how we wanted to bring Rhinebeck back to Rhinebeck,” Sassone says. “We wanted a place where locals could go and feel comfortable and not attacked financially. We are so attached to this town, and we really wanted to make a communal place where our friends and family could convene.”
Enter the comfortable and welcoming Bangers, with its newly opened kitchen, beautiful wooden booths and expanded bar, warmly lit with Americana music playing in the background. In balmier seasons, there’s even a nicely secluded patio. Bangers’ vibe is, as intended, welcoming and neighborly — Sassone jokes that Thursday nights there are “like Cheers.”
The menu, as you’d expect from the name, is English comfort food: hearty, rich and simple, and the pair have taken pains to honor their Hudson Valley diners’ desire for seasonal and local ingredients. Produce, when possible, is from area farms, and Northwind Farms in Tivoli supplies the meats. There’s a full bar, and plenty of beer, about half of which feature New York State breweries (including picks from Peekskill Brewery and Elizaville’s Sloop Brewing Co.).
Local friends recommended I try the buffalo cauliflower appetizer ($10) because it “melts in your mouth,” with another promising that the Scotch egg ($10) “is the real deal.” An actual English native said her children loved the fish and chips ($18). Actually, I did, too. Salty and delicately fried, they’re hard to resist, and the Bangers and Mash ($18) with Miller’s housemade sausage was a nice take on a classic dish.
A starter salad from the specials menu, with beets, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds ($14), was a fresh, flavorful counterbalance to our heavier main course choices. There are other salad entrees including a smoked salmon quinoa with arugula, avocado, red onion and tomato ($14) if you’re not feeling as indulgent, but for the most part, the menu is not intended to kick off your cleanse. Fine by us — we ended our most recent evening there with a delicious bread pudding special and a Guinness float with Jane’s bourbon pecan ice cream ($8) that my dining companion polished off.
There are $12 kids’ meals and a Sunday brunch, too, if you prefer less party time and more family time. Ultimately, the duo’s goal was to make a restaurant where locals would want to hang out, and in that they’ve done a bang-up job.
22 Garden St., Rhinebeck, NY
Monday–Saturday 3-10 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Bar is open until 1 a.m. every day
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The Sproutman’s Sprouts — The Sprout Brothers — Take Root
Sprout Brothers Ari and Noah
By Jamie Larson
The Sprout Brothers are no doubt making the old Sproutman proud in Great Barrington. Steve “Sproutman” Meyerowitz started his healthful empire in New York City in the 1970s. Plagued by allergies and asthma, he looked for a natural dietary solution. He became vegan and began a sprout and wellness company built on the idea that the potential energy stored in sprouts is not only great for you but also gives you the opportunity to grow your own food in a small space with compact grow kits and equipment.
“Sprouts have ultra-concentrated nutrients, they’re ultra affordable, and when juicing comes into play, you’re really getting a lot of value,” said the Sproutman’s eldest son Ari, who now runs the company with brother Noah. “He called it turning your kitchen into your ‘farmacy.’”
But it wasn’t just a message for the Sproutman and his family, who came to settle in the Berkshires. They all practiced what the patriarch preached with his trademark enthusiasm. His early training in vaudeville served him well as he became a lively fixture in the alternative health community over the decades, selling all manner of sprouts and growing devices and authoring 10 books (reprinted in many languages). It was a great loss for many when Meyerowitz passed away in a car accident in 2015.
Now the homegrown, family company continues in the stored potential of the next generation, Ari and Noah, a.k.a. the Sprout Brothers. The young men, supported by mom Beth and sister Gabrielle, have deftly continued operations that were once so defined by their father’s personality, and are even getting ready to launch some new products.
“Ari and I were drawn to continuing his legacy,” Noah said. “He was really a one-man show. He beeped to his own horn. We don’t consider ourselves experts, but we grew up living the life and we’ve been partnering with some great people in the industry.”
One of those partnerships is about to bear exciting fruit. The brothers are collaborating with raw food chef and author Jenny Ross and “juice guru” Steve Prussack to launch a new juice cleanse that will start, fittingly, post holiday gorging season. Details will be announced soon, so keep an eye on their social media and subscribe to their very active newsletter.
The Sprout Brothers said they’re also really excited about the launch of the first new product they’ve made start-to-finish since taking over the company. It has added meaning because it was an idea of their father’s that he didn’t have a chance to bring to fruition. The new, low-temperature dehydrated wheat grass juice capsules are different than similar products that just pulverize the plant. Juicing removes most of the fiber so you get much more concentrated nutrients.
“It’s nice to have the satisfaction that it’s something he wanted and we were able to bring it from start to finish,” said Ari.
This is also the perfect time to get one of their growing systems, too, the brothers said. With fresh local produce season over for now, their season goes on. So, too, does the Sproutman’s family business.
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W. Cornwall Joins The Taste Trail With Pearly’s Farmhouse Cafe
Photo: Justina Aylmer
By CB Wismar
The hamlet of West Cornwall, Conn. has several magnets that make it a prime destination. The covered bridge alone draws visitors who explore the beauty of the Housatonic River Valley just to rumble across its expanse. Todd Piker’s pottery shop and Ingersoll’s furniture studio join The Wish House as attractions worth a prolonged visit.
Now, there’s also Pearly’s Farmhouse Café.
Occupying the space formerly home to The Wandering Moose, Chef Sean Aylmer’s interpretation of a comfortable, local eatery has come on to the scene to great response, immediately garnering loyal customers and a reputation for excellent food that is also imaginative.
Most days, Pearly’s (the name harkens back to a family connection and gives a sense of “grounding” to Sean in his first restaurant venture) is a thriving breakfast and lunch venue (with dinners served Thursday through Sunday). There are six interpretations of Eggs Benedict, priced from $9 for the classic rendition to a luxurious lobster version with sherry-infused hollandaise sauce for $19.
Six seems to be the magic number, as there also are six variations of pancakes that range from $7 to $10 and are served with real maple syrup, butter and confectioner’s sugar.
There are six options for omelets, as well, with an $12 “Western” omelet that ignores the traditional ham and substitutes a savory, spicy marinated flank steak instead. As Sean says, “The last time I read ‘Lonesome Dove,’ they weren’t herding pigs!”
The lunch and dinner menus offer a wide range of tempting meals. The salads are very well proportioned, and include a Caesar for $7; an intriguing update on salad nicoise sans anchovies but with herb crusted salmon, haricot beans, oven-roasted potatoes, hard-cooked eggs and balsamic vinaigrette for $17; and a lobster and crisp bacon salad tossed in brown butter vinaigrette for $21. During the fall and winter months, housemade chili topped with grilled corn will appear on the daily menu, with a crock for $5 and a bowl for $6. It’s a chef’s creation and very tasty.
Pizzas are single-serving sized and, as Sean likes to describe them, “designer” in creation. The maple sausage ricotta pizza for $10.50 combines Italian sausage, carmelized onions, maple-infused ricotta, a provolone/mozzarella cheese blend and a drizzle of maple syrup. This is no traditional pizza. Neither is the pepperoni and mushroom pizza ($10.75) that boasts oven-roasted mushrooms and Sean’s signature shredded mozzarella/provolone blend.
Sandwiches and wraps offer a wide range of attraction and execution. The roast beef and horseradish sandwich combines thinly sliced beef with baby arugula, carmelized onions and sliced tomatoes with horseradish aioli for $10.75 and appears on a plate dressed with an ample serving of chips and a pickle. The cranberry turkey sandwich ($10.25) includes alfalfa sprouts, havarti cheese and a cranberry chutney to evoke that post-Thanksgiving feeling when turkey sandwiches are the norm.
Entrees include four options, including chicken pasta rosa ($13.75) and seared salmon ($19). All entrees are fully dressed and reflect recipes that have been in the family for years. They’ve gotten better with age, and the portions are ample without being overwhelming. The shrimp and asparagus risotto ($17.55) is Sean’s admitted favorite and a hearty, truly delicious combination.
In any restaurant, the hamburger is the offering against which prowess is measured. Here, The Green Monster (named after Fenway’s legendary left-field wall) is a crowning achievement. At $13, the plate nearly overflows with sumptuous ingredients. Prime beef, bacon, avocado, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato, red onion and roasted garlic aioli are joined by a full order of beautifully finished, crunchy French fries and a generous pickle spear. “Medium” is medium — moist and tender — and the combination is really satisfying. Burger grade: A.
Desserts, $6, are simple and delicious. Apple pie, a chocolate cake or a cheesecake are simply presented, but serve as a great finish to the meal, and large enough to share.
Photo: Justina Aylmer
Plans are underway to add a wine and beer license at the end of the first quarter of 2018. Sean is intent on “getting it right,” and navigating the winter months to see what works and what can be improved upon. Until the license is in place, guests are invited to bring their own “adult beverage” for a $10 corkage fee.
Pearly’s Farmhouse Cafe is a welcome addition to West Cornwall and truly worth the trip.
Pearly’s Farmhouse Café
421 Sharon Goshen Turnpike, West Cornwall, CT
Open daily for breakfast and lunch.
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Olé Americana! Castle Street Café Still Its Ethereal Self
By Nichole Dupont
Castle Street Café has always been a mainstay of the Berkshire food scene, under the watchful eye of owner/Chef Michael Ballon. Every era must end, though, and a new one begin. That seems to be the way of things, especially now in Great Barrington, where new eateries and stores are popping up as quickly as they are quietly shutting down. There isn’t much about Castle Street’s exterior that has changed. It is under new ownership now, bought by Vern Kennedy — a tech CEO who also purchased the iconic Morgan House in Lee — and Chef Luis Zambrano (mastermind of the now-closed Viva, a tapas hub in Glendale, Mass.) now heads up the kitchen. Although the dining room is still under renovation, the long, “ethereal” bar is open and that was a relief walking in with my date, because we both needed a little magic. Also, I needed him to test out any red meat situation that looked interesting.
We caught a cozy little booth by the window (it was only 6:30 p.m., but the place starts to fill up around 7:30 p.m. or 8 o’clock in anticipation of the live jazz, which continues in the same vein as under Ballon). The place was already humming with Friday night feels. I sipped at a classic old-fashioned and my date ordered his usual, a root beer. The old-fashioned was solid, which is a high compliment for a bourbon drink coming from this Bywater bayou snob.
“Hmm. Strong,” I muttered, sinking back into my seat a little. “But not too sweet.”
The menu is not the three-page fanfare that perhaps regulars to the “former” Castle Street had become accustomed. What we were looking at was one page (Chef Luis Zambrano will debut a new menu every week), broken down into two simple categories: Smaller and Larger. The “smaller” section offered six choices, including more basic, seasonal fare like green apple and quinoa salad ($11), a rich garden soup ($8), and flatbread pizza topped with figs, ricotta and arugula ($15). The more adventurous aspects were duck-in-a-blanket (duck sausage and duxelles in a puff pastry with pepper relish, $13) and beef empanadas ($9). The duck truly called to me, but I was saving my adventure for “larger” and possibly for the dessert menu.
While there were only five options listed under the “larger” umbrella, both of us faltered a little when making a choice. Me because the duck confit pasta with mustard cream sauce ($20) appealed to several of my diet-related Achilles tendons (I’m French, mustard cream sauce is…kryptonite); he because there was a burger option, and that is his thing. I had almost settled on the pasta, but then spotted Luis’ fried chicken.
“Shoot, they have fried chicken,” I said. “With ranch.”
No regrets. The “two-hands” burger ($16) lived up to its name — a generous, well-seasoned affair topped with crispy fried shallots, horseradish cheese, lettuce, tomato and served with a side of truffle fries, a new staple on the Berkshire eats scene. He cleaned his plate, even the lettuce, while I dove hands first into the dark meat fried chicken, resisting the urge to stick my finger in the homemade ranch dressing and go to town.
“I can’t stop,” I said. “Do you want a piece of this before it’s gone?”
He shook his head, too focused on the meaty task in front of him.
We took breaks, ate fast, ate slow. The service at Castle Street needs to be noted here, because everyone was incredibly attentive, and relaxed, and classy. And despite leaning back after our meal was done, and almost giving up, I still asked for the dessert menu. I’m no quitter. Neither is he.
We ordered coffee (espresso for me, straight up for him) while mulling over the sinful situation that was the dessert menu. My hunch was correct, and so, the chocolate mousse cake (gluten free, $8) arrived in short order. For him, a classic crème brulee which I had no problem helping myself to. I made a half-hearted offer to share some of the cake (covered with homemade whipped cream and a fat strawberry).
The band was just tuning up as we were getting ready to leave. People were filing in, waiting, ogling the half-eaten cake on my plate.
“Well, let’s make room for the others,” he said.
From the outside, the place still had its warm, familiar glow. I leaned in to look at the “paperwork” taped to the window.
“Oh my god, they have paella and tapas on Wednesdays,” I said.
“Next time,” he said.
Castle Street Café
10 Castle St., Great Barrington, MA
Open 5 p.m. until closing.