My parents were of the meat-and-potatoes generation, but I took a different road. I laughed at my parents’ jokes about my sprouts and greens alongside the gallons of milk and margarine in the refrigerator. I saw the Genesee Co-op Natural Foodstore in Rochester as my one way to access healthy, organic foods that weren't available in supermarkets. At the co-op, I also discovered a vibrant community and warm connections.Read More
On the first Monday in December, I head out to Hope & Olive’s free Soup and Game Night. Now in its 14th year, Soup and Game Night raises money for underfunded charitable organizations in and around Franklin County.Read More
By Samantha Marsh | Photographs by Dominic Perri
Gnocchi, English muffins, bacon, sausage, XO sauce, and beer cheese ... just a handful of the ingredients made from scratch at the Alvah Stone. Howard Wein’s restaurant and bar in the picturesque Montague Mill location (previously the Night Kitchen) celebrates its first anniversary this April.
“We would never do it any other way,” says chef David Schrier when explaining why their menu has such a focus on housemade ingredients.
Cooking “from scratch” is certainly not a new restaurant trend, however, an increasing number of restaurants are placing even more emphasis on this aspect of their cooking in order to ensure the quality and taste of every dish that leaves the kitchen. The Alvah Stone has experimented extensively with re-creating “store-bought” favorites—using fresh, quality ingredients in lieu of their processed counterparts.
“We have a problem with the ingredients, not the actual food itself,” David explains.
One of the Alvah Stone’s first experiments was to create a burger that they, and their diners, wouldn’t get tired of. David explains that if they were going to serve a burger, it “had to be really good” ... and so they went to work to re-create the classic American burger, gooey “American” cheese and all. Clearly the experiment was a success, as the burger hasn’t left the menu since the restaurant opened.
The Alvah Stone burger is prepared with local, dry-aged beef from River Rock Farm in Brimfield, which is then ground and formed into patties, grilled, topped with onion marmalade, pickles, melted cheese, and mayonnaise. It’s served on a housemade English muffin. In the summer, David adds a juicy tomato slice to the burger, but outside of the season “I won’t even look at a tomato.”
The cheese is meant to replicate the texture of individually wrapped American cheese singles, evoking nostalgia for the simple days of childhood. It’s no lab experiment, however—it is made from aged Grafton cheddar cheese and emulsified to enhance its creaminess. The English muffin recipe, in similar fashion, has been refined to taste as good as, if not better, than the classic Thomas’ English muffin that so many know and adore.
“We love the taste of Thomas’ muffins, but we would never dream of using them,” David says. Pastry chef (and David’s wife) Jessica Schrier has perfected the experience of the English muffin with all the nooks and crannies that we remember from our Thomas’ muffin-eating days, sans the long list of unpronounceable ingredients.
“[Cooking from scratch] is fun. It’s a constant challenge to make something as good as the original,” David continues. He explains that it is all about trial and error—recipes will not come out perfectly every time. The first time David attempted to make soba noodles, for example,“it was horrible,” he admits with a chuckle.
David and the kitchen team have mastered other housemade pastas, however. Pastas such as pappardelle, cavatelli, tortellini, agnolotti, and gnocchi are always served—a gnocchi dish has been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening.
“We have housemade pasta on the menu every night,” David explains. In the spring or summer, pasta may be served in ham broth with ricotta cheese and pea purée, while winter dishes tend to be heartier. David continues to describe why he loves making pasta, “it’s something that’s simple” but that he and his team “don’t get tired of looking at [it].”
The culinary mindset behind the Alvah Stone isn’t so much about adhering to the trendiness of “DIY” food and using local and in-season ingredients as it is about simply doing what makes sense.
“‘Farm to table’ is hilarious,” David says of the recent popularity of the phrase to describe restaurant cuisine. He feels that every restaurant should be using local, seasonal ingredients. There should be no need to call it out and draw attention to it, because “it just makes sense,” he concludes. “We would never define ourselves using this terminology. It’s overused and disrespected.”
Howard and David have strong relationships with many local farmers and vendors, including Snugg Valley Farm in Southern Vermont, Four Star Farms in Northfield, BerkShore in Northampton, Clarkdale Farm in South Deerfield, Red Fire Farm in Montague, Mapleline Farm in Hadley and Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland. “Whatever they have, we’ll use,” David says of the process of ordering produce from farms.
“Last year we sold the Alvah Stone a lot of shishito peppers, salad greens, peas, garlic, radishes, tropea onions, treviso radicchio, fennel, all kinds of herbs, heirloom tomatoes, new potatoes, cauliflower, celeriac, and lots more,” said Caroline Pam, co-owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.
Wes Malzone from BerkShore is the fish supplier for the Alvah Stone. BerkShore delivers fish from the shore of Massachusetts multiple times a week to restaurants in Western Massachusetts, allowing restaurants like the Alvah Stone to serve some of the best seafood that the state has to offer (learn more about BerkShore in the Fall 2014 issue of Edible Pioneer Valley).
David trusts his local vendors, and is happy to experiment with different vegetables, unfamiliar types of fish, or different cuts of meat if a supplier has something exciting to bring to the table.
Caroline adds, “We love working with David because he really appreciates and knows how to use some of the more unusual specialty vegetables we grow. He is always excited to try anything new and we can feel confident that our vegetables will be highlighted on the menu with respect and skill. We are often in contact throughout the week by text. If I have something cool like shiso or okra but not enough to put on the list for everyone, I can text David and he’s usually happy to work it into his menu.”
“It’s all about making good food,” David says. “We use whatever tastes the best.”
It is clear from the Alvah Stone menu that the focus on the ingredients is first and foremost, and allows them to stand out. David explains that the process of creating the menu each night is very democratic. Most of the kitchen crew has been at the restaurant since it opened, and David trusts their opinions and skills when it comes to deciding what sauce to pair with a meat, trying out a certain plating technique, or experimenting with a new flavor combination.
For example, when David asked Dave Clegg, a line cook, what flavor he thought would go well with carrots, his answer (sesame seeds), became a new roasted carrot and sesame seed dish.
“Eli [the sous-chef] is the gnocchi master,” David says about another member of team. “We’re always learning,” David says of himself and his crew.
“We’re the opposite of traditionalists,” Dave explains. It just has to taste good. “Seasoning is important—but not just salt. We use a lot of acid and vinegar in our dishes.”
“And as much fat as it can accept,” he adds with a laugh.
It’s an exciting time for restaurants (and restaurant-goers) as the focus on specific cuisines shifts to a focus on quality ingredients and a chef’s personal style of cooking. Restaurants that cook everything from scratch are no longer one in a million, but are becoming increasingly popular. The Alvah Stone is leading this charge and are committed to getting others to join them—making good food from scratch is the right way to cook.
Samantha Marsh is a writer and food lover based in the Pioneer Valley. She holds a BA in journalism and anthropology from UMass Amherst and works as a literary associate at The Lisa Ekus Group in Hatfield. When she is not writing about food, Samantha can be found teaching dance, practicing yoga, or testing out new baking recipes at her home in North Amherst.
By Erin MacLean and John McNamara as told to Marykate Smith Despres | Photographs by Dominic Perri
The village of Turners Falls, one of five villages comprising the town of Montague, is located in Franklin County, just off Route 2.
Our tour guides are Erin MacLean and John McNamara. Seven-year residents of Turners Falls, they were attracted to the town’s commitment to arts and culture, which they saw flourishing through local businesses and the initiatives developed by RiverCulture. Their love for Turners Falls inspired them to open their own shop, Loot, three years ago.
When it comes to food, Erin is a vegan and John prefers fish to red meat, so their dining suggestions reflect restaurants that cater to these preferences.
78 3rd St. ◆ 413-863-2866 ◆ RendezvousTFMA.com ◆ Open daily
Patrons of The Rendezvous can get comfortable at the bar, on the patio, or at a booth inside, and enjoy drinks, snacks, meals, and entertainment. “The Voo,” as locals affectionately call it, has monthly Quizznite, Bingo, and movies; open mics and karaoke twice a month; plus live music, dance parties, art openings, and a full calendar of other events in between. The expansive, eclectic menu includes small plates, entrées, burgers, panini, and pizza.
Great Falls Harvest
50 3rd St. ◆ 413-863-0023 ◆ GreatFallsHarvest.com ◆ Open Thursday–Sunday
Great Falls Harvest is true farm-to-table dining. They have created organic, locally sourced menus for dinner, Sunday brunch, and feature a thoughtful, complete menu for vegetarians and vegans. With offerings like gorgonzola fig salad and maple-brined pork tenderloin, and a special three-course Thursday menu, Harvest provides fine dining in a comfortable atmosphere. Appetizers and drinks are also available for those wanting to relax at the bar.
66 Ave. A ◆ 413-863-8938 ◆ Find them on facebook here ◆ Open daily
Jake’s is the place for fish sandwiches and Friday night raffles. This neighborhood bar and restaurant is known for its seafood, chowder, and its ability to make you feel like you are home. If you are not in the mood for seafood, there is a full menu of sandwiches, burgers, and sides. Jake’s is open for lunch, dinner, and takeout.
2nd Street Baking Co.
104 4th St. ◆ 413-863-4455 ◆ Find them on facebook here ◆ Closed Monday
Whether you’re looking to sit down for soup and a sandwich on house-made bread, grab a locally roasted coffee and a pastry to go, or order an intricately decorated fondant cake for a special occasion, 2nd Street Baking Co. has you covered. Despite its name, the bakery has made its permanent home on 4th Street, right across from one of Turners Falls’ abundant community gardens.
Black Cow Burger Bar
125 Ave. A ◆ 413-863-5183 ◆ Find them on facebook here ◆ Closed Sunday
Build your own burger with house-made sauces, cheese, and toppings on one of Black Cow’s Angus beef, black bean, or salmon burgers. Wash down your burger with a cold draft, a glass of wine, or a frosty milkshake. In honor of the space’s former resident, Equi’s Candy Shop, Black Cow even makes handcrafted chocolates.
RiverCulture’s Third Thursdays
RiverCulture is a community partnership promoting the arts and cultural programming in Turners Falls. Third Thursdays manifest this mission through monthly events featuring the work of local artists and performers and by showcasing the community’s diversity of culture and industry, both past and present.
Great Falls Discovery Center
2 Ave. A ◆ 413-863-3221 ◆ GreatFallsDiscoveryCenter.org
Open Friday and Saturday in winter, daily in summer
In addition to their permanent exhibits on the history, culture, and ecology of the Connecticut River watershed, the Great Falls Discovery Center hosts weekly children’s storytimes, monthly live-music coffeehouses, lectures, art shows, and other special events. Admission is free.
The Shea Theater
71 Ave. A ◆ 413-863-2281 ◆ TheShea.org
Converted from a 1920s movie theater, The Shea is a performance space that houses community theater, live music, comedy, and film screenings. The Shea is home to several theater groups including the New Renaissance Players, Ja’Duke Productions, and The Young Shakespeare Players East.
Old Depot Gardens Farm Stand
504 Turners Falls Rd., Montague ◆ RedFireFarm.com
Open daily: May 1–November 1
Granby’s Red Fire Farm offers the folks of Franklin County and visitors a chance to get their fill of fresh, organic produce, flowers, plants, and other local products like jam, pickles, and kombucha at this charming roadside farm stand (though closed for the season at the time of this printing). Their hearty bundles of kale come especially well recommended.
The Lady Killigrew Café
440 Greenfield Rd., Montague ◆ 413-367-9666
Find them on facebook here ◆ Open daily
Nestled just outside of Turners Falls alongside the Sawmill River, The Lady Killigrew offers local beer and wine, coffee, baked goods, and a small but perfectly and consistently executed menu of sandwiches and salads. Their peanut noodles are a favorite and the apple and brie sandwich alone is enough to warrant a visit. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and bakeries, seating is indoors or out, and The Bookmill is right next door.
Also Worth A Visit
62 Ave. A ◆ 413-863-9500 ◆ LootTheShop.com ◆ Open Wednesday–Sunday
Erin and John’s shop Loot is nothing short of a menagerie of useful industrial artifacts, multiples, and handcrafted items and jewelry from local artists. From vintage typewriter tables, to milk crates, to notepads salvaged from old mills, visitors can find objects that function as furniture, storage, or the raw materials for making art.
38 3rd Street, Turners Falls
Find them on facebook here
125A Avenue A, Turners Falls
Find them on facebook here
Five Eyed Fox
37 3rd Street, Turners Falls
Find them on facebook here
(opened Oct 4)
Evoke Liquid Glass Collective
149 3rd Street, Turners Falls
Find them on facebook here
The Wagon Wheel
39 French King Highway, Gill
Find them on facebook here
Marykate Smith Despres writes about food, art, and knitting for various blogs and publications. She has worked as a baker, but learned how to cook from her mom, who taught her that everything good starts with a little butter and onions in a pan. Marykate is the program manager at Whole Children in Hadley, a recreation program for people of all abilities. She lives in Turners Falls, where she bakes lots of cookies and grows a small, edible garden with her family.