Housemade: Elevating “From Scratch” at the Alvah Stone

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.

Recipe for Alvah Stone Bacon

Recipe for Baby Bok Choy with XO sauce and Nam Pla Prik


Food for the Soul: Maintain Winter Health with Local Ginger and Turmeric


By Samantha Marsh | Photographs by Dominic Perri and Samantha Marsh

The cold weather has arrived. Although it can be a bit hard to cope with at times, I try to remind myself that winter is a time for relaxation—a time to stop doing quite as much and savor the hours spent swaddled up in sweaters and blankets.

I also try to embrace the change in the foods that we eat during this colder season. Winter foods tend to be richer and heavier than the lighter, brighter foods that are so abundant in the summer.

While very nourishing, these heavy foods, perhaps coupled with a few too many festive cocktails and sweets during the holiday season, can make anyone feel bogged down. Cooking with ginger and turmeric, both of which are grown locally at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, is a wonderful way to lessen the impact of too many eggnogs or third helpings of Thanksgiving turkey.

We are lucky here in the Pioneer Valley to have access to fresh, local ginger and turmeric, crops that are typically grown in much warmer climates. Old Friends Farm pioneered ginger production in this part of the country about 10 years ago. Co-owner Casey Steinberg says the farm began growing ginger when they realized that one of their greenhouses got too hot during the peak of summer to grow much of anything. When thinking about what could grow in that type of climate, they asked themselves, “What do we love to eat? What is there good demand for?” And so, Old Friends Farm began growing ginger.

Old Friends Farm ginger is harvested when it is still young (the growing season lasts from about early September through mid-November) so it is less fibrous and tough than much of the ginger sold in supermarkets. The farm has grown quite a reputation around their ginger production, and Casey and co-owner Missy Bahret are continually seen as the authorities on the subject.

“We’ve made a very conscious decision not to grow everything and sort of specialize in a handful of things. It feels good to be able to choose to do a few crops well instead of spread ourselves really thin,” Casey explains.

“There’s something that’s kind of magical about [growing ginger],” Casey says. “It’s not something that we’re used to seeing every day.”

Casey describes that he loves watching people that are in their 80s or 90s see his young ginger for the first time at the farmers’ markets. “It’s not often that someone who has seen so much in this world sees something they’ve never seen before.”

The farm started growing turmeric about five years ago, and it is a popular item at the farmers’ markets during its growing season (September through November). Both ginger and turmeric freeze very well and can be enjoyed throughout the year. Casey’s favorite way to use ginger is to make homemade ginger beer, and he enjoys eating turmeric as an ingredient in curries or grated raw in salads.

Brittany Nickerson, herbalist and owner of Thyme Herbal in Amherst, uses ginger and turmeric in many of her winter health recipes and remedies. Brittany describes ginger as a “warming digestive aid that can increase metabolism and the absorption of nutrients.” She explains that ginger stimulates digestion, allowing us to consume heavy foods with more ease. Ginger can also help with digestive upsets such as stomach aches and nausea.

“I like to start the day with ginger tea or chai,” Brittany explains. Consuming ginger first thing in the morning is a great way to boost metabolism and rev up the digestive system. Brittany explains that turmeric is a great food to include in winter diets because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. She describes the bright orange root as being excellent for the liver as it eases some of the “damage caused by stress and exposure to toxins,” and explains that it helps break down fats and oils.

I am grateful to have ginger and turmeric, both wonderful winter health aids, grown just down the road. I buy in bulk and store it in the freezer to enjoy all winter long!

Old Friends Farm ginger and turmeric can be found at the Amherst Farmers’ Market, River Valley Market, Greenfield Market, the Brattleboro Co-op, and Whole Foods Market during the growing season (September–November).

Old Friends Farm
413-253-9182 ◆

Samantha 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, where she spends her days obsessing over cookbooks and working with authors to bring their book ideas to life. 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.

Recipe for Homemade Turmeric Fire Cider 

Recipe for Ginger Chai