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Farm-to-Table Forever

by B.A. Nilsson on August 22, 2013


John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant, 224 Hillsdale Road, So. Egremont, MA, 413-528-3469, jarestaurant.com. Serving dinner 5-9 Sun-Tue, Thu, 5-10 Sat-Sun. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: American harvest

Entreé price range: $22 (Ricotta gnocchi) to $35 (grass-fed ribeye)

Ambiance: rustic elegance

The farm-to-table movement is nothing new to chef Dan Smith, owner of John Andrews Restaurant. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, and when he opened the restaurant 23 years ago, he started off working with local farmers. From his perspective, the others are simply catching up.

It’s about as bucolic as an eatery can get, tucked into a corner of the Berkshires, with a riot of colorful flowers coloring the yard. You’re greeted inside with a chalkboard listing the farms and other sources of the day’s fare; you’re seated in one of the two comfortable rooms or the outdoor patio. We helped ourselves to a tour of the large garden in back, guessing correctly that attenuated stalks were clues to what we’d see on our plates.

When my wife and I first visited, in the fall of 1998, she ordered sweetbreads, for her a daring move. (She has long since abandoned any sweetbreads restraint.) Back then, they were sautéed with prosciutto and served on phyllo pastry with chanterelles and sautéed spinach. As with so many of Smith’s favorites, the recipe has evolved over the years. For the current offering (a $15 appetizer), the prosciutto has worked its way into a rolled bread, a slice of which forms the bed for the dish. Glazed shallots complement the crunch of the sweetbreads, themselves painstakingly soaked and then braised and only then introduced to the sautée pan.

“I was attending Iowa State,” says Smith, “and put myself through school with cooking jobs. I spent the summer before my senior year working for a restaurant in Naples, Fla., where I had a change of heart and stayed there, working at a variety of restaurants. I moved back north to work at a seasonal place in Salisbury, Conn., and two years later found this place.”

It was a restaurant called Sebastian’s; Smith and his then-wife and -partner changed the name to something more meaningful to their families. When they parted ways, he remained proprietor.

“I started out by visiting the farms nearby to see what was available, and the menu has evolved over the years as I got to know more and more about what’s available.” He crafts recipes based on the inspiration he and sous-chef Nathan Turner draw from those ingredients. “I work better when I see a product,” says Smith, which sounds a little highfalutin’ until you’re actually tasting a fresh cherry tomato and it says, as we happily discovered, “I need to be with some gnocchi.”

That gnocchi. Those fingerlings of potatoes and flour are a welcome pasta alternative, but Smith concocts them out of ricotta and rice flour to give them an unexpected airiness, bringing them back down to earth with a bed of fresh Swiss chard.

Smith credits his time in Florida with introducing him to the eternally farm-to-table cuisine of northern Italy, while Turner, a Johnson and Wales graduate, has New Orleans in his background and brings a French influence to the table. Fresh produce is rampant through October, says Smith, when he begins to transition into squash and root vegetables. “But some farmers have good dry storage spaces, and I’ve been able to get strawberries, for example, year-round thanks to a supplier’s greenhouse.

Mushrooms offer any number of culinary journeys; roasting them and serving them with crisped polenta ($12) brings a taste of Tuscany to the table, especially with thin shavings of sharp local cheese on top. And, as far as I’m concerned, only roasting brings out the true flavor of beets, so it’s no surprise that Smith agrees with me enough to toss them with arugula (local, of course) and walnuts for a salad ($12) that sparkles with a horseradish dressing.

The single-page menu offers a trio of pasta dishes (including the gnocchi), with homemade fettucine tossed with string beans and duck confit ($24); that confit also appears, as a complete leg, in an entrée that pairs it with sliced seared duck breast ($28) served with—get ready for this—seasoned lentils, hazelnuts, kale and red-wine-seasoned figs.

Desserts are homemade and over-the-top; although the panna cotta and biscotti goes marvelously with an espresso, the local cheese of the day was a Brown Hill Farm blue that sported a richness I still can taste.

A web-based food site called The Daily Meal has just named John Andrews one of the “World’s 25 Best Farmstead Experiences,” a scope which, like the World Series, suggests a bit of wide-eyed hyperbole—but I couldn’t agree more that John Andrews embodies the site’s requirement that it has “embraced a bucolic spirit on (its) own accord,” and that it creates “a memorable journey.”

Crafting meal after meal day after day with this exceptionally high level of care suggests that Smith is rarely out of the kitchen, but he confesses that he awards himself enough time off to stay sane. He married again, and “my wife and I have a dog who’s a year and a half. I like to spend my free time walking him.”

Table scrap: The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is presenting a pair of farm-to-table events featuring chef Dan Smith of John Andrews Restaurant on Thu and Fri (Aug. 29 and 30), on the museum’s Stone Hill Terrace, giving both dinner and an exceptional view. The four-course dinners are limited to 40 guests each night and begin at 6 PM. Arrive at 5 and you can participate in a behind-the-scenes tour of the Clark’s current exhibitions, which include works by Winslow Homer and George Inness. Cost is $170 per person, including beverages, gratuity and the online ticketing fee. Visit berkshirefarmandtable.com or call 413-458-0524. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.