From the Farm
Main St., Philmont, 672-7801. Serving dinner 5-9 Wed-Thu,
5-9:30 Fri-Sat, 5-9 Sun; brunch 8:30-2 Sat-Sun. AE, D, MC,
price range: $17 (risotto) to $29 (grilled grass-fed
casual and intimate
art of a great chef is limited only by the ingredients at
hand, and those ingredients have never been more plentiful.
But how good are they? We hear more and more about the drawbacks
of concentrated animal feedlot operations and pesticide-infused
vegetable farms, and we’ve tasted the horrible things passing
for peaches sold in our supermarkets.
chef Josephine Proul plans a menu, she’s already been talking
to the suppliers whose meat and fruit and vegetables will
form the core of it. “I want to be able to tell my customers
exactly where the lamb came from, where the squash was grown.”
menu for Local 111 doesn’t feature lamb because there’s no
guarantee it won’t be sold out on a given night. But Proul
will tell you that it comes from Ry-Ky Ranch, right down the
road in Philmont, and she has a standing order for a whole
lamb every other week. When we visited the restaurant on a
recent Saturday, roasted leg of lamb with braised lamb stuffing
($28) was offered as a special, “but we only have one order
left,” our server said.
it for us,” we told her. We were a party of five, two of whom
knew the restaurant well and had urged me to check it out.
So that lamb was snapped up with the wisdom of a regular,
and the entrée proved to be as richly satisfying as the anticipation
boded. It spoke for itself, revealing flavors unique to meat
that’s fresh and local, from an animal kept free of toxic
111, which has been open for three years, is owned by Linda
Gattner and her husband, Max Dennis. Manhattanites who became
part-time Columbia Countians, they attended an upstate talk
on downtown revitalization and saw Philmont as a place in
which to invest “because the village has so many disparate
people,” says Gattner. “We heard that this service station
in town was available, and knew that it wouldn’t work as the
same thing again. So we asked ourselves, ‘What do you do with
this? Open a retail shop?’ I know it’s almost a joke that
everybody wants to have a restaurant, but that’s what made
the most sense to us.”
is an architect who designed the refurbishment; Dennis spent
two years doing the actual work, during which time their mission
became more focused. “More and more people are getting excited
about artisinal food,” she says, “and we wanted to take advantage
of the fact that we’re in a working agricultural landscape.”
was the sous chef until she took over the helm last fall.
She’s spent 10 of her 24 years in the business, finding time
amid a variety of restaurant jobs to get a bachelor’s degree
from the New England Culinary Institute. Her energy and enthusiasm
are inspiring. She speaks of farms and food with the breathless
energy of the love-stricken.
been cooking since I was child,” she says. “I grew up with
a single mom who was a saleswoman, so I spent a lot of time
in the house alone, but she always left me something to make
for myself. But I’m from a Sicilian family and was able to
cook with my grandfather a lot, so I learned the basics from
two-page menu offers snacks, sandwiches, pasta and grains,
first courses, main courses and sides, adding up to fewer
than three dozen items. Snacks include house-cured olives
($2), anchovies with blue cheese and pecans ($5) and a selection
of local cheeses. The $11 sandwiches are built around braised
pork, fried haddock and Grazin’ Angus ground beef.
with a half-order of risotto ($12, $17 for a full order),
a creamy mixture that featured bacon, celeriac and savory,
with melted pecorino defining the flavor. Other pasta selections
are conchiglie (seashells) with sheep’s milk ricotta
and spinach ($11/$17), orechhiette with sausage and
leeks ($13/$18) and the always-popular rigatoni Bolognese
($13/$18). The most arresting aspect of the potato cake appetizer
($9) was its crown of shaved watermelon radish slices, each
with a starburst of pink in the center. But this isn’t to
take anything away from the savory cake, nicely paired with
a béarnaise-ish tarragon cream. Fresh Nantucket Bay scallops
speak for themselves, so they’re lightly seared in their appetizer
setting ($12), served with white beans atop a white bean purée
with caramelized onions. And, thanks to a stint Proul spent
in a French restaurant specializing in charcuterie, she offers
homemade chorizo that exemplifies the wonderfulness
of the sausagemaker’s art ($12).
that her entrée list, at six items, is too long. In addition
to the unlisted lamb, we tasted four of them, each as spectacular
as the last. The vegetarian dish is roasted squash ($20),
which is hollowed, quartered, and served with seasonal greens
(in this case, Swiss chard), white beans and pecorino, and
turns out to be unexpectedly rich.
needs be said about grass-fed sirloin ($29). We’re so surrounded
by corn-fed everything that the flavor may at first seem unusual,
and then it makes more sense. Set off by fennel and garlic,
served alongside roasted potatoes, it’s what beef is really
about. The beef for that dish comes from Grazin’ Angus Acres
in Ghent. The beef in the ragout is supplied by Hardwick Beef,
a Northeast consortium of farmers who raise grass-fed, antibiotic-free
cattle. And the ragout ($24) has an intense flavor from its
long cooking time, served with an unusual topping of crisped
roasted pear served alongside the roasted chicken breast ($24)
complements the look of the meat; the sweetness of the fruit
also complements the sweetness of the meat, which comes from
Punsit Valley Farms in Chatham. It’s difficult contemplating
going back to the supermarket butcher bin after a superb meal
Change of Cultures
tech worker starts afresh in the world of artisinal cheese
Sean O’Connor was only seeking diversion when he studied culinary
arts at the University of California-Los Angeles. The Troy
native was fully immersed in a career in computer sales in
Southern California, and learning to cook seemed a good distraction.
had no thought of using it professionally,” he says. “I never
even considered cooking as a job.”
Not even when his instructor, the executive chef at the Playboy
Mansion, offered him a job in the kitchen. This seems ironic
in Hollywood proportions now that O’Connor is the sole proprietor
of R & G Cheesemakers in Cohoes.
His transition from computers to cheesemaking began when he
moved back to the Capital Region six years ago. He met his
wife, who is from New York City, during his 12-year stint
in California, and both wanted to be closer to family once
they had a child. Plus, the “tech wreck,” as O’Connor dubbed
it, convinced him to look for work beyond his field. He started
looking for a food industry job that was not in a restaurant,
and Old Chatham Sheepherding was advertising for a cheesemaker.
He worked there for a year and a half, learning French cheeses.
At Capiello’s in Schenectady he learned Italian cheeses, and
made their mozzarella for a few years. Next he worked with
a Greek goat farmer. Two years ago, he began to consider opening
his own business, and that began his journey to Cohoes.
The small creamery sits at the back of a restaurant in progress.
Both enterprises are part of Harmony House Marketplace, a
multiphase project undertaken by Diane Conroy-LaCivita and
Jane LaCivita Clemente. The complicated operation involves
renovating three storefronts and outfitting the 12,000 square
feet of space these buildings cluster. In the end, three kitchens
will be under the shared roof: the bakery’s, the creamery’s,
and a separate kitchen for a tapas restaurant that will open
in the spring. The New York State Wine Seller was the first
retail venue to open, and then the Bake Shop. O’Connor’s creamery
was set to open in late April of this year, but finishing
the area took five months longer than anticipated. The delay
forced him to find a licensed creamery to use for the summer,
so he could make cheese to sell at area farmers’ markets.
was, and is, difficult to set up,” he says, eyes wide and
a little tired. O’Connor wasn’t looking for a cakewalk, but
it is obvious that his expectations of what the business would
ask of him were, like the reality of having a child, unimaginable
to the uninitiated.
Though getting the creamery up and running was a challenge,
O’Connor is happy in his work. The state approved his creamery
in September, and he had an official opening Oct. 16, with
a ribbon-cutting ceremony and steady stream of visitors. He
works every day of the week, and some of them are long, but
his commute is short. He lives in Troy with his wife and their
two sons, Ryan and Gavin, for whom the business is named.
Gavin, at four, is a bit young to hang around and help, but
7-year-old Ryan spent Election Day at the creamery and helped
his father make chevres and mozzarellas.
The creamery is the size of a small office, and thinly populated
with stuff. The tools of the craft are few: There’s a sink,
a few coolers (one is high humidity to aid in the aging process),
a vacuum sealer and some shelves. Fetas sit brining, and soft
cheeses drain in baskets. Everything seems subtle, muted and
clean, like the set from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate
Factory where Mike TV shrinks. The catchiest-looking object
is a vat pasteurizer that stands on three legs. This is where
all the magic begins, and happens, where the raw milk is slowly
heated to 145 degrees and held there for half an hour. This
vat then serves, for the most part, as the place to mix in
cultures, too. Different cultures turn the milk into fetas,
yogurts, chevres, mozzarellas, and the firm cheeses he’s now
is a certain romantic value to raw milk, but we decided that
for our purposes we could do without the romance,” O’Connor
says. “If you do a gentle vat pasteurization you don’t lose
so much flavor as larger operations do.” Cheese factories
quickly heat milk in a tube to a higher temperature, which
leeches subtleties from the final product.
He uses mostly goat milk for his cheeses, for two reasons.
The niche market is a good one to try to fill, and also, cow
dairies generally run on a larger scale these days.
a lot of dairy farmers want someone who only needs 30 gallons
at a time,” he says. “They’re looking for places that need
Still, O’Connor found a farmer, and he uses cow’s milk for
his mozzarella, which he sells in small balls graced with
basil or prosciutto, or full pounds smoked. These, and the
chevres, he sells at farmers markets and wholesales to gourmet
retail venues in the Capital Region and the Berkshires. A
distributor whose focus is bringing Hudson Valley Cheeses
to restaurants has just picked up his chevres, and his ash-ripened
goat cheese will reach outlets through another distributor.
Still, most of his marketing is retail, and very seasonal,
at farmers markets, where his mother helps him.
Currently, he sells at the Wednesday market at the Empire
State Plaza, and the Delmar farmers market. The Bake Shop
at Harmony House Marketplace retails his cheeses on a day-to-day
basis, and on Saturdays, now that the local outdoor markets
are closed for the season, he drives to the Syracuse Regional
Market. There, he is one of a few cheesemakers in a vast market
that includes large-scale cheese distributors. While business
is good, he misses the community feel of the markets he’s
just finished. Shoppers likely miss R & G’s cheeses too,
not only for their taste and texture, but also for their affordability.
like to do an artisanal cheese that’s still price-competitive
with what the supermarkets have,” O’Connor says. “And for
the most part, aside from specials, we’re there.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Beaujolais time, and the folks at Provence
(Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) invite you to join
them for their 10th anniversary celebration with
the 2009 release of George Duboeuf Beaujolais
Nouveau. A three-course menu will be offered tonight
(Thursday, Nov. 19) through Saturday (Nov. 21).
For starters, choose mussels Marseilles, pumpkin-sage
bisque or duck confit salad. Entrées include braised
black Angus short ribs, rotisserie-roasted stuffed
heritage hog pork loin, pan-seared fillet of salmon
with zucchini-wild mushroom sautée, and boneless
quail stuffed with tart cherry bread pudding.
Dinner includes a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau,
and there’s a choice of dessert. It’s $37.95 per
person, and you can make a reservation by calling
689-7777 (provence-restaurant.net). . . . Maestro’s
(371 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) continues
its Five Dollar/Five O’Clock entrée special through
Nov. 25, giving you a choice of four entrées that
are $5 apiece. The catch? Your entire party must
be seated by 5 PM—not one minute later! Reservations
are highly suggested, so call 580-0312 (saratogamaestros.com).
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.