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HomeLife In the BerkshiresLocal food businesses...

Local food businesses rely on community, creativity to weather the unpredictable Berkshire off-season

So the next time your family (or belly) asks what’s for dinner, fear not: Creative, local options abound, which means you can think outside the kitchen—and the box—and make it through March well-fed and ready to tackle the long-awaited spring.

Monterey — “It’s a pancake kind of day,” declared Alec from his post manning the griddle station at Roadside Store & Cafe. It was President’s Week—a notoriously busy convergence of public school vacation and peak ski season—and the tiny eatery at the edge of Gould Farm was hopping. A pair of 18-inch round-top griddles boasted giant pancakes—one strawberry, one Granny Smith, and a third chocolate chip with banana had spilled onto the flat griddle. “Francie to the rescue,” Alec said, pushing a pile of hash browns to the far corner of his griddle to make room for more pancakes as manager Francie Leventhal maneuvered a pizza peel to flip the sweet stack of cakes destined for Table Six. From my seat at the counter, I was simultaneously fascinated and curious: What happens once the influx of skiers and pancake-eating kids on school vacation depart and the calendar turns to March?

Roadside Store and Cafe manager Francie Leventhal, left, with staff member Cheryl Fitzpatrick. Photo courtesy Gould Farm

“March is the dilemma month,” said Leventhal. “We are trying to find things to do that will engage people and let them continue to develop their skills,” she said of the Gould Farm “guests” who make the local joint run smoothly. Gould Farm is the first residential therapeutic community in the nation dedicated to helping adults with mental health and related challenges move toward recovery, health and greater independence through community living, meaningful work and clinical care. “It’s very hard to develop your skills in a restaurant without any customers.” That said, Leventhal has an answer to this yearly conundrum: Beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and throughout the month of March, locals and visitors alike can stop by Roadside and pick up homemade meals to go, an idea that just might work to alleviate the age old query of what’s for dinner.

“The family meals are a win-win,” explained Leventhal. “It’s providing us with projects to do [on the farm] that hopefully meet a demand that the community wants.” Furthermore, “[the model] will allow us to develop different aspects of the business and do a type of cooking we would not normally do,” she added optimistically. Leventhal and her team—about six “guests” on any given day—will be stocking the cooler with macaroni and cheese, beef stew, meatloaf, and beef chili in both small single servings as well as large, family-sized meals; they will be available for pick-up Wednesday through Saturday between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. And the folks at Gould Farm are not the only ones looking to get creative with regard to feeding families while weathering the “shoulder season” in the Berkshires.

Austin Banach of Braise Worthy readies ingredients in the kitchen. Photo courtesy Braise Worthy

Jeff Blaugrund and Austin Banach of Braise Worthy are offering “locally sourced ingredients slow cooked to perfection.” The idea sprang from a lack of healthy options with traceable ingredients for individuals short on time, on the go or simply wanting a break from cooking without having to resort to takeout. Simply put, their mission is: “We’ve been in the kitchen for hours so you won’t have to.” As the name suggests, Blaugrund and Banach create recipes and meals based around slow-cooked and crave-worthy tastes with meat but also have a vegan lineup, as well. “Our vegan recipes have gotten much praise from meat eaters,” said Banach, adding, “our meals are fresh frozen so you can enjoy them whenever convenient without worrying about them expiring. It’s like a farmers’ market in your freezer! Just heat and eat in the microwave or stovetop in four minutes and you have a meal.”

It all began with Braise Worthy’s “Carne Adovada”: Blaugrund, who grew up in New Mexico, cites this dish as a staple growing up. Banach grew up in the Berkshires and is at the helm of the fully licensed commercial commissary kitchen in Pittsfield. At present, Braise Worthy operates as a direct-to-consumer business, which means it runs as a sort of CSA—customers can sign up for a monthly or quarterly subscription and pick up meals at a designated location (currently Berkshire Food Co-op in Great Barrington, No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge and Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield). They are also available at local farmers’ markets and Berkshire Grown winter markets. As to where the ingredients are sourced? “On the front of our meals, there is a tracking number,” Banach explained. “Type that in on our website and you can learn of all the local ingredients in that particular batch as well as read stories about the farmers and producers. I love telling stories and this, to us, is an important one to tell.” Braise Worthy currently has four vegan meals and five meaty meals in its lineup, all single sized portions; the organization is expecting at least two more of each next month. The company is also working with the state and other local programs to make its meals more accessible with EBT/SNAP programs.

A bowl of Folklore Foods’ chicken ramen. Photo courtesy Folklore Foods

Folklore Foods, the brainchild of Simeon and Natanya Bittman, is another option for meal delivery in the Berkshires. Folklore boasts high-quality, delicious meals—without the restaurant cost or hassle of cooking yourself—made fresh and delivered to you! Bittman, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, relies on local, organic and seasonal ingredients to make his selection of handmade entrees and sides. The menu ranges from vegetable stew, chicken tikka masala and chicken ramen to einkorn pilaf, beet and citrus salad, and savory squash custard. All items serve two, with a little extra for little ones or leftovers. “The food we create, the feeling we give you, is all about the love for what we do and where our products come from,” said Bittman. “We want to give you the best that love has to offer.” Delivery days are Tuesday and Friday; orders are due Sunday by 5 p.m. for Tuesday delivery and Wednesday by 5 p.m. for Friday delivery.

So the next time your family (or belly) asks what’s for dinner, fear not: Creative, local options abound, which means you can think outside the kitchen—and the box—and make it through March well-fed and ready to tackle the long-awaited spring. As Leventhal said, “We are seeing what the community wants, what they will support, and playing with that.” Sounds like a recipe for success to me.

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