Blue Plate Special: A good bite: the Alvah Stone
The Recorder. November 12, 2014. By Tinky Weisblat.
The view from the Alvah Stone is breathtaking. Perched above the Sawmill River in an old gristmill on Greenfield Road in Montague, the restaurant features large windows that give diners the feeling of being in the midst of nature.
Nature is also important to the chef, David Schrier, calls devotion to local farmers “the core” of his cuisine.
He estimates that for eight months of the year the fruits and vegetables used in his kitchen will be 100 percent local. More than eighty percent of the meat and poultry will be raised within 30 to 40 miles.
The fish comes a bit farther, but it is as fresh as it can be, purchased from a service called BerkShore that delivers directly from the coast.
The Alvah Stone is a new restaurant — and almost an accidental one. Owner Howard Wein has had an office next door to the restaurant in the old mill building for several years, running a consulting firm for food and hospitality businesses.
When the Alvah Stone’s predecessor, the Night Kitchen, closed in the fall of 2013, Wein told the landlord that he wanted dibs on the restaurant’s space.
“I do not believe there is a more enchanted space in the valley,” he told me.
“I always knew I was going to do something brick and mortar in the community … but I didn’t know what form it was going to take.”
He advertised for culinary talent on Craigslist and found David Schrier and his wife Jessica, an experienced pastry chef. Schrier is from Florida and his wife is from Turners Falls. The couple had met and worked together in Brooklyn but had moved to Franklin County to be close to family.
Schrier spoke of his elation at finding Howard Wein, “who’s very much a twin in the way we look at restaurants and the way we do food.”
Wein was equally enthusiastic in his praise of the Schriers. “They are world-class talent,” he noted, “and the fact that they live in the valley is a blessing for all of us.”
The team began renovating the space in January 2014 and opened in April. The restaurant is named after Alvah Stone, the man who built the mill in the early 1800s and ran a business that drew neighbors to grind grain and share news.
Schrier and Wein both told me that they want the menu to be affordable enough to lure neighbors to look on the old mill as a place to gather once more. At the same time, they are ambitious to establish the Alvah Stone as a restaurant of note.
“Our goal, humbly, is to be the best restaurant in the valley,” said Howard Wein.
“Not the most pretentious, not the most expensive, just a place where people feel super comfortable and really feel blown away by the food, the ambiance.”
David Schrier put his desires more simply. “We’re giving diners a good bite, and people can know (the food) all comes from their backyard.”
JESSICA’S PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH COOKIE
This elegant dessert was inspired by Concord grapes the Schriers found at Clarkdale Fruit Farms earlier this fall. Jessica Schrier thought long and hard about what to make with the grapes, her husband explained, and then came up with this concoction. It’s peanut butter and jelly, multiplied exponentially.
Her recipe is actually several different recipes put together.
To assemble the dish, start with a layer of Concord grape puree. Sprinkle crumbled peanut brittle on top, and top that with a peanut butter cookie. Place or pipe a layer of peanut butter cream on top of that. Top with another cookie, ice cream, and more pieces of brittle.
Jessica Schrier notes that for more crunch one could incorporate peanut-brittle crumble into the cookies. She also suggests cutting the recipes (particularly the ice cream) at least in half for home use.
for the cookies:
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) soft butter
1⁄3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Scrape the vanilla bean, and combine its seeds with the brown sugar by rubbing them between your fingers. Cream the softened butter, peanut butter, and sugars in a stand mixer, scraping down the sides. Beat in the egg, and mix and scrape again.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet and mix just to combine. Chill the dough for at least an hour; then preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape the dough into balls that are about 11/4 inches in diameter. Place them on a cookie sheet and flatten them until they are about 1/2 inch thick.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes; the cookies should not be brown. Makes about 24 cookies.
for the peanut butter cream:
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until they are soft, creamy, and aerated. Makes about 1 quart.
for the Concord grape puree:
about 8 quarts concord grapes, pulled from the stem
Combine the grapes with 1 quart water in a large pot. Smash the grapes with your hands to release their juices. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates. The puree should be thinner than jelly when it cools.
Push the grape mixture through fine sieve in order to remove the seeds; then blend the grape puree with an immersion blender to make it very smooth
Reserve 1 pint of the puree for making ice cream. Add sugar to taste to the rest of the puree for use as a sauce. You will have 1 to 2 quarts in all, depending on thickness and juiciness.
for the Concord grape ice cream:
4 cups cream
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar
11⁄2 teaspoons salt
12 egg yolks
Combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt in large sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil; then remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.
Pour some of the hot cream mixture into the yolks while whisking constantly. Pour the yolk mixture back into the pot of liquid, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. Cook the custard over low heat until it reaches 185 degrees or is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (Do not let it boil.)
When the custard has reached the desired consistency, pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl over ice. Stir to cool the mixture faster. Whisk in one pint of thick concord grape puree. Chill your ice cream base for a few hours before processing it in an ice-cream maker.
For more intense grape flavor, swirl in more grape puree after you churn the ice cream. Makes about 5 pints.
for the peanut brittle crumble
2 cups sugar
1 cup peanuts
Grease a sheet pan with butter or oil. Set it aside.
Make a dry caramel by melting the sugar in a sauce pan while stirring constantly. When the caramel is a light amber, take it off the heat. Add the peanuts. Mix to make sure all the peanuts are coated.
Pour the caramel peanuts onto the prepared sheet pan and allow the mixture to cool. Grind the brittle on a food processor to the chunkiness of your liking. Makes about 11/2 cups.
Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” If you have a suggestion for a future Blue Plate Special, please email Tinky at Tinky@TinkyCooks.com. For more information about Tinky, visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.