New Northampton eatery specializes in farm-to-table comfort food

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 18, 2017, by Rebecca Mullen

NORTHAMPTON — Newbie eatery Belly of the Beast serves up farm-to-table comfort food with a twist.

The Main Street bistro specializes in scrapple, a savory loaf made of cornmeal and pork trimmings sliced thin and pan-fried like bacon.

Co-owners Aimee Francaes and Jesse Hassinger, who is also head chef, long dreamed of opening their own restaurant.

“We both came from households where our parents cooked a lot,” Hassinger said.

The couple met in high school and together moved to Los Angeles. It was there that they discovered weekly farmers markets and the joy of local produce.

Later, the couple moved to Boston where they cut their teeth in the restaurant industry and began planning for their own venture. They said they considered everything from a charcuterie — a store where pork products are sold — to a food truck but they always wanted to have a business that put them in close contact with their customers.

A desire to be part of a close-knit community led them to Northampton. They loved the “wonderful, vital community,” Hassinger said.

“Eight years ago, we knew that this was where we wanted to be,” he said.

Northampton reminds the couple of the central New York town they grew up in with convenient access to local farms and large cities.

They also knew what the name would be. They decided on Belly of the Beast six years ago. “We knew as soon as we wrote it down,” Hassinger said.

Still living in Boston, they developed the concept as much as they could remotely before Hassinger moved to the Valley in October 2015 to begin scouting locations and doing research on local farms. Francaes joined him early this year.

They found their ideal location in the former Lhasa Café at 159 Main St. The couple began making cosmetic renovations in April and opened June 7 to a packed house.

Belly is full of intentional and eclectic design choices that feels personal to the couple’s history and vision for the restaurant. The couple’s art hangs on the walls and the restaurant features a “community table” where single diners and small groups can share a meal and conversation. In addition to scrapple, Belly also features a rotating menu packed with local and seasonal produce and even vegan and vegetarian options.

The best way to sum up their cuisine, said Francaes is “comfort food mindfully made.”