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Blue Plate Special: Making it tasty

  • The Alvah Stone restaurant in Montague Center brussel sprout side dish. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • David Schrier of The Alvah Stone restaurant in Montague Center prepares a brussel sprout side dish. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • David Schrier of The Alvah Stone restaurant in Montague Center prepares a brussel sprout side dish. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • David Schrier of The Alvah Stone restaurant in Montague Center plates a brussel sprout side dish. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • David Schrier of The Alvah Stone restaurant in Montague Center prepares a brussel sprout side dish. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For The Recorder
Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Alvah Stone is one of Franklin County’s most scenic eateries. Located just above the Sawmill River in an old gristmill on Greenfield Road in Montague, the restaurant offers a spectacular view. Its decor features timber and equipment left over from its longtime identity as a community gristmill.

The eatery 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. When I last visited in 2014, chef David Schrier and owner Howard Wein were just beginning to live their dream of a locally sourced community restaurant.

I returned a couple of weeks ago, curious to see whether the dream had come true. Apparently it has.

“We’re staying on track, doing what we do,” Schrier informed me with a satisfied smile.

“The focus was always going to be supporting our local agriculture and community — and making the tastiest things possible with what’s available in season,” he explained.

“We like to take something that’s not necessarily appreciated and turn it into the most flavorful thing we can.”

With fall flying by and winter on the way, he and his staff are drawing on local farms that have a good stock of what Schrier calls “storage vegetables” —potatoes, onions, daikon radishes and various forms of cabbage. They are also cooking with items they preserved during the harvest season.

The chef told me that, despite the limitations he has set for himself by focusing on seasonal produce, he is happy.

“My favorite time to cook is winter. I like those bold, rich flavors,” he said.

He explained that at this time of year, he enjoys the hearty cuisines of the American South, Southeast Asia and Italy, although he doesn’t limit himself to those styles of cooking.

“We look all over the place for inspiration,” he said.

Asked who comes to the Alvah Stone, he reported that the restaurant attracts lots of Montague locals, as well as “academic folks” from Amherst and Northampton. In warmer months, these diners are joined by tourists.

“It’s a good balance of customers,” Schrier observed. “We see a little bit of everything.”

Recently, the Alvah Stone’s community-building efforts have expanded to feature special dinners with guest chefs and themed dinners like the New Jersey Italian-American meal the staff planned a couple of months ago.

The restaurant also participated in the Chilifest, organized in September by the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland. Schrier noted that he loves to see chefs collaborate.

Collaboration is also a watchword for the way in which he operates his kitchen, he explained, outlining the process of creating the dish he served when I visited.

It was a fun side dish for the holidays, starting with tiny, fresh Brussels sprouts from Warner Farm in Sunderland. Then Schrier and his staff — most notably his sous chef, Eli Horowitz — added a variety of Asian flavors.

The end result was a mixture of chewy and crunchy consistencies with flavors that both melded and stood out individually.

“We all taste together, and then put our bit in,” Schrier said of the genesis of this dish and others. “It’s really good to have such talented culinary intellects in the kitchen with you.”

Clearly, cooking at the Alvah Stone is a tasty mixture of science, art, and intuition.

From the Alvah Stone

Brussels Sprouts Horowitz

David Schrier predicts that readers wanting to make this dish will need to visit an Asian market, such as Tran’s World Food Market in Hadley, where many of the special ingredients are inexpensive.

A visit to a local farm that sells fresh turmeric is also in order; Schrier purchased his (and the ginger) from Book and Plow Farm in Amherst. When I asked him whether one could use ground turmeric instead, he answered emphatically in the negative.

Ingredients for the glaze:

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup black vinegar (i.e., glutinous rice vinegar; the Alvah Stone uses the Koon Chun brand)

¼ cup local raw honey (Schrier gets his from Yard Birds Farm in Montague)

1 tablespoon fish sauce

¼ cup plum vinegar

½ cup coconut vinegar

Ingredients for the chopped mixture:

¼ cup chopped young ginger

¼ cup chopped fresh turmeric

¼cup toasted sesame seeds

¼ cup finely ground cashews

¼ cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tablespoons minced pickled jalapeño 

2 tablespoons pickled jalapeño juice

2 tablespoons Thai chili oil (or any other spicy oil) 

¼ cup peanut or canola oil

¼ cup minced scallion greens

for assembly:

a generous splash of oil (use an oil with a high smoke point such as safflower oil, peanut oil, or canola oil)

a generous wad of clarified butter (if you don’t have this, use more oil)

1½ to 2 cups of small Brussels sprouts, blanched in salty water, drained thoroughly, and cut in half

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons of the glaze

½ cup of the chopped mixture

2 tablespoons unsweetened toasted
coconut

3 tablespoons chopped unsalted cashews

fresh cilantro to taste

1 teaspoon lime juice

Instructions:

First, separately mix the ingredients for the glaze and the chopped mixture. Boil the glaze until it is reduced by half. Set it and the chopped mixture aside.

Heat a skillet over hot heat. Drop in the oil and clarified butter, and allow them to heat.

Still over high heat, add the Brussels sprouts in a single layer, and sprinkle the salt on top. Schrier likes to put the sprouts in the pan face down, but home cooks don’t have to do that. “I’m just being crazy,” he said of this process.

When the sprouts are crispy on one side, flip them over (preferably one at a time), and cook them on the other side until they brown nicely.

Strain off any fat, and remove the pan from the heat. Shake the sprouts briefly, and then sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of glaze on them. Stir in the ½ cup of the chopped mixture, the coconut, the nuts, and some fresh cilantro. Toss in the lime juice, and serve the sprouts with a little more cilantro as a garnish.

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish. This recipe may be doubled.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky visit her website,
www.TinkyCooks.com