Blue Plate Special: Color and flavor behind the Big Indian
Special to The Recorder
Nestled behind the Big Indian at the Native Views shop on Route 2 in Charlemont is a diner-like structure painted yellow — not just any yellow, but a cheerful, eye-popping yellow.
The building that houses the North River Snack Bar was originally a car trailer. Jeff Buchiane and his brother-in-law opened up the side of the trailer to create windows through which customers can order and pick up food. Inside, the pair designed a tiny but immaculate and efficient kitchen.
The Snack Bar opened in June 2012. It serves lunch and supper (from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) six days a week from May to October.
Its menu seems disproportionately large for the small space. Selections include burgers, a variety of sandwiches, seafood dishes, and daily specials like pulled pork and whole-belly clams. Fresh local produce in season is also available, including steamed corn.
According to Buchiane, his most popular items are lobster rolls, cheeseburgers and fish dinners.
When photographer Paul Franz and I stopped by recently, cheeseburgers were definitely the selection of the day. At least seven people ordered them in the hour or so during which we chatted with Buchiane.
I asked the owner/chef, who lives in Heath, how he happened to open a snack bar.
“I needed money,” he replied with a rueful smile, explaining that he had lost his job as the shop foreman for a trucking company.
He had always enjoyed cooking, he said, and he was inspired by his sister and brother-in-law, Diane and Richard Karowski, who run the Williamsburg Snack Bar. The Karowskis helped Buchiane set up his kitchen and shared recipes and menu ideas.
“I needed to get a fast start,” he noted. “They’ve been doing this for 10 years. I didn’t have 10 years to figure it out ... I tried everything that Rich and Diane had (on their menu) to see what would work. And pretty much everything worked!”
Buchiane currently has one employee who helps him do prep work in the mornings, and his wife lends a hand when she can. Other than that, he is on his own at the Snack Bar. He hopes eventually to be able to hire more help so that he can expand his menu and perhaps cut back a bit on his hours.
For the moment he appears pleased with the Snack Bar’s growing popularity. Drivers passing by on the Mohawk Trail are lured by the line of cars opposite the snack bar, as well as the eatery’s brightly colored chairs and tables.
On a busy day Buchiane throws together about 140 meals. “It’s a lot of work for one or two people,” he admitted. Nevertheless, he refuses to take shortcuts by purchasing pre-made food.
“We make our own chili, our own coleslaw, our own headaches,” he explained, moving swiftly and smoothly across his rectangular cooking area.
The number of customers who placed orders during the time Paul and I were at the Snack Bar attested to the success of the enterprise. The fish dinner Buchiane prepared for us was fresh, tasty and plentiful.
His recipe is vague; he tends to cook by instinct rather than by measurement. The recipe is simple enough to follow without exact measurements, however, and the “single” portion it made was more than enough for both Paul and me.
NORTH RIVER FISH DINNER
LOTS of canola oil
Drum Rock batter seasoning (available at Foster’s Supermarket) as needed
Old Bay seasoning as needed
1 bottle (approximately 12 ounces) beer (your choice as to brand)
1 beer bottle full of water
2 4-to-6-ounce haddock fillets
In a deep-fat fryer or large pot, heat the oil to 350 to 375 degrees.
Place Drum Rock seasoning in a flat dish. Stir in a little Old Bay seasoning.
Combine the beer and water in a bowl. Add enough of the dry mixture to make the liquid just slightly wetter than pancake batter.
Dip each fillet first in the dry mixture and then in the wet mixture. Gently and gradually lower each fish piece into the hot oil.
Cook the fish pieces until they are golden brown (about 3 minutes), turning them (carefully!) halfway through.
He serves this with French fries, coleslaw, tartar sauce, a dinner roll, and butter.
This fish dish is supposed to serve 1 but can easily serve 2. You will have leftover seasoning and batter for more fish.