Blue Plate Special: 'One plate at a time' Great Falls Harvest in Turners Falls
Great Falls Harvest chef Chris Menegoni pan cooks chicken for Almathea's Dinner, herb crusted pan roasted chicken with a creamy feta basmati rice and garlic braised greens and roasted tomato. Recorder/Paul Franz
Great Falls Harvest Almatheas' Dinner. Recorder/Paul Franz
Ingredients clockwise from top; Sumac, Himalayan Pink Salt, Feta, and Scallions. Recorder/Paul Franz
Special to The Recorder
Great Falls Harvest is a mom-and-pop restaurant ... literally.
Husband and wife Chris Menegoni and Bridgette Chaffee are the proud parents of a six-year-old girl who is wise beyond her years in the kitchen.
The two are also proud parents of the new restaurant on Third Street in Turners Falls. They serve dinner Thursday through Sunday nights, with additional hours for brunch on Sunday.
The four-day-a-week schedule, Chris Menegoni told me in a recent interview, “keeps family life attainable.” He is the restaurant’s chef. Chaffee, who bills herself as an “industry madame,” is the face of the business. She greets customers, takes orders, and, in her husband’s words, “makes people feel warm and fuzzy.”
Friends, neighbors, and relatives help out from time to time, but Menegoni and Chaffee are the restaurant’s only official staff. “We have no payroll,” the chef explained.
Before opening Great Falls Harvest, Menegoni says, he worked in a large, high-pressure restaurant. He much prefers to work on a smaller scale in a smaller kitchen.
“It’s one plate at a time,” he noted. “Everybody wants to be as busy as possible, but I know that at a certain point (if you are too busy) you lose your ability to pay attention and lose your ability to love the work.”
Asked to describe his style of cuisine, he laughed. “A few years ago I would have told you Italian or Mediterranean.” He grew up in a food-rich Italian family. Today, he explained, his style varies.
“I cook in the framework of a certain style and then interchange various pieces,” he said. His menu draws on classic American, European, Middle-Eastern and Asian cuisines.
Menegoni was never formally trained, but he has cooked for nearly 20 years with people he describes as great chefs. The lesson he learned best was to work for love rather than money.
He cooks from experience and intuition and often doesn’t know the formal terms for some of the dishes and sauces he concocts.
“I’m like one of those guys who is a virtuoso on the guitar but can’t read a lick of music,” he explained with a smile.
Among the most popular items he creates are those on the restaurant’s special vegetarian and vegan menu.
The restaurant, which opened in September, takes its name from the original Native American name for Turners Falls. Before the first dam was built in the 1700s, Menegoni told me, the falls were apparently breathtaking.
He and Chafee like the connection to nature and community conjured up by the name. They have lived in Turners Falls since 2007 and enjoy the combination of thriving urban area and small-town community they have experienced there.
They try to expand the community feeling in their restaurant by purchasing as much of their food as they can locally. They also hope to set up a market and gallery in a now empty wing of the restaurant.
The market will feature local products and ideally provide space for what Menegoni called “a CSA (Community-supported agriculture) transfer and pickup station.” He and Chaffee are in the process of planning this project with others and hope to launch it in the spring.
Meanwhile, they are enjoying getting to know their clientele one plate at a time.
Here’s an example:
This chicken dish gets its kick from fresh herbs and from the garlic-infused oil Chris Menegoni uses in cooking. A tofu version appears on the chef’s vegetarian menu.
for the infused oil:
1 cup olive oil
1 medium bulb garlic
for the marinade:
1/2 cup infused oil
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ground sumac (if this is unavailable, use more lemon; see below)
the zest and juice of 1 lemon (of 2 lemons if no sumac is available)
salt and pepper to taste (Chris Menegoni’s salt of choice is mineral-rich pink Himalayan sea salt)
for the chicken:
infused oil as needed
4 to 8 pieces of chicken, bone in (Chris Menegoni prefers thighs, but use the cut of your choice)
for the rice:
1 cup uncooked Basmati rice
1 teaspoon salt plus salt and pepper to taste later
infused oil as needed
4 to 5 sundried tomatoes (from a jar, packed in oil)
4 cups greens (your choice—spinach, kale, etc.)
heavy cream as needed (1/2 to 1 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
chopped fresh green onions or chives (for garnish)
This dish is made over two days, but neither day involves a lot of work. The day before you wish to eat, begin by infusing the oil. Peel and chop the garlic. Warm the oil over low heat, and sauté the garlic until it softens. Cool the oil, drain out the garlic pieces, and set the oil aside.
Combine the marinade ingredients, and marinate the chicken in them overnight in the refrigerator.
Cook the rice the first day in water with the teaspoon of salt according to the directions on your rice package. Refrigerate the rice overnight.
The day of serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Drain the chicken pieces, and brown them in some of the infused oil. Place the browned chicken pieces in an oven-safe dish, and finish cooking them in the oven (this will take from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how large your chicken pieces are and how thoroughly they have been cooked on top of the stove). Check for doneness with a thermometer ... the thickest part of a thigh, for example, should read 180 degrees.
In another pan, warm additional infused oil. Toss in the tomatoes and greens and sauté them. When the greens start to wilt, add the rice. Toss until it is warm; then add the cream. Use enough cream to soak into the rice but not enough to pool.
Stir in the feta, the chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. (You will probably need more pepper than salt at this point; the rice is already salted, and the cheese is salty ... don’t oversalt!)
Place a mound of the rice mixture on each of four plates. Place the cooked chicken pieces on top, and garnish with a few green onions or chives.
Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. She is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” (www.merrylion.com) and “Pulling Taffy” (www.pullingtaffy.com.). If you have a suggestion for a future Blue Plate Special, please email Tinky at Tinky@merrylion.com.