Blue Plate Special: More than an April Fool, Jerry’s Place
Corn chowder from Jerry's Place in South Deerfield.
Jerry Dagosa of Jerry's Place in South Deerfield prepares his corn chowder. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
By TINKY WEISBLAT
Jerry’s Place is a South Deerfield institution. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, except on major holidays, this Main Street eatery celebrated its 23rd birthday earlier this month. “I opened up on April 1,” owner Jared “Jerry” Dagrosa told me.
“It was a Wednesday ... and I fooled everybody by staying open!”
Working in a restaurant was in his blood, the cook (he eschews the term “chef”) informed me. Both of his parents worked in restaurants and he trained on the job.
“I’m in a class by myself as a cook,” says Dagrosa. “I’m not fancy about anything. The menu is like home cooking.”
Dagrosa explains that he aims for reasonable prices and locally sourced food — for example serving his popular pancakes and French toast with pure maple syrup from Williams Farm in Deerfield. He buys his hamburger meat at Millstone Market in Sunderland and tries to have as much fresh food on the menu as possible.
His staff is limited and he does all the cooking. He is helped by one waitperson on Monday through Thursday and two on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
That means that roles can be flexible at Jerry’s Place.
“I take orders sometimes, and sometimes I bring the food,” explained Dagrosa. “Between us we do the dishes. Most people are understanding.”
His wife frequently helps out as well. She is currently recovering from hip surgery so his daughter, who teaches at Deerfield Elementary School, has been stopping in to lend a hand on weekends.
Asked to identify the best part of his job, Dagrosa was unequivocal. “The people,” he replied quickly. “I love talking to the people — I joke with the kids — and I love cooking.”
He noted that he gets a lot of local, repeat business. “I don’t want to say it’s like ‘Cheers,’” he said with a smile, referring to the fictional bar in which customers are all known by name, “but I can probably tell you what everybody eats when they come in here.”
He says he tries to keep his loyal customers happy with wholesome food at fair prices.
“I do everything quality. That’s my belief,” he explained. “I don’t believe in skimping. I want to be comfortable in my lifestyle, but I have never wanted to take advantage of my customers.”
He aims to make money with volume rather than price, so he provides free coffee or tea with each full breakfast, and his most popular regular lunch item is the $7.75 Jerry Burger, a half-pound of meat served with homemade coleslaw and French fries Dagrosa cuts himself.
His frequent Friday lunch special, fish and chips, costs $7.95.
Jerry’s Place takes neither checks nor credit cards. “We are strictly cash here,” Dagrosa told me.
“Instead of taking a bad check, I’d rather have people come back and pay me another time. In 23 years, I think I got stuck once. The honesty is the most important part.”
Jerry Dagrosa is 58, and he predicts that he will keep the restaurant going for at least five or six more years and enjoy every minute of it.
“If somebody took this over, I’d probably work for them,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the way I am.”
Here’s a sample of his work:
JERRY’S CORN CHOWDER
Serves 6 to 8.
½ pound bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 “good sized” potatoes
3 cans (about 15 ounces each) whole-kernel corn with liquid (not creamed corn)
3 to 4 cups whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
In a frying pan, sauté the bacon and onion pieces until they are soft but not brown.
Wash the potatoes, then peel and dice into fairly small pieces.
Place the potatoes in a 3- to 4-quart pot. Strain out the corn liquid, reserving the corn, and add the liquid to the pot. Add water as needed to cover the potatoes.
Bring the potatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until you can pierce the potato pieces with a fork (about 15 to 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. Stir in the corn along with the bacon, the onions., and any bacon fat left in the frying pan.
Stir in milk until the consistency of the chowder looks right to you. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat the chowder until it is warm but not hot.
Let the chowder cool to room temperature. Cover it and refrigerate it for several hours — ideally overnight. Several hours later (or the next day), warm the chowder and serve it.
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.