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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Yellow Kind, I Guess

Many of my generation became very interested in the back-to-the-land movement, natural living, and healthy food. However, I learned a painful lesson that rural does not necessarily mean healthy, often quite the contrary.

Regular readers know that my family comes from northern Maine - Aroostook County, which abuts the Canadian border. This area is quite poor, and the cuisine reflects it. There are a few good home-cooked specialties that can be had, but it is not the place for restaurant dining.

On one trip there as an adult, having not visited in decades, I was quite enthused about exploring my roots and this remote, isolated area. One evening, my companion and I decided to eat out. My mother had warned me that no good places existed and that it was a waste of time.
"Not to worry," I said, "because I am a resourceful New Yorker, and I am quite capable of eating simply." Certainly I would ferret out that small casual eatery with tasty local dishes.
Or so I thought.

Finding any place at all was a challenge, and we finally settled on a one of the only candidates - a restaurant in an inn for hunters. The whole place did not look very promising. My companion ordered a cheeseburger and politely asked what kind of cheese they had. The waitress answered, "the yellow kind, I guess."

This was not sarcasm. We knew we were in trouble. I also felt it was inexcusable for a waiter to not know what type of cheese was available, even if only American. Even in the smallest towns in this region, stores did carry more than one type of cheese and they were labeled. Our food arrived and it was truly dreadful. The cheeseburger was inedible.

As to be expected, we were quizzed about our dining experience as soon as we returned to my family, and after giving an honest report, my mother launched a barrage of I-told-you-sos. She won that round handily.

High quality food is never really a simple affair, and watching the numerous videos of the farms which supply Blue Hill Restaurant is an education as to the levels that farming and animal husbandry can reach. Artisanal techniques and the best possible conditions for livestock and produce are all used. Blue Hill Restaurant, at 75 Washington Place in Greenwich Village, is renowned for its use of farm-fresh, local, seasonal, organic and sustainable ingredients in its cuisine.

The restaurant was opened in 2000 and is owned by brothers Dan and David Barber and David's wife Laureen. The accolades for Blue Hill are many. The Zagat survey gives the food a 27 (out of a possible 28) rating. Serious Eats ran an article: "Blue Hill at Stone Barns: The Most Important Restaurant in America." In May 2009, it was visited by President Obama and his wife. See more at the Blue Hill website here and a sample menu here.

I imagine, when inquiring about the type of cheese used in one of Blue Hill's offerings, that they could do a little better than "the yellow kind, I guess" :)

Note: Blue Hill also has a location at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. It operates as farm, kitchen, classroom – an exhibit, a laboratory and campus. The farm is one of several suppliers to the restaurant. See more at their website here.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is outstanding!

Horse Badorties said...

I don't know what surprises me more: that a cheeseburger in a hunter's inn would be bad, or; that you would even think that there would be a choice of cheese!

Brian Dubé said...

Horse Badorties - I think the issue was more that my friend just wanted to know what they used. We assumed in advance that it was likely they only had one type. However, if they had something she did not like, she would have just ordered a burger without cheese.

jb said...

And then there's New Zealand