8 Ways to Show Our Thanks for NWCT
The days are shorter, the air is colder, and you can already feel it….the holidays are fast approaching! Before the Thanksgiving cooking, Christmas shopping, and holiday cleaning chaos, we want to take a few minutes to remind you of the ways that we can show our thanks for Northwest Connecticut and all that it has to offer to both locals and visitors.
Say it slowly….Cinnamon. Sugar. Waffles. Yes, they taste as good as they sound! Owners Greg and Annie Bidou opened the Toymaker’s Cafe in Falls Village in 2002 and have been a lively “biker friendly” cafe serving up delicious breakfast and lunch ever since. While they might be known for their motorcycle crowd, we’d like to take the time to recognize them for their incredible waffles!
After making the move from Brooklyn to NWCT, Audrey and Sam Leary bought, rebranded, and opened what is now Blackberry River Baking Co. It’s been open for a couple of years and is always bustling with locals who swear by their freshly baked breads, birthday cakes with buttercream frosting, Parisian macarons, and of course breakfast served all day. Their weekly specials, like fluffy pancakes and ever changing omelets, are always tempting, but are always trumped by their creative takes on eggs benedict! Audrey was nice enough to answer a few questions:
Why Canaan? How did you decide to make the move?
“We were living in Brooklyn and had decided we wanted to open something of our own outside of the city. We thought a little about moving to a smaller city, and looked at Burlington VT and Portland ME, but ultimately decided if we were leaving the city we wanted to go completely to the other end of the spectrum. Sam grew up in Connecticut, near the airport, and spent a fair bit of time in the Northwest Corner fishing – he’s crazy about fishing. This place was for sale and everything just fell into place.”
What is your favorite menu item (to date) at Blackberry River Baking Co?
“That’s hard. It changes a lot – we eat at least two meals a day here so we’ve kind of cycled through favorites. I’d say the huevos rancheros is a go-to breakfast – we make the tortillas to order and they are so good – and for lunch, you can’t beat a reuben. Our chef brines the corned beef in his own mix of spices for ten days, it is insane.”
You’ve been open for over a year. If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself before opening the doors?
“Probably to pace yourself. We came in wanting to make a lot of changes and were pretty impatient to get it done – we were working insane hours and kind of killing ourselves to get it done, and I think slow and steady is totally okay.”
Do you measure everything to the gram, or do you bake based on intuition?
“I’m somewhere in between. For the most part, I’m pretty intuitive – especially in a place like ours where I make the same things pretty much every morning, you get a feel for it. But there are certain items – like French macarons – that I am super precise about and weigh to the gram every time. There’s nothing sadder than a batch of macarons that don’t turn out right.”
What are you thankful for in NWCT?
“We’ve been really lucky to have very supportive customers who support small business and quality over mass production and cheap prices. We love the community here and really feel at home, and we’re both very thankful for that.”
Who isn’t thankful for chocolate? …How about small batch chocolates, handmade on the same farm that produces the milk, cream, and butter used in each delectable treat? Milk House Chocolates is a family run business creating fine artisanal “single cow origin” chocolates and they were recently voted “Best Chocolates in Connecticut 2015” by Connecticut Magazine (rightfully so).
Located less than 20 minutes away and right off of Route 7 in Cornwall is Matthews 1812 House, a family owned and operated business offering handmade specialty treats made in small batches with high quality ingredients. They offer everything from an “Apple Crumb Torte” to “Chocolate Pistachio Toffee” and a “Fruit and Nut Cake” that your grandmother would be jealous of! We called over to Company President, Cynthia Matthews von Berg to ask a few questions:
Why did your family start Matthews 1812 House?
“My mother, Deanna started Matthews 1812 House in 1979. She want to be able to work from home and have the flexibility to spend time with her family- which at the time was two very small daughters. I’ve taken on the business for many of the same reasons- so we can live in a beautiful area, my daughter can play outside, and I can be home to tuck her into bed at night (at least most nights!)”
Who is the recipe mastermind?
“Some of our recipes are from old family sources- the original fruitcakes we started with were my great grandmother’s recipes. For most of our products, we go through an extensive product development process. We have a team here that bakes and tastes, and bakes again. We aim to create something that is delicious, and has a long enough shelf life to be able to ship across the country without added preservatives. We use real butter and real vanilla- always have and always will. We post all our ingredients on our website- we believe in knowing what you are eating.”
Fruitcake can have a pretty bad rep, but yours is amazing!…..what makes it so different and delicious?
“We love our fruitcakes! The are not too sweet- there are no candied fruits or citron- instead we use lots of apricots, pecans, dates and raisins. The Brandied Apricot Cake is my favorite- especially with a spoonful of Hard Sauce on top!”
What is your favorite treat at Matthews 1812 House?
“The Spice Cake is one of my favorites- the spices smell so good when it’s baking. I like it because it’s not too sweet- but if you’re up for a something more intense, a drizzle of our new Caramel Bourbon Sauce makes it super tasty!”
What are you thankful for in NWCT?
“So many things! The quiet first of all- and the beautiful land- I drive along the Housatonic every day on my way to work, and it’s so pretty in every season. For a few weeks this summer there was a blue heron I’d see in the middle of the river every few days. A little thing like that really makes my week.”
New and Exciting.
Anyone who knows anything about craft beer, has heard of Kent Falls Brewing Company. The farmhouse brewery land has been in continuous agricultural use for over 250 years and the grazing cattle from the previous “Fools Day Farm” has kept the soil nutrient rich and fertile, the perfect home for hops! The owners of Kent Falls are extremely proud of their sustainability efforts and traditional farm focused brewing. We met with head brewer and beer blogger, Derek Dellinger, and toured the brewery.
Derek has spent the past four plus years homebrewing, and working as a writer in Hudson Valley. His love for craft beer is evident on his beer blog www.bear-flavored.com. Distribution for Kent Falls Brewing Co extends up to Boston and as far down as New York City. They are currently a small facility but are hoping to expand efforts in the future. Dellinger mentioned the recently pushed “farm brewery licensed” in New York and his hope for the same encouragement from Connecticut. As for trade secrets, Derek discourages measurements and prefers to experiment with his brews. He even went as far as to say that he hasn’t brewed the same IPA yet. Recently added to the brewery was barrel for aging. “I went out and picked anything I could find, assorted flowers, greens….indigenous flavors to start a wild culture.” This is just one of the 20 plus unique microbial environments that Dellinger has created in the barrels. He enjoys the variations that can be seen from the farm flavors.
We were taken outside of the facility to find an old milk/dairy chiller that has been converted into open outdoor fermentation equipment. Although they haven’t done much with it yet, Dillinger did say that now is the best time to start testing out its capabilities. The air is cooler and the numbers of insects are dwindling, creating the perfect environment for open fermentation. Let’s just hope the chickens and sheep don’t decide to acquire a taste for craft beer, too!
We asked Derek what he is thankful for in northwest CT, “Hmm, that’s a question I haven’t been asked before! It’s an area with a lot of great producers of food and drinks of all types, focused on high quality artisanal products, and it’s great to find that northwestern CT supports such efforts. From restaurants to butchers and dairies and distilleries, there’s a lot of culinary quality here for a very rural area. And from a brewer’s perspective, many of the farms that make up the culinary backbone of this area are producing some great fruit, which helps me, using this great fruit, to make beers focusing on local ingredients with unique flavors and their own terroir.”
After closing its doors in 2010, the White Hart Inn left the town of Salisbury in complete disappointment. The inn and tavern style restaurant was a community center and historic institution. Add a few years, and a pretty hefty price reduction on the property, when renowned Chef Annie Wayte, Conley Rollins and Meredith Rollins, and a few anonymous investors decided to buy the inn. Over a year later, the 16- room inn, tap room, and restaurant, are thriving and the town couldn’t be happier!
An MD, Ph.D, and associate professor at the Yale University’s School, James Shepherd is an infectious disease specialist and most recently, the owner of Smokedown Farm in Sharon. The England native and longtime beer enthusiast now owns the biggest hop farm in Connecticut, including 9,000 hop plants strung across 667 20-plus-foot poles. We wrote over to James to see if he would answer a few questions about his new endeavor:
“We were looking for prime farmland in Connecticut. We found a lot of properties with big houses and not much land, a lot of woods and wetlands, but this farm had top quality fields, good infrastructure, and not too much house. Sharon has some of the best farmland in CT.”
Would you ever be interested in opening your own brewery?
“Yes and no. The idea is a good one and one might equate selling beer in a hop yard with selling cheese on a dairy farm or wine in a vineyard. However the needs of brewing are quite different from the needs of growing and we have our work cut out for us growing at the moment. Maybe in the future, and maybe if CT passes a Farm Brewery law like they have in NY State.”
Does your education in infectious disease ever overlap with growing hops?
“Strangely it does. Hops have diseases and epidemics just like humans. We found Downy Mildew in a few plants at one end of the yard that appeared to be spreading plant to plant. It may have come in from a wild hop in the hedgerow. We had to isolate the area to prevent the disease spreading, treat the affected hops with fungicide and keep up our surveillance of neighboring rows of hops to keep control of the infection and prevent an epidemic. You can see the parallels to Public Health and treating humans with infections.”
How does your knowledge help the struggles of owning a farm?
“Not much. My past has been very much in the Ivory Tower and I’ve never conducted business or tried farming until now. Farming is hard! The good news is that I’ve been told that after farming everything else is easy.”
The hops are growing…… so what next? How long will it take to reach full maturity?
“This year was a planting season. We didn’t get the hops in the ground until mid summer and spent the time feeding them gently to get them established. Some European noble hops will take a couple of years to get comfortable but some US varieties were already robust by harvest time and produced some beautiful hops. Next year we hope that the majority of plants will produce and we will have a mechanical harvester to help with the late summer harvest. With a bit of lucky we will have two thirds of a full yield. In year three the hops should be fully established and will last for ten years or more.”
What are you thankful for in NWCT?
“Space, wildness, people who appreciate working the land”
Infinity Music Hall is an entertainment and dining experience located in Norfolk and Hartford offering community events such as an Open Mic Night and the Halloween Costume Ball, plus solo acoustic performances, comedy acts, and lively award-winning bands! The four-start bistro and on-site bar allows an intimate experience without a bad seat in the house!
How long has Infinity Music Hall been open?
“Our Norfolk venue has been open since Oct 2008 and we just celebrated our 7 year anniversary. Our Hartford venue has been open just a little more than one year.”
What were some of the most memorable performances?
“There have been so many great shows, but some that come to mind are Art Garfunkel, Dave Mason, Bacon Brothers, Judy Collins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Little Feat, Paula Poundstone, Brandi Carlisle, Tori Amos, 10,000 Maniacs, Arlo Guthrie, just to name a few”
Any funny things that you’ve seen performers do behind the scenes?
“Brett Dennen in the kitchen with our chef making a kale shake! Many artist have fun signing our wall of fame.”
You offer music and comedy. Will there be any other forms of live entertainment in the future?
“Live music is our main focus, but there are many other things we can do with our hall(s), including speak engagements/forums. In addition our venue is available for private parties and special events. We’ve hosted weddings, corporate events and many other special occasions.”
What do we have to look forward to this month?
“In Norfolk we’ve got Robert Earl Keen, Black Violin, Martha Davis and The Motels, Jackie Green, Phil Vassar, The Wiffenpoofs, plus New Year’s Eve with The Allman Neville Pitchell Band.”
What are you thankful for in NWCT?
“All the folks that have been so supportive of Infinity Hall by frequenting our concert venue and our Bistro.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Contact information for the businesses featured in this article:
Toymakers Cafe/T100 Toymakers Inc.
85 Main Street
Falls Village, CT 06031
Blackberry River Baking Co.
18 East Main Street
Canaan, CT 06018
Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates
28 Town Hill Road
Goshen, CT 06756
Matthews 1812 House Inc
250 Kent Road S
Cornwall, CT 06754
Kent Falls Brewing Company
The brewery is currently not open to the public, however they happily accept volunteers looking to help with bottling! You can join their mailing list here to stay up to date on new brews.
White Hart Inn
15 Under Mountain Road
Salisbury, CT 06068
Smokedown Farm is not currently open for tours, but stay up to date on information by following them on Facebook.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro
20 Greenwoods Road W
Norfolk, CT 06058