Photos by Caroline Alexander
Nestled on the side of the road on Route 23, heading west, just before the NY border, is a welcoming refuge for hungry locals and visitors. John Andrews: A Farmhouse Restaurant, has been around for so long, it’s an indigenous part of the landscape in the Berkshires.
Dan Smith, chef/owner, grew up on a farm in Iowa, then worked briefly as a sous chef in Florida before relocating to Salisbury, CT, in the late 1980s. He and his former wife purchased a two-story house—at the time, Sebastiani’s Restaurant—in 1990 on the outskirts of South Egremont, MA, and named the restaurant after his then father-in-law, John Andrews.
When Dan started out, his menu was American, with Northern Italian influences, and it’s still that way. But, his connection to local farmers has developed and deepened over time. As Dan’s culinary expertise evolved over the years, so has his menu. It is deeply rooted in local soil, imparting fresh flavors unique to the area; his style is sophisticated but simple. Here’s a typical pick off the menu: House- Made Fettuccine, Barefoot Farm Sweet Peas, Duck Confit, Berleberg Cheese. Or this: Grass-Fed Ribeye, Zinke’s Scallion Butter, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Local Broccoli.
Early on, Dan developed close professional relationships with local farmers, like the Stosieks of Markristo Farm, located just down the road on Route 23. Over the years, Dan cultivated strong ties to many of the farmers here—meat farmers like Pigasso Farms and Lila Berle; produce farmers like Indian Line and Farm Girl Farm; and mushroom farmers like the Zehrs—to such a degree that when he renovated in 2011, he expanded the restaurant’s name to include the expression: A FARMHOUSE RESTAURANT. And, that’s what it is … a restaurant paying homage to local farms.
Dan recalls the early days of Berkshire Grown, when farmers and chefs began working events to get to know one another better. They started with an event called “Autumnal Table,” a yearly event with produce from multiple farms and featuring local chefs. That concept of collaboration and camaraderie among farmers and chefs is popular in the Berkshires. Events showcasing local farmers and chefs are held throughout the year. They include, for example, a benefit for Volunteers in Medicine, the James Beard dinners in New York, Railroad Street Youth Project Culinary events and Outstanding in the Field. Dan is involved in all of these events, while maintaining his thriving catering and restaurant business. He is highly respected for his quiet manner and dedication to simple yet sophisticated cuisine.
In 2009, Dan became the sole owner of John Andrews: A Farmhouse Restaurant, and that new brand marked the start of his Featured Farm Prix Fixe menus—available Thursdays through Sundays—that indulge in the rich, earthly gifts of what’s seasonal. (He also has Dinner and Bar menus available every night but Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed. The bar is popular for its smaller plates and lighter fare, and is a favorite spot among locals looking for casual dining.) The Prix Fixe menu features one farm each week, with a threecourse meal creatively designed around several seasonally fresh ingredients. For example, here’s a menu featuring vegetables from Taft Farms (ingredients in italics are from Taft Farms):
- Head Lettuces, Cucumber, Berle Farm Crowdie, Tomato-Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Tempura of Chevre-Stuffed Squash Blossom, Sage Brown Butter
- Tomato & Squash Risotto, Parmesan, Basil
- Grilled Lamb Sausage, Baby Carrots, Broccoli, Grilled Onions Dessert
- Lemon Panna Cotta, Blueberries
Upcoming farms to be featured weekly, Thursdays through Sundays, in September include: Indian Line Farm, Farm Girl Farm, Sol Flower Farm, and Taft Farms.
In October, the apple and fruit orchards will be leading the Prix Fixe menu. Farms that produce lamb and pork also figure prominently on the John Andrews menus—Pigasso Farms, of Columbia County, and Lila Berle’s lamb of Berkshire County, are among them.
The locals’ best kept secret is to check out John Andrews’ weekly Farmhouse Prix Fixe menus on the restaurant’s web site to find out which farm is being featured—they’re all farms of local renown. There’s always palpable excitement about celebrating the hard work of our neighbors. Visitors to the Berkshires would do well to check the site as well. And, fall in the Berkshires is the perfect season for dining out on the large deck/terrace overlooking the gardens.
One final mention … I find it remarkable that just about every time we’ve eaten at John Andrews restaurant, we notice chefs and bartenders from other restaurants in the Berkshires stopping by to dine at Dan’s place. That’s the sign of an exceptional chef and a good friend to this community of food lovers.
Caroline Alexander moved to the Berkshires seven years ago after a career in public broadcasting. She continues to develop programming and websites for television, and three years ago she launched BerkshireFoodJournal.com and began documenting the lives and work of local farmers and chefs. Impressed by the intimacy of personal voice in the recordings of her subjects, she photographs her stories and then edits the interviews into audio/slideshows, now archived on her site.