The sign read “TOMATO BAR.”
But even if it didn’t, you’d know by the bowls of tomato salsa, cups of tomato gazpacho, platters of tomato bruschetta and slabs of sliced tomatoes topped with mozzarella and a dab of verdant pesto that the edible display wasn’t heralding a season where chestnuts roast on open fires.
On this high summer’s eve, the larger-than-elfin-life conspirators behind this mashup between farm and restaurant were gleeful with hospitality. Mark Pascal and Francis Schott, owners of the seminal Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick, and John and Jessica Dreyer, the primary forces behind the 113-year-old Dreyer Farms in Cranford, were hosting a true farm-to-table dinner as rain threatened, but didn’t dare drop.
A long table was set in a Dreyer greenhouse. Starters (cukes-‘n’-crab, a Flintstonian-size “quarter burger,” huge ribs, things pickled, cured and cheesed-up, just to name a handful) were passed, the Tomato Bar laden, and beverage stations dispensing Hendrick’s Gin Punch, Monkey Shoulder Rum Punch and Carton Brewery Beer were set up. Of course, there was more food and more drink on board; the Stage Left Steak lads never do anything less than more, more, more.
But this one was special; personal, even.
Pascal said, “I come to Dreyer every week, three times a week.” Schott added: “Dreyer’s produce has been part of Stage Left forever.”
As early proponents of the farm-to-table ideology, the restaurateurs weren’t content with just talking about their allegiance to, and alliance with, the Dreyer farmers. They took their restaurant show on the road, so their dining clientele could experience it first hand, a pebble’s throw from where much of dinner was grown.
Creamed Dreyer corn, plied with black truffle, and Dreyer carrots, cooked in the fat of Iberico jamon, stood as sides to slices of Waygu steak cooked at table on salt bricks that seasoned the precious beef effortlessly.
The hosts poured wines, the talk ambled seasonally (“You pickled your watermelon rinds yet?” and “Bet tomatoes peak the last week of August this year”), and thoughts turned to dessert (Dreyer berries atop sabayon and zeppole crammed with Dreyer preserves) as the festivities played on.
Once upon a time, farmers united in barn-raisings for their brethren. Today, with “families” forming around a nucleus of farmers, restaurateurs and chefs, collaborations can happen without the accident of a splinter or blackened fingernail.
They happen because those who understand that connections in the culinary world are critical to quality, not to mention survival, are willing to work together to educate and celebrate as they gather around one big table.
Stage Left Steak and Dreyer Farms got it right when they played perfectly together.
Dreyer Farms, 831 Springfield Avenue in Cranford. 908-276-1290; www.dreyerfarms.com.
Stage Left Steak, 6 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. 732-828-4444; www.stageleft.com.