Every year my good friend Stevie plans an extravaganza around his birthday. He makes it clear that he doesn’t want gifts or cards, only the participation of his wide group of wonderful friends. Years ago, we rented out part of a club and danced till dawn. Last year it was karaoke and bowling. Two years ago, we had a simple, cheap dinner in Chinatown which ended around 11:00 pm. But the party didn’t really begin until we were escorted to a plumber’s van which drove us to a roller rink on the southern tip of Staten Island.
This year, Stevie rented a house near Hudson, New York for a week of reading, swimming, singing, throwing the ball around the yard, hammock sleeping, star-gazing, and of course, eating. I love Stevie. He cultivates pleasure and then shares it generously.
The upper Hudson Valley in mid-summer is stunning. There are farms everywhere, and I recognized the names of many from greenmarkets around the city. But the culinary jewel of this area is Local 111 in Philmont, New York. It doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but quickly you realize that if this place was in the city, it would be one of the hottest tickets in town.
Local 111 is a farm-to-table experience, made even better by the fact that to get to Philton, you drive through miles of fields and farms. In addition, all the meat is raised and butchered locally. My meal was even better than the local, seasonal cooking I have enjoyed at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. (It was also nice to be without an overly formal waiter waxing poetic about ramps.)
I had a braised short rib sandwich with fried onions, melted swiss cheese, and parsley aioli smeared liberally on both sides of the bun. Stevie’s grilled pork chop was a thing of beauty. Enthroned on an enormous piece of zucchini bread and topped with curling sheets of fried zucchini that looked exactly like bacon, it was clear that the chef is having a ball in the kitchen. The zucchini bread was crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and filled with both sweet and savory herbs and spices, and a heart-stopping amount of butter. This is a chef who is letting her food fantasies run wild.
The exuberant chef is Josephine Proul, A native Californian who graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in 2008. Yup, that graduation date means she got the executive chef position at the grand old age of 23! What the heck was I doing at 23? Oh, I was slaving it out in a crappy cubicle job. But that’s where I met Stevie, so I guess it was a pretty good year after all.
Happy Birthday, my friend!