Our most popular webpage for farm to table dining listings has consistently been the Massachusetts dining directory, which now includes over 100 listings. The Prairie Whale in Great Barrington (Berkshire County) is unquestionably a star in the Massachusetts listings. And it’s undeniably a farm to table restaurant.
It’s been more than ten years, since www.knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com went live on-line and our dining pages have been the most popular pages for users of our farm to table food directories. The very first review we posted of a farm to table restaurant (back in the summer of 2010) was of upstate New York’s Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca (Tompkins County). From the start, the decision on what restaurants should be included in our farm to table dining directories was based primarily on representations made on-line by particular restaurants. (In the case of Moosewood Restaurant, an actual meal at the venue and some phone calls also played a part in that decision back in 2010.)
Why is The Prairie Whale undeniably a farm to table restaurant? On its website, Mark Firth and Bettina Schwartz, the owner/operators of this popular dining spot in the Berkshires tell the story of their decision in 2010 “to give up the city life to experience country living, raising pigs, sheep and chickens” after coming “across a small farm in the Berkshires.” In 2012, “Mark’s love of ‘restaurateuring’ [after years of operating well-known dining spots in NYC like Marlow & Sons] kicked in, and Prairie Whale opened its doors in October 2012.”
Moreover on its “Dinner” webpage, The Prairie Whale lists the 21 farms and other food sources which make up its “ever-expanding circle” of local sources with which it has “built its reputation as a legitimate farm to table restaurant.” In addition, on its About webpage, it’s noted that the restaurant’s chef, Steve Browning has “cultivated a butchery and charcuterie program that continues to produce . . . products from whole animals.”
And before getting to the heart of the matter, the deliciousness of The Prairie Whale’s phenomenal Holiday Brook Farm grass-fed Cheeseburger, what about the unique restaurant name? A search on-line for the meaning of “prairie whale” led to this definition on the website for the Double Tongue dictionary, now a part of A Way With Words:
n.—Gloss: a hog. Note: So-called because its fat can be used for things usually done with [a whale’s] ambergris. «By the 1840s, whale oil’s dominance in lighting was under sustained attack. Lard oil, boiled from the fat of hogs, or “prairie whales” as they were called, had become an increasingly attractive lighting source.
So how delicious was The Prairie Whale’s cheeseburger?
Even though this diner did not choose to add a slab of homemade bacon, hands-down, this cheeseburger was the most flavorful, with a bit of a spicy kick, meat on a bun, this (no more than once a month) beef eater has ever consumed. The mild spiciness was from the habanero aioli, made with ancho chili peppers, topping the cheeseburger. (No ketchup bottles to be spotted in this Great Barrington restaurant!) Crispy fries were a perfect accompaniment as well as an order of grilled broccoli rabe, with romesco and herb bread crumb. This was a cheeseburger dinner to remember.
Moreover the quality of the hamburger meat, from Holiday Brook Farm located in Dalton (Berkshire County) used by The Prairie Whale for its superb cheeseburger, for taste and healthfulness, is incomparable. On the farm’s website, how its cows are raised is carefully explained. Spending their entire lives on the farm “with plenty of space to live happily and healthily,” the farm takes pride in providing its Belted Galloway x Black Angus cows with access to rich, fresh grass during the summer and the farm’s own hay and baleage during winter. No grain is ever fed and the farm never uses any sort of hormones with its animals.
A couple years ago, we reported on the detailed reasons provided by Consumer Reports why consumers should choose grass-fed meat and dairy products when possible. Total fat in grass-fed meat and dairy products is lower than in grain-fed cattle, and the mix of fats is healthier.
And the summer of 2021 is also a summer to remember for the extraordinary steps taken by music and theater groups in the Berkshires to reopen with great care after the summer of 2020 when cultural life in the Berkshires was nearly impossible to find in a spot in the USA which is normally a magnet for music, theater and art lovers.
Notably, kudos to Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra which developed a reopening plan for the orchestra’s summer home in Lenox (Berkshire County), Massachusetts. The plan developed and adapted through “months of work by more than 100 individuals including BSO staff, Board, and musicians with expert guidance from 9 Foundations, Inc. led by Dr. Joseph G. Allen, and Tri-Town Health Department.”
All public performances at Tanglewood this summer took place in the open-air Koussevitzky Music Shed and programs were less than 90 minutes with no intermission.
It was priceless for this music lover to have heard a BSO concert in mid August 2021 at Tanglewood which included what I contend is the most perfect melody in classical music, the Nimrod variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. And with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano soloist, also on the program, it’s with gratitude that the joy of music sounded out this pandemic summer of 2021 in the Berkshires.
Though the music has ended at Tanglewood this summer, let’s hope The Prairie Whale continues to offer its Cheeseburger on its dinner menu into the Berkshires’ autumn months.
[Prairie Whale, 178 Main Street (between Cottage & Rossetter Streets), 413.528.5050, Dinner: Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun & Mon 5:00PM-10:00PM
(Frank W. Barrie, 8/26/21)