A molcajete is a three-legged bowl, traditionally made of basalt, which has been used as a mortar for food-grinding for thousands of years in Mesoamerican cultures. Because it retains heat for a very long time, it’s also used for food presentation, and you’ll find it as the centerpiece of a spectacular entrée at Greenane Farms in Meredith (Delaware County) in upstate New York.
Your molcajete arrives bubbling, earning its nickname of “volcano.” Ringed around its edge are strips of cactus and cheese, next to green onions, Mexican rice, and, hidden in the salsa verde, slices of very hot potatoes. Order the Volcan Vegetariano ($23) and there’s also grilled tofu in the mix, while the Volcan de Pollo ($25) features strips of chicken and a link of homemade chorizo.
At a recent visit, I ordered the Volcan de Res ($29), so the lip of my steaming molcajete sported strips of grilled Angus beef, still red in the center even as the heat kicked in to brown them some more. There’s a fresh, grassy flavor to pasture-raised beef that the elders among us still remember as the way beef is supposed to taste, and it becomes the joyous centerpiece of an array of complementary flavors, from the smoky bite of the chorizo to the mellow ease of those cactus strips.
Not only will you get one of the finest Mexican-cuisine meals you’ve ever enjoyed when you dine at Greenane Farms, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you’re dining on their own pasture-raised meats. This has been a passion of farm owner Patrick Rider – whose family has been in the area for eight generations – since he purchased the property in 2003. Now he owns 400 acres and leases over a thousand more, on which he raises 250 head of grass-fed Angus cattle as well as pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and more.
He started by selling to restaurants and to wholesale markets, as well as offering meat in his farm store. And he also raises produce that’s sold through a community-supported agriculture farm share. But, as the demand for prepared food grew, he added another feature: The restaurant. A Mexican restaurant. In, as he is the first to admit, the middle of nowhere.
To understand that aspect of its genesis means going back nearly a quarter-century, when Patrick was working a consulting job that took him to Mexico City. Even as he began seeing the destructive effects of chemical-based agriculture, he met and fell in love with the native of that city who became his wife.
Thanya Rider learned to cook from her family, and thus had a large stock of recipes to draw from. The idea of sharing this cuisine with the Riders’ rural neighbors took root, even as Thanya grew nervous about the prospect, noting that not only was she the only Mexican in this small town, but also many of the locals had never tasted Mexican food.
Patrick converted an old dairy barn on the property, creating a restaurant space that has the pleasant aspects of a vintage barn while sporting cheerful lights and decorations. The four menu pages present choices that originate not only from Mexico City but also other areas where Thanya’s extended family has lived, from Hidalgo in central Mexico all the way west to Baja California.
You’re invited to participate in the tableside preparation of guacamole ($12). Server Zachary’s portable assembly station is crowded with ingredients, which you may study as he peels, cores, and smooshes fresh avocados with a tool designed for that purpose.
Choose from lime juice, red onion, cilantro, scallions, tomato, chicharrones, and coarse salt, or be as easy-to-please as I am and take it all. There’s an unbeatable freshness to the flavor of the finished product.
My wife and I visited on a Friday evening when we had a choice of indoor or patio dining. With clouds looming, we opted to sit indoors, and the skies mocked us by remaining peaceful during our dinner. We justified our order of even more appetizers on the basis of the lengthy drive we took to get there, but you’ll want to try the empanadas de Hidalgo ($13) just to find out what an empanada should taste like. And feel like on the palate. The triangular pastry is soft and thick, and the filling suitably piquant, whether dominated by chicken or beef, both of which I sampled. And there’s a side of salsa verde.
Ceviche de Baja ($18) is an option, here made with shrimp that’s cold-marinated overnight in citrus juice and served with cucumbers, avocado, onions, and cilantro. You can also order simple starter of chips and salsa ($9.75), keeping in mind that it’s all homemade: thick, crunchy chips with a salsa roja.
My wife opted for tamales ($15), for which the maize dough is sent through a complicated multi-step process to achieve the desired texture. The dough is wrapped around a filling and steamed in a corn husk. The process has been oversimplified, not to say bastardized, to such an extent that to taste the real thing is revelatory. It’s a serving of three, with fillings of beef, chicken, or vegetables available; naturally, Susan opted for one of each and enjoyed the contrasting shades of flavor as she (and I) moved among them.
Kale salad in honey and olive oil with strawberries ($9) and sopa Azteca ($9.50, with tomatoes, dried peppers, sour cream, and cheese) are available as well.
Pollo con mole ($21) is a featured entrée, in which two roasted quarter-legs of chicken are served in a sauce that’s astonishingly labor-intensive. I know; I’ve made it. Acquiring the ingredients is itself challenge, as it calls for a variety of seeds and nuts and peppers, and the subsequent processing is mind-numbing. In the Greenane Farms kitchen, it takes two days to make a batch, with more than 30 ingredients involved, including ten types of chile along with chocolate, banana, coffee, and spices.
We got a taste of the mole over one of Susan’s tamales, so she opted for the enchiladas verdes ($22.50) following the same filling pattern: with vegetables, chicken, and beef available, she opted for one of each. With a somewhat lighter flavor to the corn tortilla wrappers (as compared to the tamales), those filling flavors were more evident, and they display a well-seasoned range.
The entrée list also includes fajitas (which, as the menu points out in small type, are “not traditional Mexican but great just the same”), a variety of tacos that in no way resemble what we’re usually served ($13-$19), burritos with Sonoran steak ($15), Tampico chicken ($14), or garden vegetables ($13), and the grilled beef cuts: 16 oz. ribeye ($30), 12 oz. Angus flank ($26), and 14 oz, NY strip ($27).
As the farm’s website points out, this is a place of natural, sustainable agriculture, using non-GMO products, adding no chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, or other such additives to the soil, plants, and animals. All meats on the menu come from the ranch and all of the food is made from scratch.
Many family members work alongside Thanya in the restaurant, including her sister and a number of their children. But the floor staff lacks the training that should go with this price range, as evidenced on the evening of our visit when a propane problem required a pause in service until the proper wrench could be obtained.
The untrained floor staff said nothing to the customers as we waited and waited until a couple near us threatened to leave. And then we only learned of the problem because we overheard that conversation. As we’d been served our starters, we muted our impatience, and our entrées eventually made their triumphant appearance. But the problem was compounded when we ordered a dessert – a traditional cake called tres leches – and again were forced to wait. This time for a pantry item that only needed to be sliced and served, but we watched as entrées staggered out to other tables. We even asked, twice, about this errant dessert, but to no avail. So we had it removed from the check. There seemed to be no sense of wrong or remorse from the young server in attendance, so I can only hope that this weakness is solved in the days to come.
Because the food here not only is truly of the farm, it’s also, as I can’t stop myself from saying, the finest Mexican fare you’re going to have short of heading south of the border.
[Greenane Farms, 196 County Rte 10 (500 feet from the corner of State Route 28 & County Rte 10), Meridale (Delaware County), 607.746.8878, Dinner: Thurs, Fri & Sat 5:00PM-10:00PM, Brunch: Sunday 10:00AM-2:00PM (Click on link to confirm operating hours)
(B.A. Nilsson, 8/11/22)
[Editor’s Note (FWB): The praiseworthy organization, Pure Catskills, is a regional, buy local campaign developed by the Watershed Agricultural Council to improve the economic viability of the local community, sustain the working landscapes of the Catskills and preserve water quality in the NYC Watershed Region. The non-profit promotes hundreds of farm, forest and local businesses throughout Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster Counties in upstate New York. On You Tube, it has a three minute video about Thanya and Patrick Rider and how their Greenane Farm combines American culture with that of Thanya’s Mexico City roots into “a unique blend of producing, processing, and presenting fresh Catskills food to their customers.”]