Seeds Market Cafe: Farm-to-table to museum

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PITTSFIELD — For some of us, hunger pangs are as common to a museum experience as information panels and guided tours. After meandering through stimulating exhibits for hours — or mere minutes — our minds wander to the items so often denied to us in these spaces: food and drinks.

Museums around the world are largely wise to this by now, understanding that pairing their displays with satiating fare can further entice people to return — or come at all. For example, visitors can order truffle-glazed beef at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, roasted Japanese eggplant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or pan-fried Louisiana catfish po'boys at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

In April, Hancock Shaker Village joined this lineage with the opening of Seeds Market Cafe, a farm-to-table restaurant on the living history museum's grounds — which doesn't require museum admission to eat at — that Main Street Catering and Events manages. The group also runs the various dining options at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and Eat on North in Pittsfield, the success of which have given Main Street cachet in the region. Brian Alberg, the group's executive chef and vice president of culinary development, has made locally sourced food a priority during his career, which is a fit for a museum that celebrates people who embraced their natural surroundings.

"They were simple," Alberg said of the Shakers during an interview at the restaurant. "They used everything from the land, so it was all fresh. It was things that they nurtured or raised or grew, which falls in line with what we do at all of our other properties."

Some of the restaurant's vegetables — including peas, garlic and baby beets — are now harvested from the property, according to Alberg.

"It's just kicking in," he said.

The rest come from Equinox Farm in Sheffield. However, Alberg, a native of Columbia County, N.Y., hasn't restricted the region's influence on his menu to greens. The popular grilled country ham and cheese sandwich ($13), for instance, features bread from Pittsfield Rye Bakery and Berleberg cheese from Hoosick, N.Y.

This focus has appealed to customers and has helped make flipping through comment cards a rewarding experience for Alberg.

"Most of them compare us to other cafes in New York City museums and just rave about it," the chef said.

Being a restaurant in a museum has its limitations. Currently, Seeds is only open during the museum's hours and for special events, such as the Food for Thought author speaker series, and it will close during the winter months when the museum is also shut down.

It also has its advantages. In the weeks following its opening on April 15 (also the museum's seasonal opening), the restaurant was serving 300-400 lunches per day as visitors flocked to see baby animals at the Shaker Farm, according to Alberg.

"It [was] a madhouse," the chef said.

The restaurant's numbers decreased in the weeks after the baby animals tours, but they are starting to pick up again now that schools are no longer in session, Alberg said.

A recent Friday afternoon mirrored the restaurant's ebbs and flows. At noon, a school group from southern Connecticut populated many of the tables in the rustic space. As busser Anna Luzader tended to them, staffer Nichole Pervere helped this reporter navigate a menu that, to a non-foodie, seemed short on simplicity (rillettes? gremolata?). I settled on "The Believer," an "open-faced quinoa & chick pea cake on grilled naan with lemon vinaigrette," that Alberg said had been one of the restaurant's most purchased items. I skipped the naan due to dietary restrictions, but the meal still lived up to its spiritual billing. (I'm a believer!)

A tougher customer was Nancy Seamans, who, along with a Floridian friend, occupied one of the few tables beside mine that were filled between 12:15 and 1 p.m. A Wilmington, N.C., resident, Seamans is the type of museum-goer who checks the institution's menus before arriving, and she had done just that before deciding to visit Hancock Shaker Village. But she said Seeds' menu was different than how she had remembered it online, and, despite the establishment's aim, it was confusing.

Still, Seamans and her friend enjoyed their meals, which included Shaker brown bread and lemon curd and raspberries. "It was delicious," Seamans said. She wasn't surprised.

"This is an area with an expectation that there is good food," Seamans said.

The region's museums don't get a pass.

TRY IT YOURSELF

WHAT: Seeds Market Cafe

WHEN: Daily from 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (likely through the end of September) You don't need museum admission to eat at the cafe.

WHERE: Hancock Shaker Village, 1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield

INFORMATION: Farm-to-table meals ranging from $6 to $17


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