A few weeks ago I attended a Chili Contest at Mike’s Maze in Warner Farm, Sunderland MA. I walked around and ate everything but the chili. By the time I had gotten there the tasting had already ended; I did however overhear and witness the awards ceremony. The way the chili was judged was from people voting by dropping a matchstick in a prospective mason jar. Each mason jar was color coded for each contestant; one jar was almost full while the rest weren’t even half way. There were two brackets, judge’s choice and people’s choice. The winner of the judge’s choice was also the winner of the people’s choice. I then found out that this had happened two years in a row. Who was this chili master? When the chili was judged they called out the chef’s name followed by the restaurant they worked for. The name of the winner was a Chef by the name of David Schrier and he worked at the Alvah Stone in Montague MA. I immediately pulled my phone out and made a reservation for THAT NIGHT, I was not fucking around. David made his way back through the crowd and stood right in front of me, alone. He was wearing two crowns made of peppers, that were the equivalent of a trophy, he had two for the two brackets he won. I poked him in his shoulder, he turned around and I congratulated him on his win. I also told him that if he was that good at making chili, I’d really like to see what the food at his restaurant was like. I told him I had made a restaurant, he smiled and said, “awesome! I’m going in to work right now.”
When I arrived at the restaurant I was blown away by the setup of the building. The actual restaurant is in the bottom of an old mill below a bookstore. The Sawmill River runs pretty much down the side of the building and since we ate outside at twilight I was convinced there would be no better seat in the house. The following is a small passage taken straight off the Alvah Stone website explaining the history of the restaurant.
We ate a lot, so lets get started. First thing I started off with was a cabbage salad. This may sound basic but this was a perfect late summer salad served with lemongrass, ginger, peanut, fried shallots, herbs and coconut dressing. The fried shallots looked like bacon and that made me happy. Next was a beautiful bowl of hush puppies! I never see hush puppies so I had to get them, oh sweet carbohydrates, fuel my soul. Served with pickled jalapeños and Nonna’s Nut House special sauce, I didn’t even ask. The next dish to come out was a large bowl of refried beans served with chives and crema. David sent this out and told us we had to try it, as it was a menu add-on from their staff chili fest dinner. I went to grab a spoonful but I didn’t get the chance. We started talking for a minute and by the time I looked up Meghan had demolished it; I shot her a sad look. The last of the starter plates was one of my favorites, the sautéed broccoli with Thai chilies and XO sauce. These were spicy, but it was now MY turn to hog a whole plate to myself, Meghan pouted while I grinned with broccoli in my teeth.
Now was the time for some bigger plates, first came the wings. Smoked wings with maple Thai chili sauce. These were fought over, like a race to see you could devour more, very good. Next was the fried chicken biscuit served with ranch and pickles. This was probably my favorite dish of the night. This was perfect and I should have gotten more than one. The following plate was another dish that had the potential to be basic, but was without question one of the tastier things I’ve had in a while. I had dinner in Hudson, New York the night before at a place I will not disclose. At said disappointing restaurant I ordered the shrimp and grits. This was NOT good, an over-spiced, confused mess of a dish with red sauce and tomatoes in it. I got the cheddar grits because I love them and also felt grits needed a little redemption after the previous night’s disaster. Boy did it! I think I may have licked the bottom of the bowl, perfect, simple food. Finally, I could not leave without seeing what the Alvah Stone had in the way of pasta. I ordered the gnocchi and was glad I did. This gnocchi was softer than usual but good nonetheless. Served with garlic, brown butter crumbs, black better ricotta and aged provolone. A rather beautiful plate, but I made it disappear.
I was full, I had been eating all day, but I was not leaving without dessert. First was the buttermilk pie. I had never heard of or had a buttermilk pie. I am now ashamed that I had never had a buttermilk pie because it was delicious. This was SICK, so rich and tasty, light taste of caramel or brown butter, VERY, VERY good. Finally was a beautiful plate called a watermelon mess, served with blackberry, lime, graham cracker, sesame, meringue and watermelon sorbet. A strange mix of flavors but DAMN if they didn’t all fit perfectly.
We paid the bill and headed back to CT. I was thinking to myself, “what if I never did my homework or what if I never kept my ear to the ground looking for meals like this.” Then I said out loud, “you’re a meal detective.” Meghan looked at me and said, “what the fuck did you just say?” I replied with “nothing” and kept driving.
David and the Alvah Stone, you really have something special up there, I hereby bestow upon you..
The menu has changed since I’ve been there and I just looked online and the desserts alone make me want to drive up right now, so go. Join me in a few weeks as I will have traveled to Baltimore and San Francisco and will definitely have something tasty to share with you.