Alan Chartock: Discovering café brings tasty delights
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Let me tell you about Roselle. In the same way that dogs can track scent, Roselle can sniff out something special. I do not know how she does it. I've never understood it.
One day she asked me to come to a preview for Meissner's Auction in New Lebanon, N.Y. When we left, she spotted a place called the Blueberry Hill Market Café and said, "I think we ought to eat there the next time we're around." I've learned never to second-guess her so when we came back to pick up her auction item (a box of Sears and Roebuck catalogs) we stopped. Our experience was breathtaking. There before us at the counter where you ordered your food was the most incredible array of baked goods you have ever seen. I am in the middle of one of my perpetual diets but we compromised on a bread pudding loaf thing with whipped cream that was really something. I will dream about it as long as I live. It was that good. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon and they were equally delicious. Roselle had fried eggs, bacon and home fries. The coffee was exceptional; in fact, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a better cup of black coffee. The bread was extraordinary (I didn't have any). Local artist/celebrity Maggie Miller and her husband John Wendling and son told us that they are there every day and sometimes more than once. The place is absolutely kid friendly. In short, I can't possibly tell you how good it was. We were in Nirvana.
Blueberry Hill has been there for about two years. Melanie Hunt is both the chef and the owner. Her story is an interesting one. She grew up in Old Chatham and New Lebanon. She went to nursing school and then took off for years in Colorado (sounds like a ski bum) and then to Philadelphia where she did private chef work for people like the Campbell food family. When I asked her what that entailed she told me she had to prepare meals and banquets and do what a housewife might do except, she said, she wasn't the housewife.
She's worked in many major restaurants along the way, including the Sheepherder and Lake Placid Lodge and she taught cooking classes at Canyon Ranch. Finally, she came home. She used her life savings and bought the building that houses the café, borrowing some to do it. She works 16 or 17 hours a day, every day. The place is open seven days a week. Because of all she put into the restaurant, she is still "running on fumes." The fumes are what make the place.
Melanie, who is divorced and has a 10-year-old named Edward, sounds like a bit of a community organizer. She is committed to New Lebanon. When asked why she didn't go to trendier Hudson, N.Y., she said, "They need me here." I get that. The people who eat there clearly know what a treasure they have. She hires high school and college kids who seem to join in the spirit of the place. The word is getting out. People traveling up to Vermont have discovered Blueberry Market. So have the folks on their way to Williamstown. I can tell you that it is well worth the half-hour drive from Great Barrington or the 15 minutes from West Stockbridge.
I want you to do me a favor. I want you to take a ride out there and have breakfast or lunch. Then I want you to write me saying how good it was. When you see someone either cook from scratch or build a business that's this good from nothing, you'll want to join me in supporting her. As for Roselle and her newest find, I just don't know how she does it.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.
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