The bone came out first. Then Matt Creason skinned the pork belly and placed it in a brine of salt, sugar, and spices. It lingered there for several days before landing in a frying pan in the kitchen of a new restaurant on State Street.
Creason, a chef with 20 years’ experience, served up the beer-braised pork belly at Oak Haven Table and Bar, a new farm-to-table restaurant on State Street near the corner of Bishop Street. It’s one of the locally sourced offerings on the restaurant’s menu of tapas-style dishes.
Childhood friends Albert Greenwood and Craig Hotchkiss opened Oak Haven on June 11. It seeks to blend the local with the cosmopolitan, bringing culinary concepts from Manhattan and Miami to produce from New England, or at least nearby.
The restaurant aims to source its dishes as locally as possible, Greenwood said. “The growing season’s harsh though, so we can’t be completely sustainable in Connecticut,” he explained. Instead, the restaurant turns to five states along the East Coast – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and Pennsylvania.
The pork belly meal Creason cooked up the other day (click on the video to watch him prepare it) featured meat from Green Tree Packing Company, a wholesale meat distributor in Passaic, N.Y. The restaurant’s vegetables are from a distributor who sources from New England farms. Creason said that after he brines his pork belly for a few days, he cuts it into portions for preparation.
As he prepared the meal, he placed a portion in a saute pan, added some of the brine—beer, spices, sugar, and other ingredients—and placed it in the oven for a few minutes.
He then turned his attention to the frisee and red watercress, the bitter greens that go with the belly. He dressed them with champagne and shallot vinaigrette and added sea salt and black pepper.
He reached into the oven and moved the pork belly to the stove top. Creason seared the pork belly, then covered it with Narragansett beer, butter, and sherry vinegar. The beer concoction reduced to a “lacquer” as he spooned it onto the meat.
He gently dropped a panko-breaded poached egg into the fryer. Frying, he said, renders the egg soft on the inside, crispy on the outside.
Finally, the plating. Creason placed the belly on a bed of the dressed frisee and watercress. Next came the poached egg, golden brown and hot out of the fryer. Sprigs of chervil added a fresh green touch.
Creason tailors the menu to the availability of local ingredients. He plans to incorporate corn, which is plentiful this time of year, into multiple dishes. Mushrooms, on the other hand, are scarcer and won’t make much of an appearance.
With each ingredient, Creason said, the restaurant buys limited quantities to ensure produce stays fresh. “We don’t overstock,” he said. When a dish runs out, it runs out. “We won’t cut corners just to have something available,” Greenwood said.
As the seasons change, so will the menu. In the restaurant’s initial weeks, dishes have already started rotating, Creason said. The tapas style of the menu gives customers a chance to sample many ingredients before they go out of season, Hotchkiss said. He estimates that 30 percent of dishes will change while the other 70 percent will remain constant.
In addition to its produce, Oak Haven has other local offerings on the menu. Peter Lupi Bakery delivers fresh bread each day, after-dinner coffee comes from Willoughby’s, and instead of handing out mints, the restaurant offers Pez candies made in Orange. Kettle corn comes from Hamden. Ice cream from a woman two streets away will soon find its way on to the menu, Greenwood said.
Greenwood and Hotchkiss both grew up in West Haven and attended college nearby – Greenwood at the University of New Haven, Hotchkiss at Quinnipiac University. “We’ve known each other since we were zero,” Hotchkiss said.
Greenwood’s father was born right up the street from the restaurant, said Greenwood’s grandmother Anne, who was in the restaurant for an early dinner with her husband Al.
Greenwood and Hotchkiss credit the four years they spent in Florida with broadening their horizons and preparing them to open Oak Haven. Though Greenwood has spent 15 years in the restaurant industry – he got his start as a dishwasher at age 15 and later earned a degree in restaurant management – he said working at a prominent Miami restaurant showed him what concepts, ideas, and dishes would work. Hotchkiss worked as a sommelier, rising through the ranks to run the beverage side of three restaurants. The experience helped him craft Oak Haven’s wine, beer, and cocktail menu, he said. The restaurant regularly features wine tastings and bourbon flights.
“In Miami, [concepts like farm-to-table] are standard, but it seems new here,” Hotchkiss said.
Based on observations from Miami, Greenwood and Hotchkiss provided Creason with a list of items they knew would sell well – yellowfin tuna, beef short ribs, duck, figs. Creason determined the rest. “He was used to working in corporate places where he had to follow guidelines,” Hotchkiss said. “Here, he can be creative.”
For each of the desired ingredients, Creason created accompaniments. Heirloom beans and lavender jus for the chicken. A roasted potato cake wrapped in hardwood smoked bacon for the salmon. Spicy agave and lime for the hominy.
As for the pork belly and greens, at the cut of a fork, the egg broke over the dish, its yolk oozing. The pork belly and egg made for a rich bite, cut by the bitterness of the greens. The vinaigrette’s sweetness added complexity.
Stretching the definition of “local” a bit aren’t you?
Not even State-wide really is “local” but using “local” to describe that big region is really dishonest.
Seems similar to the furniture stores which advertise “bonded leather ” sofas which contain about 13 % leather with the other 87% made of varied chemicals and plastic,—-dishonest and misleading to the public
May serve good food but???
posted by: Curious on July 17, 2013 2:15pm
Walt, are you really going to crack on someone for opening a restaurant in New Haven and trying to be as local as possible?
Maybe you can post a listing of all the right kind of hog farms in New Haven for this restauranteur to use instead? I bet it will be a short one.
posted by: Jon on July 17, 2013 2:17pm
he pork belly meal Gleason cooked up the other day (click on the video to watch him prepare it) featured meat from Green Tree Packing, a wholesale meat distributor in Passaic, N.Y. The restaurant’s vegetables are from a distributor who sources from New England farms. Gleason said that after he brines his pork belly for a few days, he cuts it into portions for preparation.
If the meat is from a wholesale meat distributor in Passaic, NY, does that mean the source of the meat is local or could it be from anywhere?
It’s clear in the same paragraph that the vegetables are from New England farms. The source of the meat is not so clear to me.
posted by: Walt on July 17, 2013 4:38pm
Ever since, many decades ago, when I was a founder of, and the first manager of the Better Business Bureau of New Haven, misleading promotions and advertising have bugged me a bit, I must admit.
If you think dishonesty in business is good, as your note seems to imply ,that is your privilege but I do not agree.
May be a good restaurant, but the misleading statements do not appeal to me,
Walt The article is only “lying” if you skip parts of it.
From the story: “It seeks to blend the local with the cosmopolitan, bringing culinary concepts from Manhattan and Miami to produce from New England, or at least nearby.”
“It” (meaning the restaurant) “seeks” (meaning STRIVES or tries) “to blend the local… produce from New England, or at least nearby”
When many restaurants are buying produce from China, this restaurant buys it from New England, “or at least nearby”.
The article never claims the restaurant gets all of anything from the city of New Haven.
As it explains further: “the restaurant turns to five states along the East Coast – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and Pennsylvania.”
I’m sorry to call a spade a spade, but I think you are just venting—unless you: a. have evidence that they don’t attempt to buy from Connecticut, Mass, NY, Maine, or Penn or b. have evidence that New England is farther away than China or Belize or California
posted by: Walt on July 17, 2013 6:33pm
Streever ‘You lost me with your quotes around “lying” as I can’t see that word in my notes.
Let’s say it is “puffery” as both the inference re local and the “farm to table” mean nothing in reality,
As I see it the restaurant made a claim which was questioned by the reporter and then “local” was expanded to include all of New England, plus New York and Pennsylvania
Looks like misleading attempts to me and I would assume most restaurants usually do not buy directly from the Orient but rather from a “local” wholesaler with the actual goods coming from anywhere ( Wrong?)or a source that offers the quality and price acceptable to the restaurant
To Curious and restaurant owners - if you’re interested in local pork, there are plenty of great options nearby (not including out of state “meat distributors” which likely buy from large, industrial, factory-farm style hog farms… gross).
Check out http://www.farmfresh.org, which lists nearby farms by their products sold or any of the many local farmers’ markets. At my count on farmfresh.org, there were 35+ farms in CT that sell pork (many of them pasture-raised). THOSE are the guys that New Haven’ers would love you to support. Just saying.
posted by: HewNaven on July 17, 2013 8:10pm
Like your comments, the BBB is not without a history of controversy. ;)
The Attorney General of Connecticut demanded that the BBB stop using its weighted letter grade system, calling it “potentially harmful and misleading” to consumers. Responding to the Attorney General of Connecticut and others, the BBB has since modified its letter grade system.
posted by: Walt on July 17, 2013 11:46pm
You are right.
In the old days a BBB using those methods would have been kicked out of the Assn of BBB’s and banned from using the BBB name, I believe
posted by: shorty333 on July 18, 2013 12:05pm
One has to understand as well that when a farm to table restaurant opens unless you have extremely strong connections with the farms already you can not buy from all of them immediately. Yes, there are places that you can buy from in CT and eventually I’m sure this new restaurant will. Like anything else it’s a working progress. I think it’s slightly premature to make an opinion on them already.
posted by: wldflowr on July 18, 2013 12:32pm
I certainly agree that it’s fine for a restaurant to slowly get into business with local farms. However, billing yourself as a “farm-to-table” and then not actually dealing with local farms is pretty deceptive. Their locally sourced items, including beer, bread, coffee, Pez candy, kettle corn, and ice cream are nice, but not from farms, just other local businesses. Many restaurants in the area (including new ones!) list the actual local farms where their meat/produce is coming from, which is a far cry from using a distributor that gets produce from somewhere in New England (which is typical for all restaurants and isn’t anything special). A place promoting itself as farm-to-table should support actual farms (not warehouse distributors). If a restaurant doesn’t use local farms, it should promote itself as just a restaurant and find another unique angle!
posted by: lilyinCT on July 18, 2013 11:19pm
Let’s give this restaurant the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT!
The article says, “The restaurant aims to source its dishes as locally as possible… and “The growing season’s harsh though, so we can’t be completely sustainable in Connecticut,” THEREFORE one can conclude that this restaurant makes an effort to buy locally. Sounds like the owners have some experience, but it may take some time for them to work out the kinks so that they are indeed able to buy locally more often. Let’s give them a chance. I for one look forward to eating at the Oak Haven…cheers!
posted by: wldflowr on July 19, 2013 10:51am
Totally right Lily - they might be a fantastic restaurant! However, they bill themselves as a “farm-to-table” in this article and on their website. Just pointing out that if they don’t deal with local farms directly, that’s pretty misleading. I know for a fact that other New Haven restaurants send their chefs to Wooster Market to buy directly from farmers, in addition to other arrangements with farms (they list the farms directly on their menu). Kinks? Nope. Super easy.
CT’s climate may be “harsh,” but no more than anywhere else in New England, and there is plenty of meat, dairy, cold-hardy greens, and canned preserves that other New Haven restaurants use even through winter. Especially now, in the summer when CT is bursting with produce, it seems totally crazy that a place promoting itself as “farm-to-table” is buying all its produce through a warehouse distributor. I also know another CT restaurant that featured local farms on their menu literally on their opening day this spring. This place’s “kinks” excuse seems pretty lame, especially in summer. “Trying to buy locally” but still going through a distributor even in the abundance of local CT summer produce, or with 35+ local pork farmers, doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. Hmm.
Maybe the restaurant owners don’t really understand what the term “farm-to-table” means (perhaps it meant something else where they worked in Miami??) and should find another angle to promote what might otherwise be a nice restaurant. Cheers!
posted by: shorty333 on July 19, 2013 11:36am
I dined their last night and the server was very knowledgeable about where their products come from. They do not get anything from “wholesaler” protein distributors. They currently gather most of their herbs from their own garden and others from Tuttle Farms in Durham. They also get much of their produce from Jansel Valley Farm in Westport, MA. They are also working with Millstone Farm and Secchiaroli Farm in Waterford for Pork. Again, misleading? Trying to label themselves something they are that they aren’t? Let’s have a little more faith people.
Lily, I agree with you completely. I’ve worked at farm to table restaurants before and to say that this place isn’t working towards being 100% sustainable on farmers products directly is completely and utterly absurd. Now if this article was published in December in another publication stating that they were getting products from a large format wholesaler then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. None-the-less, freedom of speech is a wonderful thing in this country and I’m sure one visit to this establishment will rectify any “doubt” that any would have about their credibility.
posted by: wldflowr on July 19, 2013 12:59pm
Wait, misleading? Millstone Farm says they’re not supplying Oak Haven (out of their 20-mile radius). Hmm. Better check your facts before you quote them in a public place. Faith has to be earned.
Jansal Valley is the label for Sid Wainer & Son products (a wholesale distributor). While they grow a bit of their own in MA, their website also says they have about 1000 other farms both in the US and abroad supplying them with produce. Don’t know that something stamped with their label necessarily equals local. Another hmm. http://www.sidwainer.com/gardensgrow.asp
That being said, none of this means it can’t be a fine restaurant! Kudos if the other farms quoted are actually true!
posted by: wldflowr on July 19, 2013 3:00pm
P.S. - and if Shortay383 is actually an owner (Al Greenword, according to google), it would have been more honest to disclose such and not try to disguise yourself as a regular patron by saying “I dined there last night…” Again, just saying.
posted by: Babe50 on July 20, 2013 2:53pm
Really people, I haven’t seen one comment on the food, I was there last week and loved the atmosphere the owners were friendly..everything I tried on the menu was very good and interesting including the pork belly with the deep fried egg, I liked just sitting at the bar and ordering a couple of things at a time..I tried the pretzels the steak on toast points the steak was awesome! I loved it!