Serving local food before it was cool
By Nichole Y Calero
Martin Lewis opened the doors of his restaurant at the top of Railroad Street in Great Barrington 22 years ago. In the beginning he didn’t have a menu, he just wrote the plates du jour on a chalkboard each day; within a month he had a printed menu, bowing to his customer’s requests for consistency. The menu hasn’t changed since it was first printed and today Martin’s is a favorite breakfast and lunch spot, with lines out the door on the weekend; diners come for the eponymously named Egg McMartin, sweet and savory breakfasts, sandwiches, burgers or salads. However one thing has always been on the menu: local food.
“I don’t advertise serving local food. Maybe I should start” says Lewis of his menu “I want to serve fresh food. I prefer whatever’s grown locally. That’s the freshest.” His practices have always included buying in-season produce; during the summer he purchases from Taft Farms and other local area vendors. During blueberry season Lewis stocks up on berries from Windy Hill farm for both fresh use and freezing to be used through the winter; apples come from both Windy Hill and Taft farm during their season. Year round he gets greens from Equinox farm, eggs from Feather Ridge farm, milk from High Lawn farm, and bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery. Not only does he use local food, but he makes his own granola, which sells at both his restaurant and as far away as Northampton.
It’s not just freshness that drives him to serve local food though. “I feel it’s important because is this country we’re not producing that much anymore; farming is [some of] the last.” he says. “….it makes sense to continue it. Land conservation is a good thing…it’s nice to see [open] land.
Like many other area eateries that feature local food, Lewis’s ability to serve it can be hampered by ease of access. “If local farms can come to me, can deliver, I’ll buy from them.” he says “If I’m going by a place I’ll stop, but special trips are hard for me.” Some of the people he buys from know this and appear at his kitchen door with their products. Sometimes he visits the Great Barrington farmers’ market to invite the farmers to bring their leftover produce by his place at the end of the day. Another factor for him is what the customers want: “I have to make sure I can utilize it: beets, I can’t sell huge quantities.” Even with these limitations, Lewis estimates that, on average, 30 percent of what he offers is local food. He’d offer more, if it were readily available “…more cheese. I use lots and lots of varieties.” Although he doesn’t yet offer a variety of local cheeses, for now there’s Monterey Chevre to be enjoyed, maybe in an omelet with local veggies.