The area I grew up in, here in Massachusetts, is not well known. It is a small cluster of towns, bursting with quaint beauty, but without too much notoriety throughout the state. One of the small towns in this area exemplifies the idea of rustic by carefully preserving their beautiful town center to such a degree that you can still hear the horses shoes clumping down the roads as they must have. The town I'm speaking of is Groton, MA, a beautiful town in the north east region of MA, and one of my all time favorites.
I remember, during my last years of high school I would often drive out to Groton to visit friends, and I would always enjoy the trip out for it's sheer beauty. Later, after moving on from the area, I heard about a new restaurant that had opened on one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the town of Groton. Set up on a hill, overlooking the town of Groton, sits the Gibbet Hill Grill. The Grill was opened in 2004, but the land it sits on has a far longer history than that. The site of many different ventures from the 16th century forward, Gibbet Hill was turned into a Black Angus cattle farm in 1947. It remained a cattle farm, with some produce crops until the 1990's when it was put up for sale. A sale deal had just been reached with a developer who had vast plans to put over 70 housing units on the space when Steven Webber, who had grown up in Groton, placed a counter bid and saved the land from what really would have been a travesty to the land and it's history. Preserving the farm, Webber and his family have grown the produce portion of the farm and sold off the cattle, and now operate both the Gibbet Hill Grill, as well as The Barn at Gibbet Hill, a function room.
About three years ago the the folks at Gibbet Hill decided to start hosting Farm to Fork dinners to showcase their incredible produce. They have done two per year, and last night I had the very good fortune to attend their 6th last evening.
As traffic refused to cooperate with me on the drive out to Groton, Athena and I arrived a bit late and missed the Hors d'oeurvre portion of the evening, but luckily we were just in time for the first course, a salad of fresh local lettuce, slices green and yellow beans, dressed with a vinaigrette made from lemon, thyme, and Gibbet Hill's own honey. The salad was accented with herbed goat cheese wrapped in perfectly crisped phyllo. This was a really lovely start to the meal, light and well balanced. The lettuce leaves were soft and full of rich flavor heightened with the fresh acid of lemon. The beans were a great source of texture, perfect to compliment the lettuce leaves.
The second course placed before us was a piece of cod, sauteed to a slight golden brown, served with sweet and sour kale, a salt cod-potato cake, and a bacon sherry vinaigrette. Before this course arrived, as I laid out my game plan for how to save room for all four courses, I thought I would have no problem skimping on my portion of this one. I have never been a big fan of salt cod, or kale for that matter, so I thought- a few bites of the cod, and I'm done. Well my dish arrived, and then I looked down and somehow, magically, it was all gone. The cod, for it's flaky white delicacy was only lightly seasoned so the true, subtle, yet slightly creamy flavor of the natural cod shown through. The kale, an incredibly sturdy green, was well cooked. Hearty as it is, it had maintained many of it's strong properties, but had been coaxed into providing an easy mouth feel and seasoned with light flavors (did I detect ginger?) to bring out an almost floral quality. The salt cod-potato cake, which I had predisposed myself to dislike, brought me around to its good side immediately. The browned and crisped exterior gave way to a velvety interior of cod mixed with mashed potatoes and herbs. The cod was well enhanced by the herbs and the dish came together in a well balanced fashion. I did note that I did not taste a lot of bacon in the vinaigrette which is both a shame and not so much a shame. I, of course, love the taste of bacon, but in this instance did not find that I missed it too much as the other flavors were so delicate, and pure.
Our third course was a slow roasted pork, raised here in Massachusetts, paired with braised collard greens, a Red Kuri squash puree and a chutney made from Cortland apples. Taste wise- this dish was a complete score. The pork, roasted so slowly that every flavor had been enhanced to a superlative degree, a slight smokiness present, and the meat itself exemplified tender. A forkful of this pork, dipped into the slightly sweet squash puree, topped with the collard greens and a bit of the chutney was a perfect bite. The warmth of the season show through in every bite, and was a perfect representation of what fall food should be. The appearance of the plate I did feel lacked a bit of oomph, I would have loved to have had a bit more variation of color. That aside though- I was tremendously sad to finish this course, and took my time sopping up the end of the squash puree with my last piece of pork.
Chef Tom Fosnot
Chef Tom did a fantastic job of clearly representing the beauty of the fall produce located at the Gibbet Hill farm, as well as throughout the state. He celebrated the season with a wonderful mix of sweet and spice, and I feel beautifully represents the bittersweet fade of summer into fall, and all that goes a long with it.
The Gibbet Hill Grill is a spot that you must check out for dinner- whether you live in that area or not. The restaurant is impossibly cozy, perfect for a crisp fall evening, or a snowy winter's eve. The restaurant fare, separate from the Farm to Fork dinners, includes an array of dishes from steak house quality steaks, to warming comfort food. I would go so far as to say that Gibbet Hill would be a perfect spot to stop for a meal after a day in the orchards picking apples, or peeping leaves in the area.
Thank you so much to Gibbet Hill for hosting such a lovely evening, and to Athena for asking me to accompany her.