Finding Bánh Mì in Our Valley
Alack of authentic ethnic food is an all too common complaint from urbanites now living the country life. A decent taco or souvlaki suddenly becomes the holy grail worth traveling great distances. So it’s no surprise that Nhi Mundy has attracted such an enthusiastic clientele at Bà & M , a growing modest chain of Vietnamese restaurants that includes a takeout location in Callicoon, New York, and a newly opened café just across the border in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
Mundy, who refers to herself as a “Jill-of-all-trades,” attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and went on to work as an art director for a wide range of fashion and beauty clients. As co-founder with her husband, photographer Michael Mundy, of An Afternoon With, an acclaimed online portrait series, she continues to inhabit a world with an elevated aesthetic, though home is now Jeffersonville, New York. Mundy’s stylish sensibility and design background remain apparent in the charming decor of her restaurants, with their creative allusions to Vietnam, including its French cultural legacy.
Born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, Mundy moved to the U.S. with her family as a young child. She grew up in the Midwest, helping out after school at her parents’ Vietnamese restaurant, which ultimately burned down in a grease fire. “Opening Bà & M has been a bit like resurrecting a part of my heritage,” says Mundy. The business name is an allusion to both the classic bánh mì sandwich and to her family—“bà” in Vietnamese means grandmother and “m ” means mother.
Both Bà & M restaurants serve a tightly focused menu featuring simple Vietnamese dishes such as summer rolls filled with vegetables and herbs; a signature bánh mì–style hot dog with pickled carrots; and a variety of pork, chicken, beef and mushroom preparations available on fresh baguettes or over jasmine rice or vermicelli rice noodles. In lieu of dessert, sweet and strong Vietnamese coffee does the trick. The food is skillfully prepared and made from very fresh, high-quality ingredients sourced whenever possible from local farms and purveyors. The casual place settings and takeout packaging are all made from compostable, biodegradable or recyclable materials.
Extending this careful attention to detail to every part of the business has been a factor in Bà & M ’s success. Though there has been occasional grumbling from hungry patrons about the long waits at the restaurant in Callicoon—essentially just a takeout window, a 50-square-foot kitchen and a few picnic tables—the lines of customers all last summer were a testament to the delicious food and fueled the decision to expand the enterprise to a new location. “I needed something with a roof—customers were getting rained on!” laughs Mundy. Though not significantly larger, the café in Honesdale does offer indoor seating out of the rain. It’s a little gem, tucked away inside Maude Alley, a shopping destination that houses a number of other businesses, including a winery and a cheese shop.
In addition to running her restaurants, Mundy is also raising three children with her husband, an “amazing partner” she credits with making it all possible. Somehow, in the midst of all this, she has also managed to launch a new biannual magazine, DV8, to promote the upstate scene and business community in the Upper Delaware Valley. In and out of the kitchen, Nhi Mundy is a creative and culinary force of nature and her Bà & M seems destined to keep on growing and feeding those hungry for a taste of Vietnam in our rural valley. —Laura Silverman
Bà & M Café
1023 Main Street, Honesdale, PA
Bà & M Take-out
26 Upper Main Street, Callicoon, NY
Donna Williams has worn many hats in her lifetime: economist, investment banker, professor, consultant. But it wasn’t until four years ago that she found her true calling.
In June 2010, when Williams was consulting for Greene County on their agricultural incubator, she realized that the right questions weren’t being asked. It wasn’t how or where small farms would grow but how they would get their products to the masses. In essence, the issue of distribution needed to be addressed. So, in September of that year, Field Goods was born as an answer to this conundrum. “Field Goods attempts to suburbanize the CSA [community-supported agriculture],” says Williams. This gives Hudson Valley farmers the opportunity to reach a part of the population that they haven’t before by opening up a distribution channel that delivers farm-grown produce directly to workplace and community locations.
“Donna has revolutionized the scale of our production and changed the lives of a lot of farmers in upstate New York,” says Adam Hainer of Juniper Hill Farm in Wadhams. In the winter months, Field Goods partners with farms like Rexcroft Farm in Athens to grow hydroponic lettuce and Little Seed Gardens in Chatham to grow greenhouse pea shoots to help keep up with the growing demands of Field Goods’ customer base, which extends from Saratoga to Yonkers. “Our relationship is symbiotic,” Williams emphasizes, “offering farmers sustainability in their low season (winter) and helping raise numbers at summer farmers’ markets and in CSA memberships.” As Field Goods grows, farms grow.
By offering small-farm operations in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere upstate more year-round distribution channels, Field Goods is able to provide consumers year-round access to local produce and products. All too often consumers find themselves picking up the same things from the grocery store, including produce that is out of season locally and has to be shipped thousands of miles to reach customers in our region. This does nothing to support the local economy and adds needless carbon costs. Field Goods offers subscribers a change in their diets by delivering only what’s available locally.
Field Goods has also begun to infiltrate the corporate world by working with local businesses to subsidize a subscription. “Companies currently subsidize gym memberships for employees, so why not a food membership?” asks Williams. Beech-Nut, the organic baby food company out of Amsterdam, New York, and Field Goods created Beet- Camp, which is a subsidized Field Goods subscription that delivers weekly produce directly to the office of Beech-Nut employees.
“I always say everything is Kumbaya,” Williams jokes. She admits she didn’t start Field Goods with idealistic notions of how to change the world (or even her community), rather that it’s just worked out that way because it made good business sense. If Williams and her team continue to double their subscriptions every year as they have been over their four years of operation, she will be able to employ many more residents of Greene County, which has recently weathered an economic downturn.
Even if Donna Williams’s intentions weren’t ones of grandeur, Field Goods’ stars have aligned, and alongside a hearty handful of regional farmers, communities with healthy intentions, and a driven workforce, Williams and Field Goods are changing their piece of the world, one veggie at a time. —Brianna Stachowski
CONNECTING WITH OLD FLAMMES
In the center of Kinderhook, a town known as the birthplace of eighth American president Martin Van Buren, a circa 1850 house most recently home to a bookseller has been reinvented in The Flammerie, a Franco-German wood-fire bistro with a simple but cozy bar and 26-seat dining room. The non-mobile companion to the popular Black Forest Flammkuchen food truck—which now will serve as a catering-only venue at various spots throughout the Hudson Valley—the Flammerie (“the place for flammkuchen”) reflects the pan-global but absolutely committed to local food-to-table philosophy of its owners, Connie and Andrew Chase.
Connie grew up in Munich; Andrew grew up in Europe and minored in German at Ohio Wesleyan, so both were familiar with flammkuchen, the thin-crust wood-fired flatbread that is the German “pizza.” They met in Panama, where Andrew had a yearlong stint cooking at a German hotel. There he learned how to adapt local ingredients to the familiar German cuisine his clientele wanted along with an array of useful chef skills like whole animal butchery.
Returning to the States, Andrew further honed his skills at the CIA in Hyde Park. An externship at NYC’s Alsatian-inflected PicNic Market & Café (now closed), with its relentless breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule, convinced Andrew he didn’t want to own his own place. But then he realized he just didn’t want to own that place. “I didn’t want to burn out,” Andrew says. “I wanted to maintain passion, remain fresh.” After graduating, Connie and Andrew headed to Oaxaca for several months, absorbing all they could about Mexican food, and from there spent a year “WOOFing” (working on organic farms) in Germany.
Their travel then led to Ireland where Andrew worked in a bakery and spent time in food trucks in Dublin. There, their business plan for what would become the Flammkuchen food truck began to take shape. “I knew I didn’t want an urban food truck,” Andrew explains. The Hudson Valley was familiar to the couple and closer to family. With help from one of Andrew’s brothers, their food truck was designed and began operation. They had secured prep space in a Poughkeepsie bakery, but given the intensive prepping and cooking required by the German cuisine, soon realized it would not be cost efficient to rent a kitchen year-round. Their search for space led them to Kinderhook, a close-knit, supportive and enthusiastic community close to many of the farms with whom they do business, from Hawthorne Valley in Ghent to Sugar Hill Farm in Pine Plains.
The restaurant is already known for their “flammes” (short for flammkuchen), whose flavors reflect Connie and Andrew’s three formative culinary regions. There is the Traditional German—fromage blanc, lardons, onions; but also the Mexican-inspired Puerco—chipotle fromage blanc, guajillo-braised pork shoulder, fresh mozzarella and caramelized onions; and the local Valley—fromage blanc, woodfired creminis, chèvre, seasonal produce. They continue to learn, from what is the ideal tile temperature of their wood-fired oven to render the flammes perfectly fresh and crisp to how to best translate their menu’s Alsatian-German-French roots with local ingredients.
One example of local adaptation is the crème base for the flammes. In Alsace and the Black Forest, it is usually made with quark, heavy cream, sour cream or fromage blanc; for a locally sourced version, Andrew found Hudson Valley sour cream, with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg, is a perfect substitute.
Andrew and Connie opened the Flammerie in November of 2014 and weathered the unrelenting winter. Now that it is summer they have set up outside tables in the back, for a bit of Hudson Valley biergarten. Inside, the space, like the food, is locally inflected, with wood from a nearby barn creating the beautiful bar and beams from the original building now exposed.
The menu is divided into flammkuchen ($8-$10); brotzeit, or cold plates & snacks ($3-$9), including changing house spreads like chickpea and preserved lemon; soups and salads ($5-$9); petits plats ($6-$15) like a Bavarian slider duo or PEI mussels and bratwurst, fennel-riesling broth; and entrées ($20-$28) like grilled Berkshire pork porterhouse or, what Andrew describes as the surprise hit, veal cheeks. There is also a kindermenu and an array of house-made desserts. Vegans and those with gluten sensitivity will easily find a variety of choices on the menu—perhaps surprising for an Alsatian- French-German-dedicated cuisine, yet which makes sense given the Chases’ dedication to adaptivity.
Andrew has appetizing plans for summer specials like wood-fired stuffed rainbow trout or wood-fired crispy-skin striped bass, Berkshire bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and bratwurst stuffed quail. All of which sounds like an ideal way to eat away a balmy summer evening, with beer and a few “flammes” thrown in to keep things interesting. —Brigid Dorsey
7 Hudson Street, Kinderhook