Home on the (Free) Range

Rat’s – for Less

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These articles by Jamie Saxon were prepared for the November 17,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

U.S.1 BestBets

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Home on the (Free) Range

What’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who interned

under uber-chef Daniel Boulud in New York and worked at the Ryland Inn

doing roasting parsnips and chasing turkeys on a farm in Griggstown?

He’s coming home.

Matthew Sytsema, 23, grew up about a mile from Griggstown Quail Farm.

After the hellish restaurant hours and hellish commute to Cafe Boulud

in which he says he only slept about three to four hours a day,

Sytsema has found a new place to hang his chef’s hat – Griggstown

Quail Farm.

"I hired Matty so no one else would. I invested in Matty. I like that

he came from a farm – right down the road," says owner George Rude,

adding that his new hire is part of a strategic business move. Through

distributor D’Artagnan, the specialty meat company in Newark, the farm

has been shipping out free-range poulty and game at a frightening

speed, some 35,000 pheasants, 100,000 poissons (young chicken), and

30,000 quail annually to high-end restaurants like Gotham Bar & Grill

and upscale markets like Citarella in New York. Another 8,000 live

birds go to shooting clubs.

"Ever since 9/11, the wholesale market has tanked," says Rude. To grow

the business in a new direction, he and Sytsema have built a 20 x 30

foot restaurant-caliber kitchen off the retail farm market at the

entrance to the 80-acre farm.

On a recent weekday, Sytsema was in the kitchen stirring butternut

squash soup (made from squash grown on the farm) in an eight-gallon

pot – just one of the offerings on the farm’s takeout Thanksgiving

menu. Rude says the intent is to have the kitchen USDA-certified (the

farm’s processing facility already is), enabling him to sell any item

Sytsema prepares to a reseller. Right now he can only sell to the

public through the farm store. "Everyone has tomatoes," says Rude,

referring to the plethora of farm markets in the area, "but not

everyone has a USDA-certified kitchen."

While he stirs soup with one hand, Sytsema’s other hand is cranking

out another much-in-demand item – the farm’s signature chicken pot

pie. Both Rude and Sytsema are ardent proponents of the slow food

movement – 200 people attended their slow food picnic last spring. It

takes Sytsema three days to make one batch of 300 chicken pot pies.

Needless to say, the chicken in the pie is from the farm, which

Sytsema rotisseries, then hand-tears, still warm, from the carcass.

The meat is combined with slow-roasted fresh vegetables in a veloute

sauce, then poured into a double-crust puff pastry shell.

Rude is raising 1,500 turkeys this year, so if you still haven’t

bought a turkey for Thanksgiving, you can order a fresh one – right up

until the day before Thanksgiving. The birds are given all-natural

feed with no antibiotics and no growth stimulants. "I give my birds as

much outside room as possible to exercise." That results in a bird

with more meat and less fat. Rude reveals what you should really know

about fresh turkeys. "They need to be processed – we don’t use the ‘K’

word – four to five days before Thanksgiving, to give the muscle a

chance to break down and become tender. Then they need to be stored at

28 degrees Fahreinheit, what we call a ‘chill-pack.’ I can taste a

turkey and tell if it was processed just two days ago. It’s not

right."

But what Rude really wants to talk about is the chicken pot pie, which

he says is the perfect weeknight dinner for a busy family. "My chicken

pot pie is $14. A pizza pie is $15. What do you want your kids to eat?

Vegetables – or cheese?"

Griggstown Quail Farm, 986 Canal Road, Princeton.

908-359-5375, www.griggstownquailfarm.com. Turkeys, $2.75 per pound.

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Rat’s – for Less

We hear a lot from people who say, ‘We live right in your backyard but

we didn’t know you existed,’" says Anthony Accardo of Rat’s restaurant

at Grounds for Sculpture. Since the departure of executive chef Eric

Martin, who is working on starting his own restaurant (watch U.S. 1

for more on that), Accardo, who helped open the restaurant in January,

2000, and served first as sommelier and then director of wine and

beverage, is temporarily the self-proclaimed "director of everything."

In order to generate traffic from some of those "backyarders," and to

attract people who might not have tried the restaurant because they

heard it is expensive, Accardo chose the slow month of November to

unveil a $39 four-course tasting menu, designed by sous chef Leclere

English. The price is right, considering that the entrees alone on the

main dinner menu hover around $30.

"This is our third tasting event," says Accardo. "The menu is designed

to appeal to a wide range of palettes. We also tried to be a little

less eclectic. There is even a vegetarian choice at every course. For

example, the chestnut and winter vegetable stuffed cabbage is not

something you get in your run of the mill restaurant that tries to do

a vegetarian dish. The fourth course, tarte Tatin, is French comfort

food."

Accardo, who marketed the tasting in a targeted postcard mailing to

5,000 homes in Lawrenceville, West Windsor, and Newtown, Pennsylvania,

with an average income of over $75,000, says that the response has

been wonderful. "Friday night is our most popular night, with

one-third to one-half of the house coming for the tasting." Accardo

isn’t shy about touting another bennie of the tasting’s lower price:

"It lets people drink better. If your normal budget for wine is $30 to

$50, with the tasting you can spend $70 to $80."

Four course tasting at Rat’s, 16 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton,

609-584-7800. Tuesday through Friday, through December 3. Special

invitation to U.S. 1 readers: Offered only to recipients of a postcard

direct mailing, this tasting has been extended to U.S.1 readers. Call

the restaurant to make a reservation and mention you read the U.S.1

article. You will be required to leave an e-mail and/or mailing

address as part of the promotion. $39, does not include beverages. Tax

and gratuity will be added.


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