Sneak Peek: Inside Stowe's soon-to-open Crop Bistro & Brewery

New Crop

BY CORIN HIRSCH [12.20.11] -- Seven Days

There will still be a cozy pub, a spacious bistro serving unfussy fare and a brewery. But inside the footprint of the restaurant formerly known as the Shed, the new eatery set to open in a few weeks is altogether reimagined.

Inside Stowe’s Crop Bistro & Brewery, at 1859 Mountain Road, the rooms are full of the smells and noises of renovation. Its scale speaks to the vision of the collaboration between Tom Bivins, former executive chef at New England Culinary Institute, and Steven Schimoler, longtime restaurateur and food scientist. Schimoler is the former chef-owner of Waterbury’s renowned Mist Grill, which closed in 2005.

Many new elements, from the menu to the décor, will draw on the template of a namesake Cleveland restaurant, the 16,000-square-foot Crop Bistro & Bar. Schimoler founded it four years ago, in part as a food lab. It has since won national recognition for its inventive approach to farm-fresh food.

“We’ll capture signature stuff from Crop in Cleveland,” says Schimoler, who is on his third restaurant launch of 2011 and his 11th overall. Beyond assurance that diners will find locally grown and wildcrafted morsels, he and Bivins are enigmatic on the specifics of the food. They’ll definitely introduce Crop’s signature popcorns (with such flavorings as sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic reduction) and develop a Crop beef jerky using local supplies, such as beef from Vermont Highland Cattle Company.

Schimoler opened Mist in 1999, long before farm-to-table was hot. “Crop is about food that is local, and that has become a given,” he says. “That’s what we were doing 15 years ago.”

“The goal is for Crop Stowe to have its own food identity,” adds Bivins. Diners can choose from a pub menu or a bistro menu served in one of the more spacious dining rooms, or occasionally a “Tour de Crop,” or seven-course tasting menu.

As they finalize the fare, the pair have gutted the kitchen. Workers have peeled away the pub floor to reveal wide pine planks. A curved bar adorned with gnarled cypress boughs creates an Adirondack Great Camp feel in the middle of the former dining space, and Vermont photographer Peter Miller’s iconic images will hang throughout. Glass will expose the brewery, anchoring a corner of the pub.

A new copper-clad brewery is on order from Germany, and Bivins and Schimoler have already hired their head brewer: Mark Ewald, formerly of Long Trail Brewing Company. Ewald is formulating recipes on his home brewing system, where Schimoler says he sampled “one of the best beers I ever had. I like to think he’s an 11 on a scale of 10. He’s very accomplished.”

Beers will work in tandem with the food rather than overwhelm it — nothing “over the top” or too high in alcohol, Schimoler says. “We’ll have traditional Old World styles, such as Kölsch and lagers. We’d like to honor tradition.”

Cocktails will draw on the kitchen’s culinary prowess. In Cleveland, Crop’s libations have such ingredients as rhubarb bitters, coconut foam and fig reduction. “We find ways to get our kitchen philosophy into the bar. I look at it as an extension of the kitchen,” says Schimoler, whose son, Steve, will oversee the bar program.

Crop will eventually get a water-conditioning system similar to that of its cousin in Cleveland, which will enable the staff to improve on their well water and possibly replicate the subtle flavor profiles of other waters around the world. That can be a building block for dough and beer, says Schimoler.

Schimoler is confident that Stowe’s diverse clientele can support the new establishment, but “You have to earn that trust,” he says, and notes that Crop will offer food at various price points. “You can eat for $15 or $50. Local food doesn’t have to be expensive.”

Sneak Peek: Prohibition Pig to open in the former Alchemist space in Waterbury

Prescription: Alchemy

Side Dishes: Prohibition Pig to open in the former Alchemist space in Waterbury BY ALICE LEVITT [12.06.11] -- Seven Days

Scores of devotees expressed their dismay when owners John and Jen Kimmich announced last month that they would not reopen the Alchemist Pub & Brewery in Waterbury [which was destroyed in Hurricane Irene]. But those fans won’t have to wait long for its replacement. Prohibition Pig will open in Prohibition Pig logothe same building in 2012 as soon as repairs are completed, most likely in February, says owner Chad Rich.

Rich, previously bar manager at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, says he’s had plans to open Prohibition Pig for more than a year. The only problem was finding a space. When the Kimmiches decided not to revive the Alchemist in the building they own, Rich realized the flood-ravaged pub would be perfect. “I absolutely love that space,” says Rich. “It reminds me of an old pharmacy building.”

The architecture fits seamlessly into Rich’s concept of a pub that evokes the era when booze was still viewed as pharmaceutical. As he puts it, “You saw your bartender for your medicine.” The “pig” in the restaurant’s name refers to the smoked meats, particularly pork, that will be added to the Alchemist’s menu.

Yes, that menu will remain — in part. “Unfortunately, it can’t be the Alchemist again,” says Rich, acknowledging the sentimental value attached to the name. “And we’re making minor changes.”

He’s working with the Kimmiches, who have helped him identify items they would have eliminated from the menu on their own. Rich will put his own dishes in those spaces, including brisket, smoked chicken and pulled pork that boasts a vinegar-based sauce he learned from a pig-farmer friend in North Carolina.

In his goal to retain as much of the Alchemist as possible, Rich will seek to rehire former staffers. “I feel like they deserve to work there more than anybody,” he says. The chef, however, is a new hire: The Alchemist’s chef had left the restaurant just before the flood to work at the Kimmiches’ Alchemist Cannery. Rich isn’t ready to divulge a name yet, only to say, “This guy is really good with meats — that’s his thing. I’m very excited about this guy; I really like him, and I’ve always admired his food.”

Rather than installing a new brewery, Rich plans to offer as many as 24 beers on tap, drawing them from the surviving Alchemist Cannery and friends such as Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Hill Farmstead Brewery and Stillwater Artisanal Ales. He says he’ll be sure to leave room on tap for Rookie’s Root Beer and house-brewed kombucha, too. Eventually, Rich hopes to get a distilling license, which will enable him to make genever, bitters and other cocktail components for Prohibition Pig.

Despite his additions, Rich wants to reassure those who miss the Alchemist that Prohibition Pig won’t stray too far from their memories. “The idea is definitely to respect the history of what was in there and make as few changes as possible,” he says.