From the Food Vault Dept.: It’s been a decade since the review below ran in Metroland, and I’m pleased to note that the restaurant is still going strong.
THE OVEN IS AN ARRESTING SIGHT. It’s Le Panyol Model 120, if you want to get technical about it, from a French company that dates back to the 1840s and specializes in refractory earthenware products fashioned with a special white clay called terre blanche that’s quarried on the edge of Provence.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
Harvest & Hearth’s most recent incarnation was as Chameleon on the Lake, but it’s undergone a remarkable change inside and out. Some of it is subtle – I didn’t realize that a drop ceiling was gone until Michelin pointed it out – some dramatic, like the glistening wood floors. But nothing tops the sight of that oven, poised like a large stone Dalek at one end of the dining room, its mouth a rictus of dancing flame. Pizzas go in and mere moments later emerge, transformed into crisp, bubbling pies.We visited early on a recent Saturday evening and watched as Michelin turned into a machine, his assembly line of pizza construction including one person shaping dough, another applying toppings, while Michelin applied the finishing touches and navigated them through the fire.
You’re paying a little more for these pies. A small one, which is sliced into four pieces but really only yields two, starts at $7.50 for a basic covering of mozzarella and asiago cheeses with fresh herbs, which you can further enhance with a range of toppings – or choose from the preconfigured styles, each of which also comes into a larger (8-slice) variety starting at $13.
The “harvest” part of the restaurant’s name comes into play with the toppings, which are as local and organic as possible. Thus the pepperoni pizza ($8.50/$15) boasts a nitrate-free topping from Applegate Farms, a New Jersey-based consortium of over 300 socially conscious animal farms.
I plucked a couple of slices from the pizza to get a sense of its individuality, and it tasted like excellent hot pepperoni, thin-sliced and moist. But as part of the whole shebang, it’s enhancing the flavor something that’s already excellent. Thin, hot-fired crust; superior (and usually local) cheeses, a hint of tomato sauce where needed – this is something far removed from the doughy, sticky pizza of the typical parlor.
“Hearth House” ($8/$14) is a simple assembly of tomato sauce, mozzarella and asiago cheeses and fresh herbs. “The Shrooms” ($9/$17) uses wild mushrooms, fontina and caramelized onions. “Sammy’s Free Range BBQ Chicken” ($9/$18) puts fire-roasted poultry in the mix, with smoked gouda and organic barbecue sauce. “The Epiphany” ($9.50/$18) seems a stretch in the nomenclature department, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt what with kalamata olives, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and rosemary on the palette.
We sampled a small version of “The Natural” ($9/$18), its name (at least literarily) suggesting a hit, and it won me with but two of its several ingredients: nitrate-free maple-fennel sausage (I have a severe sausage addiction) and sun-dried tomato pesto.
And there was a special-of-the-day pie with chicken, Buffalo-wing-inspired sauce and blue cheese, of which we sampled a small one ($11), that blended those flavors with an inspiring touch of spiciness.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
Seasonal soups also are offered. Michelin explained that this means root vegetables are featured through the winter, and butternut squash makes frequent cold-weather appearances. But we were lucky enough to visit during scape season. Garlic plants produce a flower that, when picked before it blooms, has a long, curly stalk called a scape that can be prepared like string beans – but with built-in garlic flavor.
As a soup, it can be combined with potatoes for a hearty brew, and the bowl we sampled ($5) had that gentle garlicky flavor set off by cream. It’s been an early-summer favorite at the restaurant for the past three years – in other words, from the beginning, as the place opened in Oct. 2008.
We finished with a slice of cheesecake from the Nuns of New Skete ($6), unnecessarily garnished (to this purist) with whipped cream.
You may need to relax after a meal like this. Avail yourself of one of the colorful hammocks outside, at the top of Saratoga Lake at Fish Creek Marina. That’s what we did.
Harvest & Hearth, 251 Stafford Bridge Rd., Saratoga Springs, 587-1900, harvestandhearth.com. Thin-crust pizza cooked in a wood-fired clay oven, featuring local and organic ingredients. The nitrate-free pepperoni is terrific. Serving Tue-Sat 4:30-9. All major credit cards.
– Metroland Magazine, 30 June 2011