By Analiese Paik
Farm to table restaurants have been cropping up across Fairfield County for years, some truer to the concept than others. Armed with that knowledge, I visited Bailey’s Backyard in Ridgefield with modest expectations that were quickly exceeded.
A year ago, owner Sal Bagliavio closed Bailey’s Backyard for a few months to renovate and reopened as a farm-to-table restaurant. “It was time to evolve as a restaurant, to stand out and be unique again. When we opened fourteen-and-a-half years ago there were two restaurants in Ridgefield. Now there are twenty American restaurants in this town” he said.
During the renovation, Bagliavio kept his plans under wraps while carefully conducting a search for an executive chef to replace him and bring his vision to life. After interviewing many fine chefs and sampling their tasting menus, he hired Forrest Pasternack, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who grew up in Ridgefield, as executive chef. Pasternack refined his culinary skills in the kitchens of Manhattan luxury, boutique hotels Soho Grand Hotel and Tribeca Grand Hotel before becoming Chef de Cuisine under Executive Chef Albert DeAngelis at Terra and Mediterraneo in Greenwich. He is an experienced and exacting chef, and demonstrates it in spades at the new Bailey’s Backyard.
Pasternack’s first order of business after taking over the kitchen was menu development and ingredient sourcing, tasks made easier owing to his long established working relationship with purveyors of specialty food and produce including Sid Wainer & Son in Massachusetts. “They deliver to the White House and the finest restaurants” says Pasternack of the family-owned business that recently began its own farming operations to test new crops before contracting with New England farmers for large scale growing.
The response from diners to a local, seasonal menu that changes every month has been overwhelmingly positive. “We were always an American restaurant” said Bagliavio. “The ingredients just changed.” “We’re getting back to the way people should eat” said Pasternack. “Individuals have to start making a choice and saying enough is enough. That’s the only way things will change. The only people that can take it back are us.”
Customers are primarily from Ridgefield and surrounding towns, yet the restaurant has also become a destination for local and fine food lovers from New Canaan, Westport, Stamford, Danbury, Redding, Bethel and Fairfield.
The expansive lunch menu of eight starters, five greens, five sandwiches and wraps, six main dishes and three variations of the grass fed burger features seasonal produce, meat and cheese from local farms. The dinner menu is even bigger, offering specialties like slow roasted suckling pig and pine nut crusted lamb chops from Pine Hill Farm in Elba, New York. Diverse offerings make it a great place for vegetarians and omnivores to dine together and all go home smiling.
Don’t miss the cool and refreshing, flavor-packed Cucumber Gazpacho with shaved cucumber salad, tabasco yogurt, and tomatillo salsa, which is poured tableside to preserve its beautiful presentation. I wanted to take the tomatillo salsa home in a jar to serve with everything.
The Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi with English Peas, local orange blossom honey, white wine salsa, and truffle powder was perfect. Delicate and feather light gnocchi were elegantly dressed in the creamy sauce and adorned with bright green peas and sweet corn shoots.
Marble Valley Farm’s organic asparagus and hardy frisée are the stars of the show in Grilled Asparagus Salad with frisée, prosciutto, black truffle, Hollandaise, shaved pecorino, herbed red wine vinaigrette. The salad is a meal in itself for light eaters.
Slow roasted suckling pig from Pine Hill Farm, yellow corn fritters, lavender, buttered peas, and crackling-red eye gravy is quintessentially American down to the southern style gravy, and a must order for any meat lover.
Chef Pasternack makes his own mozzarella from curd purchased from South Coast Farms in Massachusetts, buys whole animals and breaks them down, and uses 100% of the animals. Offal, coppa di testa (head cheese), paté, charcuterie and sausages frequently appear on the menu.
All the desserts are house made including a strawberry rhubarb tart served with Arethusa Farm & Dairy’s vanilla ice cream. Brunch omelets are made with Arethusa’s baby bell cheese.
Pine Hill Farm in Elba New York is owned by the Mosner family and supplies the restaurant with pork and lamb. “Slow roasted suckling pig is always on the dinner menu” said Chef Pasternack. “We order two a week.”
Chef Pasternack sources all their 100% grass fed, dry aged ground beef for their popular burgers from Johnnycake Mountain Farm in Burlington, Connecticut. Owner/farmer John Merritt is “a real proponent of our work” says Pasternack. The cattle farm is a vendor at the Ridgefield and Georgetown farmers’ markets and will be selling the restaurants’ pickles, ketchup, jams and jellies that Chef Pasternack puts up in small batches throughout the harvest season.
Megan Haney’s Marble Valley Farm in Kent is “a farmers’ market unto itself” said Pasternack. “We get everything from her because other farms deliver apples, veal, and other specialty items to her.” Pasternack loves to visit farms and run specials with ingredients that catch his eye including fiddleheads and garlic scapes.
Eggs come from Sauder Farm in Pennsylvania, goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts, ricotta from Calabro Cheese in East Haven, and corn from the eastern seaboard. Vintage Natural Beef supplies the restaurant with prime cuts. ”Local beef lasts 20 minutes” said Pasternack. Lettuces are sourced from Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, blueberries and tomatoes come from The Hickories, and he also uses cropups, the online marketplaces for buyers and sellers of CT Grown food.
Wild Alaskan salmon, monkfish and line caught ahi are on the menu, but you wont’ find any bluefin tuna here. Chef Pasternack is sitting on the sidelines while an Australian bluefin farm works to prove its sustainability. “We use Pagano’s. I’ve been using them since I was at Terra and they’re the best in Connecticut” he said.
True to the American farm to table philosophy, diners will find an extensive menu of craft beers and hand-crafted cocktails. Bryan Walsh, beverage manager and chief mixologist, makes all their infusions including ginger vodka, blueberry rum and vanilla bourbon.
23 Bailey Avenue
Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Open Saturday and Sunday for brunch. Closed Monday. Reservations welcome. Free parking is available in the adjacent municipal lot.