Word to the wise: when your bartender and the farmer who grew your dinner are one in the same, you’re probably in for a treat. At least that was my experience recently at Black Sheep, where the bar setup and menu structure are conducive to snacking and plate sharing. After a quick perusal of the printed specials, which read like an ode to localism, a friend and I settled first on the carrots, identified as hailing from Golden Hour Farm in North Collins.
“Those are my carrots,” our bartender Kelly reported proudly but demurely. “I grew them.”
Turns out, Kelly the Black Sheep bartender is also New York City-transplant Kelly Schramm of Golden Hour Farm, and she grows a fine carrot. They arrived gorgeously gnarled and perfectly scorched, three to an order. In true farm-to-table fashion, the kitchen resisted peeling—an often unnecessary intervention that strips carrots of their natural beauty. The few tendrils of young root fibers that still clung to the carrots only added to their visual appeal.
The dish arrived with spoonsful of thick, purple-hued pesto, so colored by the addition of amaranth greens in lieu of basil, and bagna cauda—a traditional Italian dipping sauce that literally means “hot bath.” This particular bagna cauda wasn’t served warm, as I expected it to be. And in a refined twist, its unmistakable primary flavoring agent—anchovies—were pureed with olive oil and garlic to creamy uniformity as opposed to rustically chopped. But that is merely observation, not criticism. When all three components—the bagna cauda, slightly bitter pesto, and earthy-sweet carrots—were consumed together, the sum was greater than any individual part.
“It hits so many notes!” my friend exclaimed before declaring it her favorite vegetable of the evening.
That is not to say the other dishes weren’t also superb. A wonderfully executed local corn pancake was deeply browned and crisp on the outside, soft and cakey within, and crowned with a dollop of gloriously salty miso butter. It was homey and deeply comforting. My friend said repeatedly that it reminded her of something her grandmother used to make—a Proustian moment, of sorts, on Connecticut Street.
Kohlrabi from Stick and Stone Farm in Ithaca was also satisfying and stellar proof that New York State terroir couples beautifully with strong Middle Eastern flavors. Shorn of its naturally knobby skin (in contrast to the less adulterated carrots), the kohlrabi was a glistening, steaming orb smothered with spicy-hot green harissa. A dense coating of dukkah—that mixture of seeds, nuts, herbs, and spices prevalent in Egyptian cuisine—lent welcome texture, while sumac-tinged yogurt offered necessary mouth-cooling relief from the fiery chilies. Drizzles of amber-red burnt citrus syrup brought very subtle, nearly savory caramelized sweetness to the dish.
In an eggplant parmesan kind of town, it can be challenging to find a restaurant that not only offers myriad vegetable dishes but doesn’t obliterate those vegetables by way of deep fryer or melted cheese. Fortunately, Chef Steve Gedra and the rest of the kitchen staff at Black Sheep demonstrate deep reverence for produce. And the vegetable-focused dishes they are churning out currently are practically a celebration of Western New York’s early fall bounty. Mourn the end of tomato season? I think not.