Holidays with the Chefs

Pairing Food, Wine, and Music for Entertaining

By Ilene Dube

At this writing, New Jersey restaurants can only operate at 25 percent capacity, and restaurateurs were vying for the few remaining heat lamps to prolong the outdoor dining season. For sure, the holidays will be different this year — with many unable to gather with the family and friends that make the holidays a true celebration.

Princeton Magazine spoke to area chefs to learn how they will celebrate this year, both at home and in their restaurants. And writers Lori Goldstein and Donald H. Sanborn III compiled playlists inspired by each restaurant to help readers create a similar ambience in their own homes.

Local Greek

For the man behind Local Greek on Leigh Avenue and Small Bites by Local Greek on Nassau Street, the holidays are one big fat Greek festival. Anthony Kanterakis — “Tony” — will be celebrating with his Greek fiancé and Greek mother, who lives in Monroe. Everybody eats when they come to Mama Kanterakis’ (Chrisanthe) house — his sister, aunts and uncles, and family friends. There will be turkey, as well as moussaka and pastitsio, all prepared by Chrisanthe, and guests are welcome to bring dessert.

While Kanterakis doesn’t do any of the cooking — “I’m a zombie after Thanksgiving” — as a restaurateur he never takes a day off, even when the restaurant is closed. “I would never open on Thanksgiving or Christmas because those days are dedicated to family (New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are open). But it never feels like work — I’d rather be here at the restaurant than anywhere else, and the employees feel that way too. There’s camaraderie, and it’s like home.” Kanterakis describes himself as the kind of boss who solicits ideas from his staff and puts them into practice.

The holiday menu at Local Greek includes Oven-Roasted Lamb and Kokkinisto, a kind of beef stew with orzo and Greek-style tomato sauce, with grated Kefalograviera, a hard yellow Greek cheese with a nutty piquant flavor. (Local Greek is a market as well as restaurant and sells some hard-to-find staples of Greek cuisine.)

Chrisanthe — she and her late husband emigrated from Greece before Tony was born — once owned New Athens Corner Bakery in Highland Park, which sold prepared Greek gourmet food. She has been in the kitchen at Local Greek, working with Chef Lazaro Carranza on the Kokkinisto with the goal of making her traditional recipe work in a contemporary setting. Kanterakis calls her his inspiration. “All the recipes we use stem from her hand.”

Carranza, who is originally from Guatemala — he studied at the Academia Culinaria de Guatemala — worked in food service for 20 years at Princeton University, becoming adept at Mediterranean cuisine including Greek and Italian. Carranza’s brother, Douglas, is the head waiter at Local Greek. “They’ve both embraced Greek culture. They mold the kitchen,” says Kanterakis, who has given Carranza a Greek nickname, Laki.

There is some overlap in Greek and Italian cuisines — Kanterakis says one of his favorite things to eat is Makaronia Me Kima, which he compares to a Greek Bolognese sauce for spaghetti.

When he thinks about families breaking bread together, Kanterakis says he wants to cry. “The elderly are more affected (by COVID-19) and the younger ones are afraid to get their elders sick, so family gatherings have to be seriously cautious. Greek homes are known for inviting everyone, but this year it will only be immediate family.”

Family is a term that Kanterakis uses generously, to embrace the people who work with him and even the local business owners who gather at his outdoor tables. This year he plans to give thanks for good health, and for family.

Wine Pairing:
Agiorgitiko: The most common red greek wine, it is characteristically spicy with notes of plum, and low acidity but good fruitiness and coloring. Agiorgitiko means “St. George’s Grape,” and is probably named for a chapel near Nemea in the Pelloponnese where it’s most common. It is thought to be one of Greece’s oldest varieties. It’s best paired with meat dishes such as beef or lamb stews and roasts.

Moschofilero: A lively and floral white-wine grape grown in the Peloponnese region of Mantinia. Still white, rosé, and sparkling wines offer flavors that span from light and delicate, to ripe and fun-loving, to exotic and spicy. It’s often compared to Riesling, Traminer, and Viognier, though its character is distinctively Greek. Best enjoyed with fish dishes, as well as with refreshing salads and vegetable dishes.

Playlist:
As your guests enjoy a taste of the cuisine offered by Local Greek, give them an authentic musical flavor of the Mediterranean as well. An album by musician Constantin Paravanos, Greece: Syrtaki and Hellas Folk Dances, contains treasures such as “To Dilino,” “Voyage sur la mer Egée,” “Athina,” “Xamenos,” and “Sirtaki Syrtaki.”

Complete your guests’ experience with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, a prolific composer whose works include operas, ballets, and symphonies. Among Theodorakis’ best-known compositions is the score for the classic film Zorba the Greek (1964), which was adapted from the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Director Michael Cacoyannis — who also helmed the 1983 Broadway revival of the musical version, Zorba — filmed the movie on location in Crete. Selections from the soundtrack include “Zorba’s Dance” and “Sirtos Chaniotikos” (“The Fire Inside”). Compiled by Donald H. Sanborn III

The Pig and The Pit

Doria Roberts and Calavino Donati moved to the area a year ago with the plan of bringing their tea shop, Tipple and Rose Tea Parlor, to Princeton. Previously located in Atlanta, Travel + Leisure ranked Tipple and Rose third in the country for its high tea service. The tea parlor was also beloved for its scones. Roberts, who grew up in Trenton and went to Princeton Day School, wanted to live closer to her mother who’d had some health setbacks. Then the pandemic came along and put the brakes on the idea of sit-down tea service in Princeton. But as one door closed, another opened in the form of a pop-up space at the site of the former Éclair Café in Pennington. The Pig and The Pit is a “ghost kitchen,” which Roberts describes as having no indoor dining space — perfect for these times.

After 25 years living in the South, Donati and Roberts developed the confidence to take on Southern BBQ, incorporating elements to satisfy both Roberts’ vegetarian diet and Donati’s omnivorous consumptions. Roberts is the baker, and the sweet potato pie is from her mother’s recipe.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Roberts toured as a musician, sharing the stage with the Indigo Girls, Odetta, Sara McLaughlin, John Mayer, and others. She retired from music and began working as a baker with her wife. Beginning in 1996, Donati had created a near cult-like following at her Atlanta restaurant, The Roman Lily Café.

“Well-behaved women rarely make history” is Roberts and Donati’s motto, and according to The Pig and The Pit website, their from-scratch approach uses fresh and local ingredients but “we like to break the rules! A lot. So you’ll often see playful spins on familiar favorites like Turkey Poblano Meatloaf with jalapeño tequila gravy, Cornbread Tres Leches, Fried Green Tomatoes with apple horseradish sauce, Sweet Potato Salad, and lighter fare like Coconut Curry Hummus, organic local Tofu Gyro, and Mustard Greens Tabouli.”

“Calavino loves to feed people,” says Roberts, and their holiday tradition was to host an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.” They opened the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day to serve those who had nowhere else to go, whether it was because their kitchen was under renovation, they couldn’t afford to travel home, had dietary restrictions that made them unwelcome, or simply didn’t feeling like cooking and cleaning. “It turned into a tradition instantly,” says Roberts. After the first year, “we didn’t even have a chance to announce it before customers started asking for it.” It never felt like work, she adds, but was something they enjoyed.

This year will be quiet. “We’ll miss sharing Thanksgiving with those customers, but we’ll still be cooking for anyone who needs it, and that’s just as rewarding.”

Says Donati: “I will be cooking a small quiet dinner we’ll spend with my mother-in-law. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday and I have to have the staples to make it feel real — mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and, of course, Doria’s sweet potato and pecan pies.”

Donati and Roberts plan to take time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day and invoke some of Donati’s family traditions such as making donuts and going to the market to gather ingredients for a feast of crab legs, potatoes, corn, and oysters. And Roberts will spend pre-holiday time baking cookies for her nieces. “It’s not officially Christmas until I make cookies for someone.”

In the season of gratitude, both are thankful for making their new home in New Jersey, and for those who’ve helped make their dreams a reality, especially during uncertain times. The good news is, they will open Tipple and Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary as a tea emporium a few doors down from The Pig and The Pit.

“It has the potential to be a full-service tea shop, but for now we’ll just be selling 140 kinds of loose leaf tea, tea and coffee brewing accessories, honey varietals, homesteading equipment … and you’ll be able to rent our vintage tea ware and have your afternoon tea catered by us.”

Wine Pairing:
Beer and bourbon are the usual accompaniments to Southern food and, especially, BBQ because the strong flavors tend to overwhelm the subtle notes you want to experience in wine. But, if wine is a must, we’d suggest varietals with a little effervescence to open up the palate and complement the smoke and spice found on our menu.

A nice white Vinho Verde, a cava-like Portugese wine with smaller bubbles, for fish and chicken dishes like our Fish Fry platter with sides of our Balsamic Glazed Figs + Brussels Sprouts and Southern Caviar (blackeyed peas marinated in a mustard greens pesto vinaigrette), Shrimp n’ Grits, or our Smoked and Seared Pork Chops with green apple chow chow (a type of pickled relish) and mashed sweet potatoes.

For heavier foods we’d go with a Lambrusco, an Italian red wine made frizzante style. They can be a little sweet and reminiscent of muscadine wines that are popular in the Southern U.S., but a Lambrusco’s depth coupled with the brightness of its bubbles tempers the heavy, syrupy tendencies of a muscadine varietal. We’d suggest pairing a “brut” Lambrusco with our Turkey Poblano Meatloaf with jalapeño tequila gravy and spicy collard greens or our Meat n’ Two platter featuring our Smoked + Pulled Brisket with bourbon creamed corn and dirty portabella rice.”

Playlist:
As the Pig and The Pit’s website says, “We put a homemade Jersey spin on downhome traditional Southern favorites.” So let your diners enjoy some country and bluegrass favorites as well. Welcome your guests to a holiday dinner with “Merry Christmas From Our House To Yours” by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, “Old-Fashioned Christmas” by Jimmy Martin and the Sunshine Boys, “A Tennessee Christmas” by Amy Grant, and “Footprints in the Snow” by Bill Monroe.

If you prefer to use songs that can be enjoyed in any season, you can welcome your diners with Bill Monroe singing “Y’all Come”; a performance by Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”; and Travis Tritt’s life-affirming “It’s a Great Day to be Alive.” Complete your selection with hits by bluegrass stars such as “Nashville Cats” by Flatt & Scruggs; “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” by Allison Krauss; and “Riro’s House” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Also, treat your guests to the album Tall Fiddler, which earned musician Michael Cleveland the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. Compiled by Donald H. Sanborn III

Brick Farm

Chef Mitresh Saraiya, formerly executive chef at Agricola restaurant, joined Brick Farm Group in February as the catering and commissary chef, working closely with the chefs from Brick Farm Tavern and Brick Farm Market (the Hopewell restaurant and farm-to-table specialty shop and eatery owned and operated by Robin and Jon McConaughy, and supplied by their Double Brook Farm).

“I have a great passion for utilizing all things local,” says Saraiya. “At Brick Farm we are focused on our pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. This is very different from Agricola where we were more vegetable focused. It’s always good to know where the food you are eating comes from.”

Saraiya, born in India — his family emigrated when he was 3 — was raised as a vegetarian, but that hasn’t stopped him from being adept at roasting a whole goat or pig. When his grandmother came to live with his family she ran a small catering business, and he has fond recollections of watching her knead dough. Drawn to the food business as a teenager, he nevertheless followed his parents’ wishes to go to college, where he majored in psychology. Soon after graduation he went on to the Pittsburgh Culinary Academy.

His Indian family would celebrate the American holidays with lasagna or eggplant parmesan, “which are still two of my favorite things to eat. Our big holiday is Raksha Bandhan, which is a celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters. On this day we would get the whole extended family together, about 50 of us, and would prepare something different every year. There would always be so much food, so it reminded me of Thanksgiving and Christmas, just much earlier in August.”

The holiday is celebrated on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana, often in August. Celebrants dress in traditional attire and, according to the Times of India, “the rakhi party includes a melange of mouthwatering foods starting from yummiest appetizers to scrumptious desserts: Tandoori Aloo Tikka, Paneer Tikka, Vegetable Biryani, Boondi Ka Raita, Kadhi Chawal, Chole Kulche, and, for dessert, Halwa and Malpua Rabri.

Saraiya will be working in the days leading up to each of the holidays, but Brick Farm will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days and he looks forward to spending the time with his wife, Kelsey, and her family.

“They have a tendency to go all out and make tons of food,” he says. “There will be a traditional turkey for Thanksgiving, with all the works. The bird will be prepared by my mother-in-law but I always have a hand in the sides. Feeding others, especially family and friends, brings me great joy.”

The Tavern will offer seasonally-inspired dishes around the holidays. “The menu changes frequently so it’s always a new experience for the guest.” There will be turkey “somewhere on the menu for sure,” and the Market will be offering turkeys for pickup, along with classic sides — gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese. “We think that, due to the pandemic, people will be gathering in smaller groups and doing more dining at home — with only 25 percent capacity indoors there won’t be much room for guests in restaurants.”
Even if gatherings are smaller by necessity, “it is still important to celebrate by maybe having a video chat going throughout the day that can make you feel like people are there with you, celebrating.”

Wine Pairing:
Holloran Vineyard is located in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley, known for producing world-class Pinot Noir. The soil is iron-rich and the climate is considered maritime with ocean breezes seeping in through gaps in the mountains. The cool wet winters and long dry summers with ample sunshine provides an extended grape growing season that is ideal for Pinot Noir. Holloran 2014 Pinot Noir provides ripe flavors, and red cherry aromas with notes of clove that complements Chef Sariya’s use of spices with warming qualities such as cinnamon, clove, turmeric, cardamon, and coriander.

Established in 1749, Domaine Fouassier from the Sancerre region of France is one of the oldest wine growing families in the Loire Valley. Today, brothers Benoit and Paul represent the 10th generation and have added state-of-the-art machinery without forgetting traditions, and converted the vineyard to organic. Domaine Fouassier 2018 Sauvignon Blanc has pink grapefruit and lime citrus aromas with flavors of fennel and juicy peach that pairs well with fish, cheeses, crisp greens, or a pillowy ricotta gnocchi in brown butter sauce.

Playlist:
Your guests will enjoy a holiday menu with music inspired by the bucolic setting of Double Brook Farm in Hopewell, Brick Farm Tavern’s location. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, No. 6 will accompany your meal. The great composer was known to gain respite from the challenges of his life in Vienna when he traveled to the countryside to enjoy long walks in nature. (You’ll want to turn down the volume during the 4th movement’s thunderstorm.) Debussy’s Prelude a Làprés-midi d’un Faune, based on Mallarme’s poem, is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun. In Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, Op. 114 in A major, one can hear the ripples of the brook, the home of the trout, Die Forelle. Listen to the peace of Ralph Vaughan’s Pastoral Symphony No. 3 and savor his gorgeous violin solo with orchestra in “The Lark Ascending” as la pièce de résistance.
Compiled by Lori Goldstein

Anton’s at the Swan

This nearly 30-year-old restaurant exudes the old-fashioned elegance of the 250-year-old hotel in which it is located. Chef Chris Connors, an Orange native who was once the head chef at The Peacock Inn in Princeton and chef de cuisine at the Frenchtown Inn, bought the Lambertville-based Anton’s in 2001.

With a classical French training, Connors found his way to new American cuisine and says he likes the Lambertville location for its proximity to farms in Hunterdon, Mercer, and Bucks counties. “I have been cooking farm-to-table going back to the late 1980s, before the phrase was even part of our vernacular.”

After a temporary closure due to the pandemic, Connors was feeling good about being back at work. But he will close again for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. “I plan to be home with my immediate family — my wife, Ursula, and our two sons. For Thanksgiving we will have the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. We will probably have a few green vegetables and pie for dessert — nothing fancy, just the classics. Ursula is an excellent cook and we share the cooking at home.”

For Christmases past, the family’s go-to places have been Indian Garden in Yardley and Oishi in Newtown, both in Pennsylvania. He cherishes childhood memories of getting together with extended family. “We would usually see our aunts, uncles, and cousins. In recent times we’d get together with my father-in-law, and my brothers and their families. Christmas Eve was always my favorite holiday and it happened to be my father’s birthday, so we always had a double celebration.”

For those who visit Anton’s in the holiday season, Connors will probably have Rack of Lamb with lamb sausage on the menu, along with pheasant or Guinea hen from Griggstown Quail Farm. “I’ll serve oysters since they’re usually so good in the winter.” With limited seating capacity, he is curbing variety but will still have what customers have come to expect.

This year Connors is giving thanks for friends and family. “I am reminded every day how much they mean to me. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to stay healthy, the single biggest thing we have lost is time with family and friends. Phone calls, video chats, and text messages help, but they don’t replace sitting around the dinner table with people you really care about. I look forward to the day when we can do that again.”

Wine Pairing:
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine from the southern Rhône region which has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. The characteristic terroir (flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced) comes from a layer of stones called galets (pebbles) that retains heat during the day, releases it at night, and helps to retain moisture in the soil during dry summer months. Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines from the left bank are full bodied and characterized by their aromas of prune, chocolate, and ripe black fruit. The right bank reds are slightly lighter.

Sancerre is located around a medieval hilltop town in the Loire Valley of France and is renowned for producing crisp white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. The climate is cool continental so the grapes have high acidity and crisp flavors. Sancerre white wines have refreshing flavors including lemon, lime, elderflower, and some grassy notes. The silex soil in the region produces a mineral character in white wines that can be described as flinty.

Playlist:
Anton’s at the Swan, in Lambertville, offers New American comfort food. In the spirit of our country, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony No. 8 echoes familiar Native American and African American melodies that are perfect accompaniment to your holiday menu. Dvorak, a Bohemian (now Czech) composer, was hired as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City in 1892. During a short stay in Spillville, Iowa, he was so impressed by America’s openness that he wrote what became known as his “American” Quartet, Op. 12 in F major. Ironically it does not contain any American melodies. A premier American composer, Aaron Copeland, wrote “Appalachian Spring,” commissioned by Martha Graham for ballet. If any of your guests has winter doldrums, this piece is sure to lift one’s spirits. Finally, in keeping with Anton’s modern classic cuisine, Philip Glass’ mesmerizing String Quartets No. 2-5, performed by the Dublin Guitar Quartet, are a quiet backdrop for scintillating conversation.  Compiled by Lori Goldstein