Tanglewood is offering more food choices for patrons — a lot of it locally sourced — beyond the traditional bring-your-own picnics. Left, fixings from the salad bar at the Cafe.
LENOX, Mass. — We go to Tanglewood for the best music of the summer. Many listeners come with picnics in tow but our dining expectations for the prepared food Tanglewood offers may not be so high.
Time was, a local baker or caterer would be contracted to bake giant chocolate chip cookies for that summer. Or, big chocolate brownies another summer. That was when we were lucky.
Times have changed.
In addition to fine dining for donors at Seranak, on the hill overlooking Tanglewood; and fine dining, newly for the public this summer, at Highwood mansion, concertgoers may pre-order picnics-to-go. They can wander around and pick up grab-and-go sandwiches or salads or SoCo ice cream or No. Six Depot Coffee Roasters coffees and teas at the beer tent and concession stands around the Tanglewood campus. Made-to-order sandwiches and hot grill items are available at the Grill.
The Grill has a simple menu of made-to-order sandwiches and a few other items but two foods they make that are not made elsewhere are potato-crusted deep-fried onion rings and a foot-high grilled sandwich meant to serve a number of people. It has an eight-ounce burger, eight ounces of pulled pork, a number of other things and is topped with a whole sour pickle.
"Everything is from scratch here," said chef Paul Kirch, now in his second summer of orchestrating the Tanglewood kitchens. "Ninety-eight percent of our food is fresh made."
All food is prepped or made under Kirch's direction in the large commissary kitchen under the Café near the Lion's Gate. The Café has the most extensive of Tanglewood's everyday menus.
There is a lovely, fresh salad bar that offers three or four bins of different sorts of greens, cherry and grape tomatoes, chopped, grated and sliced veggies, composed salads including bean, pasta and noodle, moist — never dry or tough — grilled chicken, yummy tuna salad, lots of crumbled blue cheese, grated parmesan, Berkshire Mountain Bakery of Housatonic rolls and more.
There are simple sandwiches of chicken, rare roast beef, turkey breast or grilled summer vegetables but generously made with interesting combos on each sandwich such as avocado, green beans, apple slices and bacon on the chicken sandwich or mozzarella, crisp leeks and arugula on the veggies. The sandwich bread is from Pittsfield Rye Bakery of Pittsfield.
The panninied torta sandwiches — a cider-brined chopped chicken with that nicely sour slaw is served with commissary-baked tortilla strips and herb salt, a Cuban and a roasted vegetable — are made on Berkshire Mountain Bakery San Francisco sourdough bread or ciabatta rolls.
"We get most of our breads from Pittsfield Rye and Berkshire Mountain Bakeries. We're getting berries and fruits from local orchards and vegetables and other produce from more and more local farms, Kirch said.
"This is the year of farm-to-table at Tanglewood," he went on. He is proud that Tanglewood chefs are using more and more locally grown and locally made foods. Bartlett's Orchard and Hilltop Orchards in Richmond; Equinox Farm in Sheffield; Lakeview Orchard in Lanesborough; Taft Farms and Farm Girl Farm in Great Barrington are a few Kirch and other Tanglewood chefs mentioned.
"We supply Kaverne [Glasgow, Highwood chef from Boston Gourmet] and Paul with deliveries of fresh vegetables from the farm at least once a week," Paul Tawczynski, chef and farmer of the Taft Farms family, said recently in appreciation of Tanglewood's ongoing and growing use of local food producers.
SoCo Ice Cream of Great Barrington has a large counter and stand at the entry to the Café — as well as a clear tent on the grounds between the main gate and the shed. No. Six Depot Coffee Roasters of West Stockbridge has its own little room at the opposite end of the Café, where it sells snack-size boxes and cellophane bags of Chocolate Springs goodies along with its own products.
There is a burger and fries grill station with pulled pork, which is slow roasted downstairs. A really tasty apple-carrot-radish slaw comes with the pulled pork and some other items. A veggie burger made there, too, using black beans, corn, quinoa and beets is attractive and juicy.
They make tender, creamy orecchiette mac 'n' cheese including a roasted winter squash in brown butter without cheese. The waffle with buttermilk fried chicken breast and a maple cream gravy is the most fun. The waffle and gravy are made in the commissary kitchen but the chicken is battered and fried when a diner orders it. Delicious.
A stacked sandwich of pulled pork, hamburger, slaw and Texas toast for sharing.
There are also flatbread pizzas that serve at least two, created to order on Berkshire Mountain Bakery crusts. They bake in no time flat.
"We'll make all our sauces," Kirch said proudly. "Our pizza sauce is made here in the commissary. We'll make a fresh barbeque sauce. We'll do a fresh cheese sauce for our macaroni and cheese. We'll use a white cheddar and other cheeses depending on what we have. Our macaroni and cheese sauce is always different."
This year, for the first time, Tanglewood has its own pastry chef through Boston Gourmet, who supplies all the food and staff for Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra year round. She is Kim Watson, recent graduate of Johnson and Wales University culinary arts program in Providence, R.I., who is continuing her studies to become a certified pastry chef.
She bakes for Seranak and Highwood and for frequent postconcert special events, and she bakes a set grab-n-go sweet menu she packages fresh every day for the Café, Grill and concessions — pink lemonade cupcakes, carrot cake, chocolate chip brownies, rice crispy treats and cookies.
So, all that stuff packaged in the cases comes from downstairs that day.
On Sunday mornings, starting at 9, a basket of Watson's fresh breakfast pastries — croissants, scones, muffins, doughnuts, jam Danishes — sit in the middle of the counter in the tiny Bernstein gate snack concession stand near Ozawa Hall during the Tanglewood Music Center/TMC chamber music concerts. There is No. Six Depot coffee and tea, sandwiches and freshly made fruit salads as well.
The Café, the Grill near the main gate and the Beer Tent behind the Shed are open a couple of hours before concerts through intermission on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. When the Café feeds lunch to staff and TMC fellows every day from noon to 2:30, the public is invited to dine there, as well.
Although, diners may take their purchases away to their lawn sites, eating at the Tanglewood picnic tables is fun — no muss, no fuss. And lots of carefully made, fresh, local food.