Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. Currently working at Thyme Restaurant in Yorktown as a chef-in-training (commis), her passion and desire is to gain even more experience and knowledge by interning for a day (staging) in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. Join her as she blogs from behind the kitchen door peeling, dicing, and pureeing her way into her newfound culinary career.
Restaurant: The Freight House Cafe in Mahopac
Description: Comfy, cozy and eclectically quirky cafe tucked back behind Route 6 in Mahopac, bordering along side the North County Trailway. The building, which celebrates its 140th birthday in April, was the very first freight house constructed for the NY Central and Hudson Railroad, and items like blocks of ice, iron ore, milk, hay and even Sears and Roebucks deliveries would pass through on their way to and from Mahopac. The cafe is the best place to get a healthy breakfast and lunch or just “a cuppa cawfee”. Relax and enjoy the outside deck and free Wi-Fi. If you stay long enough, you will no doubt see someone you know; it’s just that kind of friendly place.
Cuisine: Hip cafe fare, which leans heavily to the healthy side, with local organic farm-to-table juicing, free range eggs served as you like, Greek yogurt with house made granola, and a plethora of fresh made sandwiches, wraps, soups, and salads.
Chef/owner: Donna Massaro is a local girl whose cafe dreams have been realized right here in her beloved hometown. She is passionate not only about her food but is always involved in giving back to this community. She was a participant last year in a Nutella Throwdown (sort of like a Nutella Iron Chef challenge) to raise money for culinary scholarships for local high school students, and she just recently hosted the Vagina Monologues for the benefit of the Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center. Spend a few minutes getting to know Donna, and you will realize that she is personified in every inch of the cafe.
Cooks: Evan Rosado
Behind the counter: The smiling faces of Hamdy EL Gayeh, Lauren Nardone, and Sue Kallmeyer ready to welcome you.
Signature dish: For lunch, it’s the BLTA that patrons are usually clamoring for (Evan’s personal favorite). Bacon (crispy please!), Lettuce, Tomato, Avocado and mayo on choice of bread served with the house special coleslaw. Simple, fresh and absolutely addictive ingredients.
Coolest appliance: Robot Coupe (pronounced /row – bow koop/), which is essentially a food processor on steroids. Donna animatedly describes finding it on Craig’s List and “made the deal to purchase it in a Holiday Inn parking lot.” She gets misty eyed as she shares with me that when she got it home, she sat at her kitchen table just staring at it. It’s definitely her baby.
Size of kitchen: Approximately 20×10 feet. It felt almost roomy to me, but by far the best feature is all the natural light from the window over the prep area and the back door.
Size of prep area: 4×3 feet is quite compact, but because everything is right at hand, like the kitchen aid and the robot coupe, it proves once again that organization is key in any kitchen.
Turning up the heat: Front and center is a gleaming 24” Garland SunFire six-burner gas range with a raised griddle/broiler and two ovens.
Chef’s most cherished dish: All of Donna’s recipes are very personal to her, so she found it hard to pick just one. She feels her best dish is her creamy, lemony hummus, but she’s also pretty proud of the Mahopac Wrap. It’s a packed tortilla wrap of brown organic rice and slow simmered beans, pico di gallo (think salsa), sour cream, avocado and melted cheddar cheese with a choice of meat. This is close to her heart because this dish came from the Dam Cafe, where she worked when she lived in Tahoe, CA. She was craving it so much that she just had to put it on the Freight House menu, and we are so happy she did!
Most complicated dish on the menu: The surprisingly healthy Fluffer Nutter Supreme. Okay, so maybe the fluffer part may not seem so healthy, but this sandwich has all natural peanut butter, local honey and cinnamon (which I found out is a “good-for-your-heart” combo), banana (has potassium), and Nutella (just plain yummy). It’s not so much difficult as just a little sticky and messy to put together.
Secret ingredient: Donna confides that if she told me she’d have to kill me, but Evan gave up Freight House’s secret in an instant. It’s lots of love, affection and simply taking pride in what you do. I absolutely agree with him as I’ve enjoyed this secret ingredient in my many breakfasts and lunches at the cafe.
Chef’s culinary mentor: You may be confused that Donna would credit Henry Ponzio, a wine expert who owned Suburban Wine & Liquor in Yorktown Heights, as sparking her interest in food. In the three years she worked there, he taught her all about the most important asset a chef can have: a sense of taste. From the variety of flavors in a simple glass of wine (like grassy or mineral notes of where the grape is grown), to how that wine pairs with food, it was clearly a lesson well learned for Donna.
Favorite kitchen gadget: Donna loves the bench scraper which she uses as a generic prep tool to scoop, chop, and scrape. Evan’s favorite is the bright yellow silicone egg poacher, which can be easily lowered into simmering water to make the perfect poached egg. I’ve already ordered the gadget that I was coveting ~ a sandwich spreader knife that Evan uses to expertly coax slices of avocado out of their shell, making a sometimes painstaking task so easy. And then there was the can opener with a crank handle instead of the usual hard-to-turn knob!
What’s on the prep list: There was a lot to do in the kitchen when I arrived in the morning (that’s 6:30 am and for the record, it was still dark out!) like making cranberry mayo, hummus, tuna salad, and veggie cream cheese.
In the afternoon, Evan and I made the bread pudding and banana bread. First, we took out the Freight House recipe binder. I’m going to make an assumption here that every restaurant has something similar, but it warmed my little A-type heart that Donna had each and every recipe beautifully organized in clear protector sheets.
Most interesting cafe guest: Working in a 140 year old building isn’t without its own quirks, like early one morning when the radio shut off without warning and then Donna noticed a fleeting image of a little girl’s face pressed against the front door peering into the cafe. Now that story gave me some goose bumps.
What’s in the chef’s home fridge: With limited time for food shopping or home cooking, the answer is pretty cliché for a beautiful single woman who is also a busy business owner and chef ~ some chardonnay and lots of take out.
What should every home cook own: A really sharp knife. It’s doesn’t need to be expensive, just make sure it’s comfortable.
My random insights: Cafe uses frozen cubes of tea, coffee and juice to ice drinks so they don’t get watered down.
In the winter, Donna’s been known to institute a car hop service bringing “take out” to a new level; and in the warmer weather, she has basket service up to the bike path.
This summer Donna will be starting what we dubbed “Pontoon Picnic”. It’s a mobile spot at Mahopac Marina on Lake Mahopac for lake goers to pick up fresh, ready-made sandwiches, salads, etc. All in all, what was crystal clear to me during my time in the cafe is that Donna and her staff truly care about their customers.
Details: 609 Route 6 (behind Putnam Music Center), Mahopac, 845.628.1872, www.thefreighthousecafe.com. Open Monday through Friday, 7 am to 5 pm; Saturday, 8 am to 4 pm; and (starting 5/13) Sunday, 10 am to 2pm.