Harvest Gallery Wine Bar
In the kitchen of Harvest Gallery Wine Bar in Dennis, owner Michael Pearson is freaking out about ingredients, in a really good way. He’s pulling one bin after another out of a spectacular glass-fronted walk-in fridge, popping off the covers and raving about the contents nestled inside.
“I’m pretty psyched about these wacky greens,” he says, showing off some feathery-looking light green leaves lined in purple. It’s purple Mizuna, from Jeff Deck at Not Enough Acres Farm down the road in Dennis. He hands me a leaf to try (mildly spicy), and holds up some Swiss chard from another box, and garlic chives from yet another, both from Eldredge Farm near the Brewster-Harwich line. All are tender, fresh and carefully tended to. “Greens are front row right now, then as the farmers have the summer stuff, we’ll move on to tomatoes and cukes. I’d say the menu’s going to change monthly.” That changeable menu is an unpretentious list of what Michael calls fun, gourmet bar food on the healthy side.
Let’s back up a bit, though, as there’s a lot going on at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar. It’s a gallery showing and selling the work of more than 30 artists; a wine bar serving over two dozen wines by the glass and the bottle; host to entertainment most evenings; plus a restaurant serving up some fun and fresh food. A dozen or so snacks, sandwiches, meat & cheese plates, soups and salads that, while sounding pretty ordinary on paper—guacamole with chips; seasonal salad; Harvest club sandwich—are made with very carefully selected ingredients that pay tribute to responsible producers and local farmers and artisans, without getting overbearing about it.
Sure, they could print on the menu that they’ve got a Not Enough Acres Farm salad, but, Michael argues, “What if there’s no Not Enough Acres salad this week?” That’s not right or fair, nor respectful to either the customer or the grower. And it’s refreshing in this frenzy of “local this” and “artisan that”. Haven’t you wanted to call a restaurant out on some less-than-local-looking greens, or wondered if the local chicken described on the menu is actually what you’re getting tonight? Instead, local ingredients used in the evening’s selections and specials are called out on the chalkboard menu hanging amidst the artwork.
Another case in point: the evolution of the cheese plate. “Try this,” Michael says, offering a smear of Robinson Farm’s Arpeggio cheese on a little spoon. It’s a washed-rind cheese from Hardwick, Massachusetts: slightly runny, funky, with a yogurty tang. “It’s a cheese lover’s cheese,” he says, nodding as he tastes. At first, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar’s cheese plates featured the best of the best cheeses worldwide. Then, Michael tried doing all New England cheeses, and now, “My next thing is to present one farm’s selection of cheeses, and rotate. That way you can really get a taste of one farm. Same cows, same grass, different cheeses.”
It’s notable that in this kitchen, they’re going nuts over ingredients before they even start showing me the finished dishes. As Michael hustles around the corner, I can hear him exclaim about the house made roast beef (grass-fed and raised in New England) that’s just out of the oven, sitting trussed on the stovetop…
Harvest Gallery Wine Bar itself is a blue house that looks like it’s been growing on a comfy patch of grass for a while. It’s wedged in among the other unlikely buildings in the Dennis Village area on Route 6A that’s also home to a movie theater, a post office, a pottery shop, a bakery (Underground Bakery, where much of the wine bar’s bread comes from), and the Cape Playhouse.
Michael Pearson opened up the gallery in 2005, and back then they hosted art shows and wine tastings. Originally from Dennis, Michael, who has a BFA in studio art and is an artist himself, worked in restaurants in high school and through college and beyond, and when he met his girlfriend (now wife), they moved to Oregon. There, he saw how art galleries and wine bars could work really well together, and decided to take the idea back to the Cape. “It was always the plan to do the wine bar inside the gallery, I just didn’t know what would come first, if I would get a restaurant and turn it into a gallery, or get the gallery location and turn it into a wine bar.” Two years later, in 2007, he got licensed to do a full wine bar, and serve food and beer, as well. At that point, the space was half the size it is now.
It turns out that with the economy being what it was, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar was also in a good position to ride the growing trend of small plates, and of people going out for snacks and sharing them, rather than having full-blown meals at restaurants. The economic downturn had yet another fortuitous hand in the wine bar’s evolution: the other half of the building was occupied by a travel agent, and as that industry moved more to the internet and the agent moved to a home office, Michael was able to take over the entire building in 2009. The latest development this spring is a full, year-round liquor license, and with that, the ability to be open seven days a week. They’re working on expanding to a lunch menu, and getting in even more entertainment.
Back in the kitchen, a quick look around reveals…well, not a lot, equipment-wise. A countertop convection oven, a Panini press, a sandwich board, and around the corner, an ordinary home-kitchen cookstove. That’s pretty much it. No grill, no hood, no fryolator.
Limited? Some might say so. Michael muses, “I wake up some days thinking, if we only had a full restaurant, it would be a much simpler approach. But because we don’t, our limitations are driving our creativity, and that’s exciting.” Another unexpected advantage of a limited menu and kitchen is alignment with customers’ interest in smaller plates of food. “With the recession, things changed a little bit, for the better for us. We’re taking food that used to be on white plates and skewering it, putting it in baskets; it’s fun and more lighthearted for the customers.” Smaller plates also mean that Michael and his staff can use small amounts of top-quality ingredients, and everyone comes away satisfied.
In a kitchen with no grill or hood system, “Protein is always the missing link in the menu.” Always seizing an opportunity for innovation, “This year we’re doing Cape Cod farm-raised organic pickled eggs, which is a classic old bar snack, and we’re making those from scratch, so we’re finding ways to satisfy that fun bar food and present a protein for people, introducing more beans, smoked meats, cured meats, preserved meats, charcuterie.” And there’s that roast beef in the form of a mouth-watering French dip: layers of caramelized onions, provolone cheese, garlic aioli and beef, all resting on a toasted ciabatta roll, with beef jus alongside for dipping, of course.
Michael also takes a unique approach to working with flavors and ingredients. For instance, there’s ginger in the salsa instead of garlic. The green olives are marinated with orange zest and herbs, instead of the more common lemon, and the Harvest club comes with crispy prosciutto and crunchy apple slaw on neighbor Underground Bakery’s squash bread. The charcuterie plate is whimsically arranged on skewers.
“I’m making some choices on the healthy side. We had chowder in the beginning, and I was just kind of frustrated by it, so now I’m doing a green lentil stew. It’s vegetarian, with feta on top and lemon.” It’s deliciously hearty, fresh and sunny all at once. Pointedly, there is no seafood on the menu. There was that chowder, but …“Well,” Michael admits, “Cape Cod is just too Cape Cod sometimes.” There is, in fact, nothing fried or that would require a hood system in the kitchen. That’s good news for the art, though, because there’s no grease in the air.
In the back of the roomy, cool basement kitchen, Dianne Collatos is working on the ginger salsa, and we get to talking about herbs. “We blow through so many herbs here,” she says seriously, eyes big. Why not have an herb garden out back, then? It seems like a relatively simple way to cut down on cost, but Dianne is thoughtful. “You know, our farmers are cool people, and we’re supporting them, and you have to know what you’re good at.” It’s a nice sentiment, that you’re respecting what others do, and leaving the growing to the professionals. Plus, there’s just no time.
Near Dianne’s station there are three steel cylinders connected to clear tubing that snakes up to the ceiling. That, Michael explains, is the wine tap system, a relatively new development, so it’s time to head upstairs and learn about the wine bar.
“This is my baby. I’ve been researching this for a little over a year now.” Rob Sweet is standing paternally behind six wine taps at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar’s large U-shaped bar, the centerpiece of the room. He’s talking about the system installed last fall that allows the staff to pour three whites and three reds for customers from five-gallon stainless steel kegs.
Why? “Bottles are a multimillion dollar contract,” he says, holding up a wine bottle and tapping the glass. “One of my reps, his daughter sells glass. That’s it. She makes a killing.” Not only that, for each bottle, “You’re paying for stoppage, label, glass, and wine, so when you think about it, it’s the same quality wine, but you’re not paying for the cardboard, the label, all that extra jazz.” It not only makes economic sense, but it cuts down on waste.
And perhaps most importantly, there’s the quality. “Every time we pop the tap, that’s the first time the wine sees oxygen. It’s like I just pulled the cork out. That’s 110 glasses of popping-cork-from-bottle, pour-in-glass quality wine, per five-gallon keg.”
According to Rob, who’s in charge of beverages at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, this tap system has been in use in Europe for decades, and in California for around a decade. It’s only gained a small foothold on the East Coast over the last year or so, though, and there are just two other places on the Cape that he can think of that use a wine tap system. Right now, there are Gotham Project wines on tap (www.gothamproject.net), a collaboration of several vineyards who refill the kegs at five filling stations around the country, saving on travel distance, and lessening the chance of bad handling conditions. In the fall, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar will change up the wines for another six. “It’s taking the intimidation out of wine. People don’t have to commit to a bottle or a brand, and we do wine flights.” For $10, you can try three tastes of any wine served by the glass, and that includes the bottled stuff, too.
Almost all of the near two-dozen wines are available by the glass or the bottle (a full or half carafe for the tapped wines), which is a lot to explore, and there is also a selection of beers on tap (local brews only, including Cape Cod Beer, Mayflower, Blue Hills and Narragansett), bottled beers, and cocktails – the classic kind, like the Old Fashioned, French 75, and Red Wine Fizz. With the full liquor license this year, Rob is looking forward to dabbling with fresh seasonal ingredients in his cocktails. He’s thinking along the lines of offering a cucumber basil martini, a blueberry mint mojito, and sangria with fresh raspberries, peaches and nasturtiums.
Wine, art, food and entertainment; it’s an unusual approach for the Cape, but it works, and it’s a great place to take a mixed crowd, at any time of the day, for any reason. As Rob puts it, “Bring four people and share three different things, and just pick and choose off the menu and split everything. There are also people who go out to dinner somewhere else, and that’s perfectly fine with us. They’re coming here after, to enjoy the rest of their evening, or they come here before dinner.”
The Harvest Gallery Wine Bar is a simple concept that is always changing, and the staff is always seeking to surprise, delight and evolve. Owner Michael says, “To me it’s really about developing a system that can accommodate a year-round crowd, as opposed to build-it-up-to-the-peak-of summer and wind it down. I’m listening more than ever to people, there’s a great give and take between our customers, they understand our approach, know we’re passionate, know we’re limited. There are not a lot of places open without the whole full-restaurant infrastructure. This is a new concept for the Cape.”
You might say that Michael and his staff are curators, people who adore food, wine, and art, and are excited to share it with other people.
Bring some friends or come solo to the Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, where you’ll think, compare, delight, experience, and talk about wines, cheeses, art, food and music. They’re all there, put together just for you.
Harvest Gallery Wine Bar
776 Main Street, Dennis
508-385-2444 / www.harvestgallerywinebar.com
Open every day
Entertainment Wednesday through Sunday
Tasting Tuesdays – try six different wine varietals for $12