Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Tricia Browne’s roots run deep in the Williamsville restaurant trade, so it’s no surprise that she has decided to turn food she buys Saturday mornings at the Williamsville Farmers Market into Saturday night specials at her restaurant, the Eagle House.
Her grandparents would have been proud.
John and Audrey Hanny owned the Lamarque restaurant on Delaware Avenue during the 1940s – “when you went out to dinner in dresses and heels and everybody wore a suit jacket,” Browne told me recently during a sit-down interview at the historic restaurant she and her father, Bud Handy,
have owned the last 12 years. (Before that, it was run by her dad and uncle, Jack.)
Her dad’s parents left the Lamarque and owned the Little White House in Williamsville after that.
“That’s where I got my first taste of the restaurant business,” Browne said. “I would be 3, 4 years old holding the menus and following behind my grandmother thinking I was hostess with the mostest.”
John Handy died about 40 years ago, but Audrey became a star on the village restaurant strip before she passed away about a dozen years ago.
One of the many lessons she passed to her family was the concept of a “no thank you portion,” her granddaughter said.
When it comes to eating, you try everything, Browne explained.
“You take a spoonful. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to have anymore, but at least you tried it. So you couldn’t say you didn’t like something without ever having tried it.”
That’s why she, and her husband, David, who works in finance, can describe their sons , Connor, 9, and Jeffrey, 14, as “well-rounded eaters.”
It’s also a concept that blends nicely with Browne’s local food philosophy.
Browne, 44, spends part of her Saturday mornings this time of year at the village farmers market, buying fresh produce that head chef Greg Freeland and sous chefs Colin Cave and Dave Venditti turn into something special. Customers are eating up the idea and tonight is a great time to join them; from 5 to 9 p.m., it’s An Evening in the Village along Main Street, with entertainment and discounts designed to encourage walking traffic and local shopping.
How have the chefs used the farmers market for Saturday night specials?
Last week, we took peaches and they made a brandy sauce with some walnuts and put that over a grilled pork chop, which was nice and different. They took summer squash and made little boats out of it and stuffed the boats with other fresh vegetables and that went with our salmon special. They made a Caprese flatbread appetizer. They layered yellow and red tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and we have herb pots out in our back garden. So we took the fresh basil, and we took the fresh mint for mojitos.
Why did you decide to go local?
Last summer, we started. It’s literally in our backyard. So it’s kind of fun. So you’ve seen the show “Chopped,” where they have to open a box or bag of mystery ingredients? I will walk into the kitchen and you think I just walked in with a bag of gold. I have peaches and summer squash and eggplant and I hand them this and they all go crazy. Who gets the peaches? Who gets the yellow tomatoes? Who wants the zucchini and what are we going to do with it? They get a kick out of it in the kitchen on Saturday morning when I walk in with that bag of stuff.
Everything here is homemade. They’re in there every day making soups and sauces, so it’s nice to have started a new tradition with food from the farmers market. It’s fun. You see all the farmers, customers with their kids out in strollers, my employees parents or their sisters.
What sort reaction have you had from customers?
It’s been great. It has created a buzz. “People ask, ‘What are you doing next week?’ And I have to say, ‘I won’t know until I get (to the market).’”
Has there been a variety so far?
We’ve used white eggplant to make eggplant parm. We’ve used blueberries to make a blueberry coulis, which is like a blueberry puree. We use that on desserts, with a peach and blueberry tart, to decorate the plate. Or we’ll use it to make blueberry mojitos at the bar. So we find all different ways to utilize the fruits and vegetables.
Fresh strawberry cream sauce has been the hit of the summer. We put that over our salmon dish. And everybody’s in the mood for peaches right now.
What is your philosophy of eating and the staples of your diet?
Good or bad, the philosophy with my grandmother, with your no thank you portion. They’re always anxious in the kitchen to have taste testers when they’re coming up with something new.
I love fresh vegetables and pasta and I love fresh salmon and seafood. I get the privilege of having a lot of different seafood out here, so that’s nice.
Is it hard to eat right when you own a restaurant?
It’s definitely hard. When the baker delivers last week sliced banana cream pie, how are we not supposed to break a slice out and let everyone taste it. I’ll be the first to say, ‘Why don’t you plate a slice so we can all taste it and know what we’re selling?’”
What’s the food that’s hardest for you to resist?
Definitely desserts. I use four different bakers here that are all local and that is very hard. Everybody has their own niche and when they bring something new in, that’s very hard. Or they bring you a whole platter of what’s new this season and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ How do you not try all eight of those?
I do a lot of walking, and having two kids, I’m constantly on the move. That helps.
How often do you eat as a family and what do you tend to eat when you’re here?
We eat seafood when we’re here. My kids love seafood and they love soup. They eat pretty well. My little guy, you can cut up a couple red peppers and he’ll sit and eat that like it’s a bag of chips. I love that they’re open to new things.
Talk about buying local.
I think it’s important that everybody understand that buying locally, no matter what you’re buying from independent businesses, is so important because so much more of your dollar spent at a locally owned business stays local.
The statistics show that probably more than 80 percent of your dollar goes not only to the business but to local vendors.