Leafing Tradition: Fall Flavors in the North Country

As the leaves change colors, so do the menus at local Plattsburgh restaurants

Story and photos by Alyse Whitney

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This Irises's creation consists of a hollowed out McIntosh apple with a stuffed date, caramelized pears, bleu cheese, walnuts, cabbage slaw, and a maple syrup reduction.

Local residents traverse pumpkin patches and rows of apple trees between September and November, picking out the main ingredients for the perfect pie. Although these are two staples of the fall season, their uses stretch far beyond baked goods.

Incorporating fall flavors is a popular tradition for
Irises Café & Wine Bar in downtown Plattsburgh. Executive chef Doug Spurdens crafts a seasonal menu that starts mid-October, full of innovative dishes to accompany a changing wine selection. Their standard menu remains consistent, but daily specials highlight the freshest local ingredients, ranging from a unique spin on grilled pizza to slow braised beef shortribs. “It’s the weekend features that really highlight the season,” explains Carol McLean, owner of Irises.

The important point that Spurdens emphasizes is that customers can enjoy seasonal specials any day of the week. “We can have high-end casual, nice seasonal food throughout the week, not just on the weekends. That way customers can have something special that might not be on the menu,” Spurdens says. When it comes to conceptualizing this seasonal fare, he keeps one thing in mind: colors.

“As an artist, I always go colors first,” Spurdens explains. “The reds, oranges, and earth tones. Your pumpkin is obviously orange, with red for apples and purple for cabbage.” In addition to these color palates, Spurdens focuses on developing flavor profiles through the freshest ingredients available to him, ranging from Irises own garden – located at manager Claude Brunet’s house downtown – to the selection at Pray’s market. “It’s kind of going from that garden to table thing; that whole concept has really taken off,” Spurdens adds. Although the garden just had its last harvest for the season, the fruits of their labor will continue to be utilized in various features as long as they (the produce) remain fresh.

“It’s the weekend features that really highlight the season.”

After each harvest at Irises’ garden, the fruits and vegetables are divided into two beneficiaries – the main restaurant and DeLish by Irises, located next door. The newest addition to the Plattsburgh dining scene will serve as a cupcake bakeshop and a gourmet delicatessen. DeLish will provide a one-stop shop for customers with both on-the-go lunches and cupcakes by the dozen.  Although they will provide scratch-baked pastries, artisan breads, and other items prepared daily, the main emphasis is on the cupcakes that Chef Adrienne Dionne creates.

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The cupcake selection at DeLish by Irises ranges from a seasonal chai latte to the popular chocolate peanut butter.
“It’s really easy to take a basic vanilla cupcake and buttercream and add anything to it that you want. It will absorb that flavor pretty well since the flavors are simple already,” Dionne explains. The biggest flavors that Dionne incorporates into her cupcakes are the fresh fruits from the garden. “Anytime we had fresh fruits, I would use them in the cupcakes…usually with a bit of alcohol as well.” Her latest creation was a black raspberry margarita cupcake, but with autumn fading into winter, Dionne is looking to utilize fruits that are more seasonal, such as pumpkins, apples, and cranberries.

“I don’t want them (cupcakes) to look like dogs, cats, toilets, or whatever.”

“When thinking of new flavor profiles, the first thing I think of is holidays. With Thanksgiving coming up, I will use a lot of cranberry things. For candied apples, it is a big fall thing; people go apple picking this time of year,” Dionne explains. For her, it is all about using ingredients at their peak of freshness. “What I know that I can get now, but I’m not able to get later, I always use. Next week, it will be pumpkin things – decorating to look like pumpkins so they are seasonal for Halloween.”

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Anthony's menu includes dishes like roasted duck confit leg over risotto.

When it comes to decorating, Dionne tries to make sure that both the ins’ and outs’ of the cupcakes are seasonal. “I decorate in a way that represents them (the ingredients) but doesn’t take away from what they taste like,” Dionne says. “I don’t want them (cupcakes) to look like dogs, cats, toilets, or whatever. People make cakes into weird things – I want to decorate to try to explain what is inside of them so it isn’t a complete surprise to the customer.” Some of her fall cupcakes will include flavors of familiar drinks, such as coffee and amaretto, chai tea latte, and café mocha.

As DeLish transitions from fall to winter, a few consistent spices will be utilized for cupcakes of many different flavors, Dionne explains. “For flavors like eggnog, pumpkin pie, and gingerbread, I’m basically going to have to have a holiday spice blend to use for everything. Essentially, you’re starting out with the same basic spice but adding pumpkin to make it pumpkin pie or cream to make it eggnog.” While that spice family will be well utilized at DeLish, Dionne has no intentions on letting her flavors grow stagnant. “I can think of any flavor I want from week to week and pretty much put it in there – the whole cupcake world you can create is very expansive.”

“They are what is current or what makes sense – very seasonal with a bit of excitement.”

Fall adaptations may be important to local restaurants, but all seasons are equally incorporated into menus. For Scott Murray, executive chef and owner of Anthony’s Restaurant and Bistro in Plattsburgh, one ingredient stands out: mushrooms. Mushrooms are around throughout the year, but their availability depends on the season. The incorporation of mushrooms into dishes at Anthony’s allows specials to shine while the core menu remains consistent. “My selection stays pretty consistent because the menu itself is designed to be user-friendly for all seasons. My specials are ‘menu additions’ and they are what is current or what makes sense – very seasonal with a bit of excitement.”

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Both the cuisine and the décor at Anthony's Restaurant and Bistro change seasonally.
While adapting these additions, Murray thinks of a variety of vegetables and cooking preparations that he can utilize. “The herbs, spices, and root vegetables you use in the fall are what give dishes the warmth and aromas customers are looking for,” Murray explains. “With a restaurant like us, we will target lighter items in the summer and more comfort food styles in fall to winter. The fall is a time for blending and transition, almost more Thanksgiving-time foods with squash and other root vegetables.”

When it comes to choosing specific fall flavors, Doug Spurdens of Irises selects similar root vegetables for his features. I definitely come back to pumpkin and squash, as well as pomegranate and earthy tones like sage, rosemary, and juniper,” Spurdens explains. It gets really stagnant if you just run pumpkin every week; I like switching it up. I’ve worked here for five years and have never run the same special twice.”

“I’ve worked here for five years and have never run the same special twice.”

Change is something that is cherished when it comes to seasonal dishes and Spurdens appreciates the transition that autumn provides for his menu. “Vegetables and everything are just fluid, completely fluid. They goes from one season to the next. As long as you’re looking at markets, it is like this constant. There is always something new that is available. You have to keep your eye out and keep your ideas and ingredients fresh.”


When you think of the fall season, what types of foods do you think of?

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