The owner of Watertown’s newest eating spot moved to town because it is a town on the rise, food wise.
“Renaissance is a good word,” Farmer’s Market Kitchen chef Adam Nazzaro said of Watertown’s changing atmosphere. “You don’t want to take away from everything that happened here with the Marathon, but sometimes that can spark something better than itself. Watertown reminds me of Somerville; I’ve been living in Union Square and it reminds me of that, five or six years ago.”
He sees the city undergoing a transition, as “on the up,” with young professionals and a “hipster crowd” starting to move in, attracted by proximity to Boston and decent public transportation without the exorbitant real estate costs of Newton or Belmont. As the Boston Globe just reported, Watertown was deemed the third-best town in New England to live in, taking taxes, crime, amenities, and commute into account.
Nazzaro, a dark-haired, lanky 27-year-old with a broad smile and contagious enthusiasm, chose the Arsenal Street corridor with his partners as the new location for their farm-to-table catering business and takeout restaurant, Farmer’s Market Kitchen (FMK).
Young people are increasingly aware of and concerned about where their food is coming from, and FMK may be on the cusp of something remarkable. Although healthy-bent takeout ventures like Maximo’s and UFood Grille (formerly the Low Fat, No Fat Cafe, in the same space FMK now occupies) did not manage to stay open, Watertown may finally be ready for a healthy, sustainable option.
Adjacent to the budding “mini-Kendall,” with no fewer than five pharmaceutical companies and several other large businesses including Harvard Business School Publishing and AthenaHealth, this area almost became a Walmart. Concerned residents managed to block that, and major re-development plans are now in progress for much of the rest of the street, including new high-end residential units, retail, and a hotel just down the road. The first farmer’s market in town opened in the Arsenal Center complex this year, thanks to local corporate sponsorship.
FMK’s grand 0pening was Friday, Sept. 18. The décor manages to be both elegant and rustic, with textured pine the owners laboriously stained themselves, local artwork, and a “living wall.” Although there are no tables, there is a stand-up counter for those who prefer to eat in. Sandwiches (all on Iggy’s bread, including a gluten-free option), soups and salads rotate depending on what is available from local farms and the Seaport.
They try to offer “something from the ocean, something from the land, and something with wings every day,” says Nazzaro. Vegetarians are well-served, too, with dry-rubbed spiced tofu and falafel as protein options. Stir-fry bowls and salads using seasonal ingredients are the mainstay, but all of the sides are also house-made, and are available in the deli case to grab and go, at an incredible price point (where else can you get a half-pint of pasta salad for $2?)
The colorful chalkboard menu includes a list of the farms, dairies, bakeries and other local producers that FMK has partnered with, including Naragansett Creamery in Rhode Island, Charles River Farm in Franklin, and Jansal Valley in Dartmouth.
In the center of the store are displays with local products for sale, like whiskey-smoked sugar from Sid Wainer and Sons in New Bedford; Teddie peanut butter from Everett; locally-roasted coffee; house-made tortilla chips, and a line of hand-dipped chocolates and chocolate bark of a dozen varietals, handmade by the chef partners. Another refrigerated case offers local cheeses and will also contain produce for sale when there is overflow from their farms.
There will be specials geared toward the local “workout crowd,” given that there are at least six gyms and trainers within a half mile, and FMK is attached via interior doors to the AMP’D Nutrition Outlet. One of the protein options is bison, revered by bodybuilders for its high protein and low fat content, but also one of the most sustainable meats available.
Nazzaro describes his dishes as “New-England based, but unique, pulling in Southern flavors, like clam chowder with crawfish; or Alaskan, with smoked salmon …” He has been cooking since he can remember, fascinated early on by watching his mother in the kitchen. “It was more the knife and fire thing,” he admits with a grin. Working in professional kitchens by the age of 13, he opened the Medford Salvatore’s and worked at various “Sal’s” locations for many years, also pursuing an engineering degree in the meantime. As to whether engineering was his “thing:” “Well, it is, because I’m good at math. But I wouldn’t say I was enjoying it.”
The response after he catered a friend’s mother’s party, and his family’s encouragement, convinced him try making it cooking on his own. “At first it was conceived of as maybe a food truck,” Nazzaro says. “This idea materialized a year and a half ago.”
At first Nazzaro and his chef partner shared kitchens in Waltham and Somerville, only taking word-of-mouth catering business from family and friends. They finalized their “brand” and put up the website about a year ago, and after finding the Watertown location and talking to area business owners, felt that their concentration on healthy, local food would be well received by a population desperate for something new.
The focus is “fresh” and “local” here, now that big organic” has diluted the significance and diminished the appeal of the organic label. “The organic thing is great, but there’s a stigma now because it’s so pricey,” says Nazzaro. “A lot of people who eat well have kind of gotten off the organic thing into ‘natural.’” In this context, with everything here New England-grown and house-made or from local suppliers like Iggy’s and Dave’s Fresh Pasta, that really means something.
Farmer’s Market Kitchen is located at 222 Arsenal St. in Watertown, and is open 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and for lunch on Saturday (although plans are in the works to experiment with a breakfast menu on Saturdays). The kitchen will close at 5 p.m.; from 5-7 p.m. weekdays you will be able to purchase from the variety of options in the deli cases and local product displays.