Eating rabbit is a novel experience for many people. Rabbit meat is not generally found in your grocer’s meat case or on your mainstream restaurant menu, and when it is, diners may be reluctant to try it. But according to John Fazio, “Rabbit is a lean and healthy meat to eat. It’s easy to digest, very low in fat and cholesterol and a great alternative to red meat for those who are trying to stay away from that.”
And he ought to know. Fazio has been raising rabbits along with ducks and Cornish Cross hybrid chickens for nearly 20 years at his farm in Modena. All the meat at John Fazio Farms is produced without resorting to hormones or antibiotics, and he delivers it fresh — never frozen — to a number of restaurateurs in New York City and throughout the tri-state area. Rock & Rye Tavern in New Paltz, Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant in Gardiner, Henry’s at the Farm at Buttermilk Falls Inn in Milton and the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls in Beacon are among the many fine dining establishments in the Hudson Valley that use his product.
But until recently, the individual consumer had no access to Fazio’s farm-raised meats. Now with the opening of John Fazio Farms BBQ & Farm Market on Route 44/55 in Modena, they can go right to the source.
Expanding his field of operations to open the farm market and barbecue pit last summer seemed like a logical idea, Fazio says. “I was delivering all the meats into the city and everywhere else and I’m stationed out of here, anyway, so I thought, ‘Why not build a little farm market and offer the meats here? And I’m here all the time, let’s do a little barbecuing.'”
The barbecue is in the hands of chef and manager Brad Goulden. His background as a chef includes a stint at the Lakeview House on Orange Lake in Newburgh. He does all the baking at Vassar College and makes baked goods for the Village Market & Eatery in Gardiner. Goulden says that while he did make some pies and turnovers for the barbecue and market last winter — both market and eatery are open year-round with indoor dining planned at some point — right now the focus is on the main attraction: the meat.
Fazio’s BBQ features a smoked pulled rabbit taco ($7.99) ideal for someone trying out rabbit for the first time, Goulden says. “It’s a very different taco than your typical Tex-Mex taco. You’ll really taste the rabbit when it’s not masked with hot sauce and cheese and tomatoes.” Farm-raised rabbit is slow-smoked over locally sourced applewood until tender and then folded into a flour tortilla. Fried and served “just before it gets too crispy,” he says, the taco is topped with local arugula and homemade coleslaw with a vinegar-based dressing.
There is also a slow-smoked pulled pork or pastrami taco ($4.99) and a smoked pulled duck taco ($7.99 or $16.99 for two in a combo) with the same preparation as the rabbit taco. A half duck and whole duck entree are on the menu ($17.99 for the half, $34.99 for the whole), but for the whole duck, it’s best to call ahead with 24-hour notice, as the fresh meat isn’t processed any sooner than needed.
Pastrami is also a specialty. Served in that taco and as a half-pound sandwich ($14.99), it’s not your typical deli pastrami sandwich, says Goulden. “And we have no interest in doing a classic Reuben because our pastrami is that good. We want to highlight the meat and the flavor. It’s a very long process to make the pastrami, so why throw sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on it and mask the flavor? It doesn’t really need it.” The process for making the pastrami so tender begins with a brisket injected with brine and cured for 21 days, Goulden explains. At that point, the meat is slow-smoked over applewood for another day and allowed to sit overnight until it’s ready to be hand-cut and served in thick slices on rye bread with a little Thousand Island dressing.
Other options include the 18-hour slow-smoked brisket — without the pastrami brine — prepared with a dry rub of John Fazio’s own signature blend of seasonings. A brisket sandwich is served on ciabatta bread with homemade gravy ($14.99). A panko-crusted shrimp po’boy sandwich ($9.99) and shrimp-and-chips ($16.99) are offered and barbecued ribs are hand-cut pork, Louisiana-style (from $6.99 for a quarter rack to $26.99 for a full rack with two large side orders). Chicken wings ($11.99 a dozen) are unique here in that they’re smoked for two and a half hours before being fried and tossed in a blend of three homemade sauces: barbecue, a vinegar-based dressing and hot sauce. “We’re the only place that smokes the meat first. And ours don’t come frozen,” points out Goulden. “Ours are fresh from a cooler, already smoked, so that makes a firmer texture on the inside with that nice crispy outside.”
A beer and wine license is pending with plans to serve local craft beers and regional wines by mid-summer. At this time all the dining is outdoors, ordered at the window self-serve and eaten at picnic tables under a tent, but the addition of a new building planned for this summer should have indoor dining in place by winter. Will they have wait staff then? Goulden says he’s not sure, that they plan to grow the business organically and see how it develops. “Right now I think people like coming up and talking with the person in charge, and they don’t mind getting things themselves. We’ll see what happens.”
And then there’s the farm market. It offers fresh meat from the farm and Goulden’s homemade sausage, soups and sauces. Premium deli meats are in the case and they sell top-notch brands like Jane’s Ice Cream from Kingston and Arthur Avenue breads. Look for local honey, cheese and eggs along with a full line of imported Italian pastas and fresh ravioli.
John Fazio Farms BBQ & Farm Market is open seven days a week at 1836 Route 44/55 in Modena. The hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. depending on demand on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Credit cards are accepted.