By Rosie DeQuattro / Photos by Adam DeTour
It’s an old joke: a guy walks into a restaurant and pays ten bucks for a hamburger and ends up spending 90 bucks to get there and back. Total spent for lunch, 100 dollars; thus the moniker, shared by private pilots and the fly-in dining community, “the $100 hamburger.” There may be only 100 of these places in the whole country, yet sleepy little Stow, Massachusetts, heart of apple-picking country, has one of the best.
Despite its celebrity with the (wink, wink) jet set, Nancy’s @ the Airfield is an unexpected find, whether you fly in, drive, or bike. It’s a full-service family restaurant with a gourmet aesthetic and a locavore soul.
The building itself is a mid-century suburban tract house—a little out of place in its setting of open fields and limitless sky. Minute Man Air Field’s 2,800-foot runway is right there, laid-out against a backdrop of trees and hills and nothing else but the wild blue yonder. It’s lovely, and surprisingly peaceful.
The chef-owner and creative force behind the restaurant is professionally trained, life affirming, boundlessly energetic Nancy McPherson. Nancy has run the café in its current iteration for 17 years, upgrading the menu, improving the interior, particularly the view of the airfield, and introducing new programs. She frequently hosts name-your-alcohol (wine, beer, scotch, or port) tastings with food pairings, and generously organizes community fundraising events at the restaurant. And on the 350 acres she and husband Don McPherson own and preserve for farmland, she has access to pastured pork, eggs from free-range chickens, and maybe even goat. Eventually, they will all make their way onto her menu. “We just want to keep current. We never want the restaurant to become stodgy,” Nancy comments.
Her latest passion is her new, hand-built, wood-fired pizza oven. Nancy and Don built the oven together. They bought a kit from the Forno Bravo company in Colorado, and Nancy went there to learn about the oven and about how to make pizza. The oven turns out six 10-inch pizzas at a time.
Nancy calls herself “an old locavore.” Starting with her own vegetable garden as a child (she was taught to say “herb” not “erb”), she has collected “taste memories” from extensive travels in her formative years. Her family lived in the Middle East, Europe, and South America. In Baghdad, where her father worked on an engineering project for King Faisal II of Iraq, she remembers the pasteurizer her mother used so the family could drink milk. She recalls the taste of pizza in Italy, crepes on the sidewalks of Paris, and fries in a newspaper cone in Belgium. “Taste memories” like these influence what she serves at the restaurant. She calls it “an autobiographical menu.”
The new pizza oven has become a symbol of Nancy’s life-long passions. As a former artist, who worked with some prominent sculptors on a few high-profile art/sculpture installations, Nancy has always had a talent for construction and production. She loves fire, the primordial phenomenon of starting it and building the heat, sufficient enough to cook the pizzas to perfection. And she has an abiding need for spontaneity and fun. She has even toyed with the idea of making the oven a community resource—another story, but think of it as a potential village bake house, common in Europe for centuries, where families would bring their bread and other dishes to be baked in one large, centrally-located oven.
The pizzas Nancy makes are thin crusted, with a bubbly crown, and topped with local greens or meats. The plan is to station the pizza oven on the terrace outside the restaurant, and add pizza to the menu, or have dedicated pizza nights. Plans are still baking.
This fall, when you’re out this way picking apples and have had your fill of cider doughnuts and hayrides, sticky fingers and mazes, wind your way to this small café and you’ll feel you have discovered it yourself. It’s that kind of place.
Nancy’s @ the Airfield 302 Boxboro Rd., Stow MA 978.897.3934 nancysairfieldcafe.com
Freelance writer and long-time Edible Boston contributor, Rosie DeQuattro, focuses on new products and personalities in the food world. You can reach her at email@example.com.