The view from the Watershed Restaurant in Montague is breathtaking. Perched above the Sawmill River in an old gristmill on Greenfield Road, the restaurant sports large windows that give diners the sensation of being surrounded by nature.
The Watershed was opened in February by life and business partners James Fitzgerald and Melissa Stetson. They were joined shortly thereafter by head chef Tommie Matthews.
I spoke recently with Stetson and Matthews and watched the latter prepare the restaurant’s skirt-steak platter. Skirt steak is a thin cut of meat that beautifully absorbs the flavor of any marinade one uses. It is best tenderized by cooking it over high heat like that of the plank (hot grill) at the Watershed.
I asked Melissa Stetson about her background. She grew up in Deerfield, she explained, but got a degree in marketing. She worked at a variety of jobs before COVID-19 prompted her to think long and hard about her future.
She dreamed of running a wine bar with James Fitzgerald, who had experience in restaurant management and bartending. She recalled that during the pandemic, the pair told themselves, “Once we get through this, people are going to want to go out!”
They couldn’t quite find the property of their dreams … until one day as Fitzgerald was riding his bicycle in Montague he noticed that the previous restaurant at the old mill, the Alvah Stone, had closed.
He contacted the owner, and after some negotiations Stetson and Fitzgerald closed on the property last December.
Reasoning that a wine bar had to have food, the pair expanded their edible offerings until eventually they decided they wanted a full-fledged restaurant. “Our goal is to offer farm-to-table food … to support the community in every way possible,” explained Stetson.
They also demonstrate their commitment to the community by hiring local musicians to entertain diners. “With COVID, everybody has to support everybody,” Stetson noted.
Their menu changes based on the availability of produce at local farms. The skirt-steak platter came with mashed, freshly dug potatoes from Redfire Farm and with zucchini and summer squash from Galenski Farm.
The offerings always include options that are vegan and/or gluten free. “We have a joke that we have a little bit of everything,” declared Tommie Matthews.
The chef’s favorite item on the menu is the recipe below, the skirt steak. “I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy,” he announced with a smile.
Matthews, who grew up in Gill, said that he fell in love with cooking when he was seven, encouraged by his mother, “an amazing cook,” and his grandfather, who was also a chef. He has been working in restaurant kitchens since he was 15.
He said he feels lucky to have found a home at the Watershed. He called Fitzgerald and Stetson “incredibly kind.”
“They’re good people, they’re honest, and they’re on top of everything,” he elaborated. “Me being a first-time head chef, that’s a big deal to me.”
Melissa Stetson observed that there have been a few surprises over the months since the restaurant opened. It hasn’t always been easy to gauge which nights were going to be busy, she said ruefully. “Sometimes I’m running to the store in the middle of a shift, and other nights we take food home.”
Recently, she added, the restaurant has been popular both inside and out. The deck overlooking the river is an appealing dining spot, particularly post-COVID. It will remain open, weather permitting, through October. As time goes by, Stetson hopes to predict busy times with increasing accuracy.
She turned to Tommie Matthews with appreciation, telling him, “You’ve helped us to grow.”
“We have helped each other a lot,” he responded.
The Watershed is open for dinner Thursdays through Sundays and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup Worcestershire sauce (The restaurant purchases this by the gallon!)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
4 10-ounce skirt steaks
Combine all the ingredient except the steaks. Marinade the steaks in the mixture for 1 hour. Tommie Matthews explained, “The point of the marinade is not to drain the steak. We want the flavor to set in but not overwhelm.”
Remove the steaks from the marinade, and sear them over high heat until they are done to your taste. Remove the steaks from the heat, and let them rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Serves 4 generously.
2-1/2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled
6 cups of water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, cubed
1/2 cup milk, plus more if needed
2-1/2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Boil the potatoes in the water until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain.
Add the butter, the milk, the garlic, and the salt. Using a potato masher, mash until you achieve the desired texture. Add more milk if needed. Serves 4.
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
Lightly sauté the red peppers in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over high heat until you see coloration from the searing. The peppers should still be hard enough to provide some crunch and texture. Remove them from the heat, and let them cool for 30 to 45 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine the parsley, the vinegar, the garlic, the jalapeños, and the cooled red peppers. Mix well.
Slowly add the remaining olive oil while mixing until you reach the desired consistency. This is supposed to be a nice, loose sauce, perfect for marinating meats or using as a garnish on a dish.
1 summer squash
olive oil as needed
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Cut the zucchini and the summer squash into 1/2-inch rounds or little sticks. Place them in a mixing bowl.
Use a bit of the olive oil to coal the sides of a rimmed baking sheet. Return to the squash. Mix in the salt, the pepper, and at least 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place this mixture on the prepared sheet, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, making sure not to cook the veggies all the way through. They should still hold their shape.
In a sauté pan using olive oil, sauté the squash until they are full cooked and colorful. Serves 4.
Place a scoop of mashed potatoes on a plate, and flatten the potatoes out a bit. Slice a steak at an angle perpendicular to the grain, and lay the pieces along the top of the potatoes. Stack the freshly cooked squash up along one side of the potato stack. Top with Chimichurri sauce and enjoy
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.