Finger Lakes fusion

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Thai-Lao fusion is on the menu at a craft microbrewery in Ontario County.
(Photos by Chris Clemens)

After moving back to the Finger Lakes, Phoneprasith Dumas joined a women’s book club. They met in Canandaigua, and each week everyone in the group brought a dish to pass. Phone always brought one of the traditional homemade Thai dishes she learned to make from her mother.

Chris Clemens

For many in the group, it was their first introduction to these dishes, but they were always a hit.

“These ladies kept telling me I should open a Thai restaurant somewhere in the area,” Phone says. “I didn’t have the money to just open a restaurant and I always said if they found the investors, I’d do the cooking. That, of course, never happened.”

Phone, who was born in Thailand, came to Fairport when she was 8 years old. After high school, she moved out of the area, returning six years ago to the Finger Lakes. Eventually, Phone, moved closer to Rochester, where she lives now, and took a job as a paralegal. It was good work, but it was only that. She was always more interested in raising her family and perfecting those authentic family recipes. At the time, she didn’t realize that she would soon stumble upon a way to do the work she loved and do it without needing a big chunk of startup money.

Soon, she’d be serving up a Thai-Lao fusion menu in craft microbrewery in Ontario County.

Friendly fusion

Noble Shepherd Craft Brewery

In November 2015, Tony and Jessica Moringello opened Noble Shepherd Craft Brewery in the town of Bristol. One of the unique dome-shaped buildings that Wizard of Clay had built in the 1970s became the perfect place for a small, four-tank craft brewery. Tony was working as a chef, and Jessica as a teacher, but this new endeavor gave them an opportunity to share their love of craft beer with the Finger Lakes. The family-friendly, circular tasting room quickly became a hangout where anyone walking in felt right at home.

The same year, local author Kim Cruise of Victor was completing her first novel. A few months before Noble Shepherd opened, Cruise published her book “The Post Office,”set in the small town of Victory, Pa. The novel follows six fictional characters whose paths may not have crossed but for the local post office.

While Tony, Jessica, and Kim were each separately making moves on their passion projects, Phone had officially incorporated Pad Thai Catering. The business allowed her to set up and serve those cherished traditional Thai and Laotian recipes the book club ladies loved, but didn’t require a huge investment into a brick-and-mortar build.

On June 10, 2016, all three forces would come together when Cruise held a book signing at Noble Shepherd and Pad Thai Catering set up to offer food during the event. 

Pad Thai takes residence

Following the success of the book signing, a few weeks later Noble Shepherd and Pad Thai Catering decided to make their relationship a bit more permanent. In July 2016, Phone began a weekly pop-up menu featuring traditional Thai-Lao fusion dishes.

The Pad Thai Catering menu includes spring rolls with garden fresh flavor.

It began with a simple menu and short hours, but quickly expanded to meet the growing interest. With few options for Thai food in Ontario County, many discovered the pop-up at Noble Shepherd was their first foray into dishes like pho (pronounced “pha”), papaya salad, and Nam Khao.

While I shoveled forkfuls of Pad Thai Korat into my mouth recently, Phone told me, “The majority of people coming into the brewery had never even tried Thai food. But, three years later, those regulars now know whether they want Thai spicy, or American spicy.”

Since then, the menu has expanded and often changes to include new items and specials, but some popular dishes have become mainstays. The brewery brought a whole new audience of eaters who moved past their initial suspicions and have since embraced a menu they previously had never even heard of.

The Thom Khem is a BBQ pork belly stew that features a tender, slow-cooked pork caramelized in ginger and garlic with stewed hard-boiled eggs over rice. A ramen soup builds on a chicken broth with really fun additions like red bell pepper and scallions. There are spring rolls with garden fresh flavors and desserts like banana bites fried in coconut.

Filling the need for authentic cultural dishes in Ontario County is a worthy enterprise, and maybe a standalone restaurant with investors would’ve been cool. But, the experience of tasting that kind of menu while sitting in a small Finger Lakes brewery as a live musician serenades the room is a perfect fusion you won’t find in many other places.

Much like the characters in Cruise’s novel, these separate paths crossed because of a single connection that in turn affected the others. You’d do well to direct your own path to Noble Shepherd and dig into the unique bond of beer, food, and family.

Chris Clemens is the creator and publisher of Exploring Upstate, a blog about the discovery of local history, culture, travel and all that makes Upstate New York the perfect place to explore.

Each weekend you’ll find the Pad Thai Catering menu available on Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

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