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New Northampton eatery specializes in farm-to-table comfort food

  • Aimee Francaes, left, and Jesse Hassinger, co-owners of Belly of the Beast in Northampton, work in the upstairs kitchen. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Belly of the Beast, a new restaurant in Northampton, has opened in the old Lhasa location at 159 Main St. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A “BLTurn it up” sandwich at Belly of the Beast. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jesse Hassinger, co-owner of Belly of the Beast in Northampton, make a BLTurn it up. The sandwich is Hassinger’s answer to tomatoes not being in season yet. Instead of tomatoes the restaurant is using pickled kohlrabi until they can get some fresh tomatoes. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jesse Hassinger, co-owner of Belly of the Beast, cuts cornbread while employee Billy McKerchie labels the brine used for the pulled pork. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Aimee Francaes, co-owner of Belly of the Beast, takes an order from Sam Masinter of Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Billy McKerchie, an employee at Belly of the Beast, rinses the cure off bacon to get it ready to be smoked. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Billy McKerchie, an employee at Belly of the Beast, puts veggie hand pies on a cooling rack. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@RebeccaMMullen
Monday, June 19, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Newbie eatery Belly of the Beast serves up farm-to-table comfort food with a twist.

The Main Street bistro specializes in scrapple, a savory loaf made of cornmeal and pork trimmings sliced thin and pan-fried like bacon.

Co-owners Aimee Francaes and Jesse Hassinger, who is also head chef, long dreamed of opening their own restaurant.

“We both came from households where our parents cooked a lot,” Hassinger said.

The couple met in high school and together moved to Los Angeles. It was there that they discovered weekly farmers markets and the joy of local produce.

Later, the couple moved to Boston where they cut their teeth in the restaurant industry and began planning for their own venture. They said they considered everything from a charcuterie — a store where pork products are sold — to a food truck but they always wanted to have a business that put them in close contact with their customers.

A desire to be part of a close-knit community led them to Northampton. They loved the “wonderful, vital community,” Hassinger said.

“Eight years ago, we knew that this was where we wanted to be,” he said.

Northampton reminds the couple of the central New York town they grew up in with convenient access to local farms and large cities.

They also knew what the name would be. They decided on Belly of the Beast six years ago. “We knew as soon as we wrote it down,” Hassinger said.

Still living in Boston, they developed the concept as much as they could remotely before Hassinger moved to the Valley in October 2015 to begin scouting locations and doing research on local farms. Francaes joined him early this year.

They found their ideal location in the former Lhasa Café at 159 Main St. The couple began making cosmetic renovations in April and opened June 7 to a packed house.

Belly is full of intentional and eclectic design choices that feels personal to the couple’s history and vision for the restaurant. The couple’s art hangs on the walls and the restaurant features a “community table” where single diners and small groups can share a meal and conversation. In addition to scrapple, Belly also features a rotating menu packed with local and seasonal produce and even vegan and vegetarian options.

The best way to sum up their cuisine, said Francaes is “comfort food mindfully made.”