A Hidden Gem

By Beacon Staff

Stephanie Pointer became a vegetarian last January. As a news item, this observation seems insignificant. Until, of course, you learn that Stephanie is the owner, chef and visionary behind the vegetarian cuisine at Clementine’s in Bigfork, and has been creating wholesome vegetarian fare for her customers for 14 years.

Stephanie considers herself an artist, rather than a chef, having a masters degree in fine arts and humanities. For much of the month, her facility located at 265 Bridge St. is not a restaurant, but instead a studio to create and teach art; the walls are decorated with many of Stephanie’s paintings. But once a month, the studio is transformed into a kind of dinner/entertainment venue, when local performers, both budding and established, descend on Clementine’s to perform and partake.

“Ed Fitzgerald suggested, back in 2000, that we offer an open mic night along with dinner,” she said. “He was interested in the performance side of it and I was interested in the food. I’m not specifically trained as a chef, but I’ve always had an interest in cooking.” So why vegetarian? “It wasn’t a health or moral issue,” she responds. “I just like looking at the local produce, going to the farmers market, and figuring out what I can make from the fresh ingredients I find; something that will leave everyone feeling nourished and satisfied. It’s not that I didn’t eat meat. I just wasn’t interested in cooking with it.”

“She serves a family-style meal,” Joe Zambrano chimed in. “She cooks one meal each month and everyone eats the same thing.” Joe replaced Ed Fitzgerald after the first year as master of ceremonies and has been the entertainment coordinator ever since. A local professional musician who sings, composes and plays guitar and mandolin, he introduces the acts and, on request, provides accompaniment. Joe has been a vegetarian for many years.

“We have eight open mic slots each night, and I usually take the first one,” he said. “It’s a great venue for me to try out new material. It’s also a great opportunity for beginning performers to gain experience in front of a live audience. We’ve had some great professional performers here, like Lea Thompson and her mother Babah Hanson. But we’ve also had people here who were so shy that they performed with their backs to the audience.”

Is this sort of venue unusual in the valley? “Kind of,” Stephanie responds. “Other open-mic nights occur in a bar. Although we do have a liquor license and do offer wine and beer with dinner, we’re not a bar.”

“Yeah,” Joe adds. “It’s a whole different atmosphere. The people who come to Clementine’s are here to listen. They’re polite, they don’t have conversations while someone is performing, and they’re generally sober.”

“All types of musicians perform,” Stephanie continues, “but we also have poets, authors who read from their books and even comedians. I like comedians, although we don’t get them very often. We had bagpipers once.” She appears to wince. “Oh, they were good. But they were really loud.”

“I consider the open mic night a hidden gem in this valley,” she adds. “We’re not well known or even well attended, but we’ve been at it 14 years and we have a following.”

Joe finishes the thought. “It’s a great place to get people started in performing. A small, cozy venue, it’s got all the sound equipment you’ll need right built in.”

Open mic night at Clementine’s starts at 7 p.m. on the third or fourth Saturday of every month, although the venue changes in November when Stephanie takes a break during the winter. (The space, she points out, is available for private events during the winter.) “The October night will be at Clementine’s,” Joe noted, “and we’re in discussions with several other restaurants for where the winter nights will be.”

There is no audition to get on the stage at Clementine’s. Stephanie suggests that you call ahead to put your name on the list because there are only seven open slots. And you can perform and/or listen for free. But, if you want to eat, you’ll need to let Stephanie know in advance so that she’ll have enough. For reservations of either type, call Clementine’s at 837-6309. For more information, see www.ClementinesCabin.com.

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