hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture September 2016


Celebrating Saratoga’s Southern flavors

Hattie’s chef shares recipes from storied eatery


Jasper Alexander, the chef at Hattie’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, shows off his new cookbook and a plate of the Southern fried chicken the restaurant has been serving since it opened in 1938. Joan K. Lentini photoSTACEY MORRIS
Contributing writer



Jasper Alexander, the chef at Hattie’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, shows off his new cookbook and a plate of the Southern fried chicken the restaurant has been serving since it opened in 1938. Joan K. Lentini photo

Jasper Alexander makes it no secret that he’s a chef who’s happiest at the stove.

He’d rather be adding his precise touch to Southern and Creole creations such as crawfish boil, chicken and dumplings, and red beans and rice.

So it was a significant sacrifice when he agreed to step away from the stove for some long stretches at the computer, cataloging and anthologizing his recipes along with the storied history of Hattie’s Restaurant. The restaurant has been one of the most popular culinary destinations in the Spa City since 1938, when Hattie Moseley-Austin opened the doors of what was then known as Hattie’s Chicken Shack.
The iconic Southern-themed restaurant, famous for its fried chicken, has only had three owners in its 78 years: Moseley-Austin; Christel and Colin MacLean, who ran it from 1993 to 2001; and Jasper and Beth Alexander, who took the reins in 2001.

The restaurant began as a means for Moseley-Austin (she was Hattie Gray at the time) to make ends meet in the Great Depression. The Louisiana native, newly widowed, gambled her savings from work as a domestic cook to launch the business. She ended up mesmerizing upstate New York patrons with signature dishes such as Southern-style chicken and biscuits, sweet potato pie, and spicy red beans with ham and andouille sausage.

Over the years, she welcomed throngs of locals and summer tourists alike, as well as celebrities ranging from Jackie Robinson to Mikhail Baryshnikov.

When the Alexanders took over the legendary eatery, they agreed not to fix what wasn’t broken. Over the past 15 years, their restraint has served them well: Hattie’s fan base is as loyal as ever, and in 2009, the couple opened a more casual satellite location several miles away on Route 50 in Wilton.

Jasper Alexander even landed a victory over the celebrity chef Bobby Flay in 2006 when competing in Flay’s “Throwdown!” television series. In the Food Network show, Alexander and Flay prepped fried chicken side by side in a much-ballyhooed contest at Saratoga Race Course – and judges deemed Alexander’s version superior.

And now, after a few stops and starts, comes the release of “The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook: Classic Southern and Louisiana Recipes” by Jasper Alexander, published by The Countryman Press of Woodstock, Vt.


From chef to author
“After the Bobby Flay exposure, Beth really wanted me to write a cookbook,” Alexander recalled. “There was a sense of striking while the iron was hot, but I wasn’t into it.”

Then fate, in the form of a hungry literary agent, intervened. While in town several years ago to visit his daughter at Skidmore College, the agent approached Alexander after a meal at Hattie’s.
“He told me I have a great restaurant with an interesting story, and that cookbooks were one of his specialties,” Alexander recalled.

The agent, Scott Mendel of Mendel Media Group, encouraged the chef to craft a proposal for a cookbook.

“It’s a lot more work than it sounds,” Alexander said with a laugh. “It’s a very thorough process of breaking down what the book has to offer and why it’s different, plus 20 recipes and sample photos. It took me about a year to write it.”

A publishing house bought the project two years ago, but the company was soon acquired by another publisher and announced it would divest itself of cookbook publishing. But it wasn’t long before Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Co., signed Alexander’s project instead.
The end result is a hardbound, 272-page volume encompassing history, more than 100 recipes, lush food photography, and cooking tips.

“There’s a photo for every recipe,” Beth Alexander explained as she breezed around the restaurant on a busy afternoon at the height of racing season. “Heather did an amazing job.”
Saratoga Springs photographer Heather Bohm-Tallman captured the book’s images of food as well as portraits of the Alexanders, their children, and various staff members. Bohm-Tallman’s close-ups of fried catfish and Cajun coleslaw solidify the book’s allure.

The recipe sections cover starters, nibbles and noshes; soups, stews and food served in a bowl; oceans, rivers and ponds; earth and air; side dishes, hot and cold; breakfast and brunch; final temptations; and Hattie’s cocktails.

“The recipes are a mix of things on our menu, dishes we do for catering, and food we make for family and friends,” Jasper Alexander explained.

Which means the reader will be able to try making everything from fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dressing to seared scallops with grits to the “world’s best egg sandwich” to Hattie’s famous mint julep.


Colorful history, fresh tastes
The cookbook begins with an exploration of the restaurant’s roots, from its original location in a tiny storefront on Federal Street to its current incarnation next to Caffe Lena on Phila Street.
And it concludes with some handy, chef’s secret cooking tips from Alexander, who dissects the differences between deep-frying, pan-frying, and sauteing – and offers advice on how to make unforgettable soup stock.

“My intention was that the book would tell the story of Hattie’s and convey its connection to the Saratoga community while also being a serious cookbook,” he said. “While the cookbook in visually beautiful, I would hope people use it enough that the pages get stained and torn.”
Despite shifting food trends and health crazes that have Americans scurrying away from carbohydrates and fried foods, the mystique of Southern cuisine has only intensified over the decades.

“It’s one of the older, indigenous regional American cuisines and totally unique,” Alexander said. “It’s not only still relevant, it’s increasingly popular.”

And he added that it often gets an unfair rap.
“People who say Southern food is all fried don’t know Southern cooking,” he said. “There are lots of things on our menu that aren’t fried, everything from soups and stews to vegetable dishes and sauteed fish. If you take something to nth degree, of course it will be bad. But the cookbook shows what a balance Southern cuisine really is.”

This month, the Alexanders will get to reap the rewards of all the effort the cookbook required. There are book signings and launch parties scheduled and, they hope, the possibility of some exposure on national television.

“I’m enormously proud of Jasper,” Beth Alexander said. “He poured his heart and soul into this cookbook, and what emerged is a well-written, easy-to-follow, beautiful book. I knew he could cook, but who knew he could write so well?”

Beth and Jasper Alexander will be signing copies of “The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook” at the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival, scheduled for Sept. 9-11 on the grounds of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs.

A launch party for new cookbook is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Northshire Bookstore, at 424 Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Jasper Alexander will be on hand to sign copies of the book, snacks and samples from Hattie’s kitchen will be served, and Northshire will donate a share of the proceeds of every cookbook sold that evening to Jake’s Help From Heaven, a local nonprofit that aids the families of children with debilitating illnesses. The book retails for $29.95.

For more information visit, www.hattiesrestaurant.com or www.northshire.com.