Madame Barfly: Pumpkin and Bone Marrow

DAN LITTLE The Federal restaurant and bar Thursday in Agawam. - DAN LITTLE | DAN LITTLE
DAN LITTLE The Federal restaurant and bar Thursday in Agawam.

Nothing tastes like fall more than a pumpkin martini, unless it’s a pumpkin martini with a bone marrow bar snack.

The Federal fine dining restaurant and pub in Agawam serves such tasty treats, but with an $11 price tag on the cocktail “Son of a Pumpkin” I was skeptical of its ability to live up to the cost. I can’t recall tasting a pumpkin martini that wasn’t overly creamy, sugary, or just plain gross.

I was happy to note, just by looking at the thin, cloudy concoction, that the Federal bevi would be none of these things. For one, it’s made with pumpkin-infused whiskey from the Rhode Island-based distillery Sons of Liberty, fresh apple cider and a dash of maple syrup. The pumpkin infusion tempers the whiskey’s harshness, and the cider rounds it out with a malty, mulled flavor that’s just the right amount of sweet. Dusted with ground nutmeg, this cocktail is everything — minus the fat of a heavy cream or sugar. And although this drink didn’t need any of that, cold weather calls for fat. It’s a New England rule, I think.

Short, dark days have arrived, meaning it’s officially comfort food season. So in addition to a good cocktail you might be seeking a hearty snack to light up your palate. The Federal delivered on this with a bone marrow appetizer on the menu. When the bone marrow arrives, we dig into the crevasse that houses the buttery marrow and spread it onto toasted bread.

“This is the stuff of life, right here,” my date says, smiling and wiggling with delight as he takes a bite.

Again, ambrosia isn’t cheap. The bone marrow appetizer, while filling with a basket of free sourdough, is $13.95. We order another appetizer for the same price — the bluefin tuna tartare. If you haven’t had the pleasure, tartare means raw. The cured, cubed tuna is tossed with avocado, crispy shallots, soy pearls, and benne seeds. A generous drizzle of wasabi oil gives it a zesty kick. Yum!

We also order the Baja California, a drink with silver tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice, and orange juice for $8.95. Compared with the magic elsewhere on the table, the overly tart drink falls a little flat.

Tonight, good vibes and folks fill the tavern area of The Federal. Built in the early 1800s, the space gives off a classy, old-timey vibe. It’s a Tuesday evening and I see only one empty seat in the whole joint. The intoxicating aroma of truffle wafts in and out of the barroom in waves.

At the large table next to me, a server delivers two of the house’s thin-crust pies: a lobster and charred asparagus pizza ($16.95), and a classic with tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil ($12.50). As they quickly nibble the slices away, laughing and smiling, I realize why this place is closing in on its 15th birthday.•

Contact Amanda Drane at

Amanda Drane

Author: Amanda Drane

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