Meridian Industrial


2021-12-29 | KEITH O'CONNOR


Restauranteurs Michael Presnal and Ralph Santaniello have brought back fine dining to Agawam where they opened The Federal restaurant back in 2002.

“We are looking forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary in May,” said Santaniello.

Recognized as one of the “10 Best Historic Restaurants in Massachusetts,” The Federal built in 1862 is known for its Greek Revival architecture. It was a private home for many years before being turned into a men’s hunting and fishing club. In 1936 it became the Federal Hill Club and was owned and operated by the Moretti family as a premier restaurant for over 50 years. Since then, the dining establishment has undergone many iterations, its last being called Cappacio before being purchased in 2002 by Santaniello and Presnal.

Neither were strangers to the restaurant business.

“I spent a lot of time during my youth in a neighborhood known as the Flats in Holyoke. My parents owned Amadeos, a restaurant and pizzeria, where I helped out making pizzas and eventually ran the
restaurant for them,” Santaniello said.

But Santaniello’s destiny would lie elsewhere than the family business, which was eventually sold and still in operation.

Instead, he headed to Martha’s Vineyard, where his soon-to-be brotherin-law Michael Presnal, a graduate of New England Culinary Institute - “He and my sister were longtime school sweethearts,” said Santaniello - was about to open his own restaurant called Alchemy after working as executive chef at prominent restaurants such as Savior Faire.

“I went to the Vineyard to help Mike out for the first couple of years with Alchemy and that is when I fell in love with the fine dining experience,” Santaniello said.

Eventually, Presnal began talking about returning to Western Massachusetts - where he would soon marry his longtime sweetheart - and the pair discussed opening their own restaurant.

“We wanted to add our take on fine dining in the area,” Santaniello said.

Whether at a fine dining restaurant such as The Federal where you will be pampered, or any restaurant - chain or locally owned - people want a great level of service, Santaniello noted.

“That is precisely why they go out. People can cook at home, but don’t want to cook and do the dishes sometimes. When they choose to dine out, they want to be taken care of, whether it’s a pizza and beer they are having or filet mignon. Attention to details and a high level of service is important in the restaurant industry today. You have to put the customer first, second and third and make them happy when they walk through your doors. And if they are not happy, then you have to try to immediately fix the problem and not worry about what it will cost you to make it better for your customer,” Santaniello said.

Presnal and Santaniello have dressed up their restaurant with white linen elegance in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere that is matched by a desire to provide customers with the highest level of service married by delicious food that is rich and complex in composure - enough to satisfy serious foodies to those who consider a burger their “piece de resistance.”

When it came time to create a menu that would define their style of food, the pair decided upon a “contemporary American cuisine with strong Italian and French influences.”

In creating their own “home-grown restaurant,” Santaniello said the ingredients to their inventive dishes are made “as much as possible in-house” - that means everything from pasta to sauces to dressings and more.

“We try to use as much seasonal, fresh local ingredients as possible. We have our own huge garden in the summer that provides us with the many herbs, vegetables and more for making our salads. At least 70% of what we incorporate into our dishes comes from our garden, and Mike works with Anthony Tyler, who is the restaurant's chef du cuisine in deciding what to grow each year as they create our new menus together,” Santaniello said.

Fine dining has many definitions. For Santaniello and Presnal it means a creative, original, locally-sourced menu paired with a high level of service in an elegant environment. Many industry sources describe it as something for people who might only visit high-end establishments to celebrate special occasions, such as an anniversary, birthday or wedding. In fact, on The Federal website it states that they are “dressed up as a special occasion restaurant, but is sociable and affordable enough for every occasion.”

“We hear many stories from people who tell us they held their wedding at The Federal and were now coming back to celebrate their anniversary with a romantic dinner for the two of them. Or it is a Christening, First Communion, Bar Mitzvah or other celebration. And that is incredibly rewarding for us to hear,” Santaniello.

“Yet, we still have many customers who come in weekly just to enjoy a good meal,” he added.

The Federal - which changes its menu 6-8 times a year - recently introduced its Winter 2021 edition.

For starters, there are four salads to choose from - red, white & greens, bistro style Caesar salad, 12 ingredient chopped salad or the Federal “harvest” salad, alongside fresh Italian burrata, cider brined pork belly, kabocha squash-mussel chowder, tempura shrimp “SSAM,” and foie gras donuts which is a farmers market compote with spiced sugar.

“Hands down our most popular appetizer is our bucket of balls,” Santaniello said about their risotto balls with fresh black truffle butter and snipped chives.

The dinner menu is an even split of entrees - five fish dishes and four meat selections with an additional pasta you can add meat or fish to.

“Our entrees are a combination of customer favorites and new items that Mike and his chefs want to try. We can’t take big seller classics off the menu like our truffle mac & cheese and chicken Bolognese. We always have braised short ribs in some form on the menu, which can be found now in our wild forest mushroom tagliatelle,” Santaniello said.

For fish lovers, the menu offers five seafood selections, including seared Atlantic codfish with truffled potato crab bisque, smoked bacon and root vegetable “hash” and sunchoke chips; grilled lobster tails, the highest priced item on the menu at $42.95, with sweet potato gnocchi, parmesan mornay sauce, delicata, toasted green wheat, spiced pignolis, pickled mustard seeds, mizuna; and a popular favorite, seared sea scallops with duck leg confit, duck egg, sugar pumpkin puree, endive “salad,” brown butter, duck fat hollandaise, and honey vinaigrette.

“Not only is fish a healthy selection, but it is popular when going out because many people don’t like to cook it at home because of the odor left behind. Since this is New England, Mike also prefers to use fish from the Atlantic,” Santaniello said.

In addition to the plated entrees - diners can choose from the “you be the chef” section offering eight meat and fish selections such as breaded pork chop, NY strip, grilled breaded shrimp, red wine braised short ribs, seared salmon and more that can be paired with two sides and a choice of sauce.

For those who want to pay a little less but still enjoy the fine dining experience, the menu also offers three gourmet pizzas and a Federal cheeseburger.

Desserts as they say are “to die for” and there is plenty to choose from - nine sweet treats from a fried “apple pie” ravioli to a sticky toffee pudding cake and from a warm pecan pie sundae to warm Nutella crepes. The “bucket” is also back with gelato or sorbet to choose from. There is even a “pot brownie.”

“We put that tongue in cheek title on the menu and what we mean by pot is that it comes in a warm skillet,” Santaniello said about the dessert described as “chocolate mousse, brownie “dirt,” red berries, chocolate sorbet and fresh cream.”

At one time before COVID-19, tables would have a free bowl of house-spun cotton candy delivered to their table to enjoy. Santaniello noted that because of the coronavirus and “too many sticky hands in the bowl,” they discontinued the practice. However, you can purchase a bag of the sweet treat to bring home, as well as a box of their chocolate almond toffee - both of which they state on their menu is great to bring home to the babysitter and kids.

The Federal also offers a banquet and catering service whether a dinner for 15 or a wedding party of 300. Total event planning is also available.

Reservations are required.

Hours are Wednesday from 4 p.m. to the last seating at 8:30 p.m., Thursday from 4 p.m. to the last seating at 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to the last seating at 9:30 p.m.

For more information about The Federal
located at 135 Cooper St. in Agawam
or call 413-789-1267

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