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Updated North Berkshire Guide (Williamstown, North Adams...)

One year ago, I posted some suggestions for the the Northern Berkshires, where I live. Enough has changes since then, that it seems helpful to update it. My wager is that a fresh posting of the revised text is more helpful than adding a comment to the original (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/164412). My revisions reflect both openings and closings of restaurants and my responses to comments on last year's version. I've decided only to comment on places for which I have some enthusiasm. The list is pretty comprehensive in this regard for Williamstown and North Adams.

Recent, unfortunate closings: Gideons and Hickory Bills in North Adams.

DINNER

"Fine Dining"

The best serious restaurants in the area are Mezze in Williamstown and the Grammercy Bistro in North Adams. (The also very fine Gideons has, alas, closed.)

Mezze has varied somewhat over the years depending on who is the chef, but the food has been constently excellent over the past two years--and I've had many dinners here during that time. Menu rotates so it is hard to recommend anything in particular, though this is a better place for meat (including poultry and fish) eaters than pure vegetarians--but in general, they do pork especially well. It's not really a place for mezze--there are assorted small portions and side dishes, but this is really a traditional main dish place and not a small plate restaurant--but it *is* a place for imaginative and well-prepared food. I guess you'd have to call it eclectic New American, since I'm finding I can't really comfortably place the food in a particular regional or ethnic tradition.

Grammercy Bistro
This has always been one of my favortite places around. Intimate, comfortable, unpretentious setting, though with recent expansion not as small as it was Good service. Another eclectic menu that is hard to classify (a French-style dish here, mussels in coconut milk there, vaguely Asian scallops, etc.). A year ago, I said the food was not quite as interesting as at Mezze or Gideon's, and this prompted some objections; in several visits over the past year, I agreed that I undersold the menu a bit. I might Jaestill give a slight edge to Mezze on the food, but Grammercy is probably an even more pleasant place to have a meal.

Other Good Bets
The pan-Asian JAE's (owned by the North Adams native who runs several similarly named places in Boston) HAS MOVED from North Adams to Williamstown, taking the place of the now defunct Le Jardin. The food is of consistently good quality. Best Sushi in the area, excellent appetizers; I also like the Korean dishes a lot. If you're looking for the kind of hardcour authentic food for which you'd scour Koreatown in Manhattan or the places in Queens (or fill in the blank for your favorite enclave for Chinese or Japanese food), you'll be disappointed. But if you take Jae's for what it is, you can have an excellent dinner.

Cafe Latino is at MASS MoCA in the former site of Eleven. Both menu and decor are different, and both are notable improvements. Cafe Latino is owned by the same people who own Mezze, and the chef, Omar, is that restaurant's original chef from its early glory days. The restaurant is well-named: this is culinary latinidad, not the food of one ethnicity or nation or province. I complained in the past about the Guacamole (about which, having lived in Latin America, I'm finicky); I swear it's improved since. If you're a beer Geek, you'll be disappointed in the very limited beer list, but the wine list and mixed drinks are much better. By far the best food, I think (at least for carnivores), is to be had in the various "family style" dishes that serve 2-4 people. Go with a decent sized group, order several of these dishes, and you'll have a great meal. Excellent patacones and the pulled pork sandwich are also highlights.

The oddly, but accurately, named Sushi Thai Garden, on Spring St. in Williamstown, serves respectable Thai food and pretty good Sushi. Very nice people, efficient service, reasonable prices. If you're from a big city with good food this won't blow you away, but it's way better than Asian food used to be in rural New England and its a mainstay for those of us who live here. Everything's a bit sweet, and the spicy dishes could be a bit spicier, but there also isn't a bad dish on the menu. I like the Gai grapaw (minced chicken with basil and chilis), and, on the lunch menu, the Pa; and if you like Pad Thai, it's actually unusually good here.

Spice Root, an Indian place next door to Thai Garden on Spring St., is also a solid, professional restaurant that is friendly, reasonable, and well-run and that is both better nothing to blow away someone from a city with a large Indian population and better than you might expect in rural New England. Great, fast, inexpensive lunch buffet, too.

Coyote Flaco opened recently. It's run by an Ecuadorian couple who (I believe) also own the several places of the same name in Connecticut. It opened this spring (06), and after a slightly rocky beginning with horrifically slow service, has hit a groove. The owners are personable and attentive. The permanent dishes are not surprising but all that we've had are good (Oaxacan style enchilladas are very popular with my family), and the specials, particulary the meat specials, are often very good, too. Tasty, and immense, Margaritas on offer as well.

A FEW PITTSFIELD FAVORITES

I've not atttempted to review the--growing and increasingly interesting--restaurant scene in Pittsfield, mainly because there are a lot of places I've not visited, so this list is not systematic, but I wanted to note three places I'd highly recommmend:

La Fogata
A simple, unpretentious, delicious Columbian place (restaurant, store, and hub of the local Latino community) on the list. The aesthetics are basically those of a good diner; the food a lot beter than that. The owner is also a butcher and the meats are especially good.

Kim's Dragon
This place out on Route 20 several miles west of downtown Pittsfield, was always pretty good. Now it's a lot better. In 2005, the original owner's son took over. The new version is really terrific. Menu is small and not hugely diverse (no pho, e.g.), but everything I've had has been excellent. I recommend especially the vegetarian spring rolls (and this from one elsewhere always prefers the rolls for carnivores), the seafood and vegetable pancake, and the duck.

Spice
Opened in the past year, this very large but aesthetically pleasing restaurant on North St. offers New American food of a quality to rival Mezze and Grammercy. The menu emphasizes locally grown produce and meat. Only been once but everything we had was really first-rate. We'll be back. Others seem to agree. When we arrived to a near empty room for our early dinner, I couldn't imagine the place filled up very often; it was completely packed by the time we left. I hear that's typical.

Good lunch bets:

Helen's on Spring St. in Williamstown: excellent (but not inexpensive) sandwiches and a wide and shifting array of salads (tofu ginger, bean, Asian chicken, etc., etc., ) available to go or at a limited number of tables.

Both Thai Garden and Spice Root are quick and inexpensive for lunch.

Jack's is a famous hot dog stand in North Adams.

BREAKFAST:

Weakest meal in the area. There simply is not a GREAT breakfast spot in the North Berkshires.

The Chef's Hat is probably the best bet in WIlliamstown. Typical breakfast diner. I like the place but it's not memorable. (If you want real maple syrup, remember to ask for it.

)

Miss Adams Diner in Adams has a bit more kitschy diner character, though the food is also not really special.

For an awesome diner breakfast, head up to the Blue Benn in Bennington, where you can have everything from the traditional stuff to assorted vegetarian and Mexican-inflected items. Real character, excellent food, and long waits for a table are all part of the experience.

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  1. Spice disappoints. Afte a matinee at Barrington Stage, we visited Spice's lounge. Nice room. Uncrowded. However, our waitress, although pleasant, was not well trained. There didn't seem to be a beer list, and an inquiry about the availability of any locally brewed beer or ale led to "How about Sam Adams? Isn't that local." The pulled pork we ordered was very good as were the nacho type chips with it. We ordered two flatbreads, but were given someone else's order. They were quickly replaced with what we ordered, but the bread was undercooked, and the toppings, although clearly made with good raw materials, were quite dry. (Hard to know how the breadstuff could be undercooked and the toppings perhaps overdone!) Although we will give it another chance, the first visit was disappointing.

    Cabbagehead

    3 Replies
    1. re: cabbagehead

      Your comment reminds me of two things. One, I've heard that some reports have been a lot less glowing than mine. I'd not have been shocked if our experience had been like yours. But our experience, in contrast, was really excellent. And I've heard others say the same. Perhaps the jury's still out.

      Second, you remind me: if our food at Spice was excellent, beer was another story. They have a lot of beers but, as you say, no list--and since they have no list, I'm still not sure how good the selection was. I was told they had no IPA available (hard to believe); and our waitress clearly knew nothing about beer. But as a beer geek, I've become accustomed to that--many good restaurants are like that, in lots of places, and it seems to be particularly bad in the Berkshires. None of the above places has a wide selection of first rate beer. (Mezze and Grammercy are the only ones that appear to try. The former will usually have one very good IPA among its 3-4 beers on tap and Grammercy usually has one fairly good Belgian and something from the--local, but not truly outstanding--Berkshire Brewing Company). But if you want really outstanding beer selection, you have to go to a place like Lanesborough's Olde Forge, where the list is pages long and includes, e.g. some of the best trappist ales.

      1. re: professor chow

        It's about time you did an update, revision, new OP or whatever you'd choose to call it, Professor Longhair! I've must have linked your "old" OP 5 or 6 times since then. Not to be churlish, but you should have included The Olde Forge in the OP and not as a reply. In addition, since you've crossed the State line for breakfast, I'll cross it for beer & ale. As much as I like the Olde Forge, and I do, The Man of Kent in Hoosic, N.Y. reigns supreme. In closing, there's no mention of that All-America favorite, pizza. Sweet Tomatoes is the best in the area, IMO. That may sound like faint praise but it is very, very good. Obtw, thanks again for the "new" & improved :-))

        Harp00n

        P.S. For some reason I couldn't link Cafe Latino or The Olde Forge, undeterred; here is Cafe Latino's website;
        http://www.mezzeinc.com/elevenrestaur...

        As the Olde Forge has no website, here are the basics;
        The Olde Forge Restaurant
        125 North Main St., Rte.7
        Lanesborough, Ma.
        413-442-6797
        They are open for dinner 7 days a week and lunch on Saturdays & Sundays.
        Rumored to have 300 beers between on-tap & in-bottle.

        -----
        Mezze Bistro + Bar
        777 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Jack's Hot Dog Stand
        12 Eagle St, North Adams, MA 01247

        Gramercy Bistro
        24 Marshall St, North Adams, MA 01247

        Jae's Inn, Williamstown
        777 Cold Spring Rd, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Sushi Thai Garden Thai Japanese Cuisine
        27 Spring St, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Spice Root
        23 Spring St, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Coyote Flaco Restaurant
        505 Cold Spring Rd, Williamstown, MA 01267

        La Fogata Restaurante
        770 Tyler St, Pittsfield, MA 01201

        Kim's Dragon Restaurant
        1231 W Housatonic St, Pittsfield, MA 01201

        Spice
        297 North St, Pittsfield, MA 01201

        Helen's Place
        60 Spring St, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Chef's Hat
        905 Simonds Rd, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Miss Adams Diner
        53 Park St, Adams, MA 01220

        Blue Benn
        314 North St, Bennington, VT 05201

        Hot Tomatoes Neapolitan Pizza
        100 Water St, Williamstown, MA 01267

        Man of Kent Tavern and Café
        4452 RT 7, Hoosick Falls, NY 12090

        1. re: Harp00n

          Oops, just noticed, that's Hot Tomatoes NOT Sweet Tomatoes, my bad!

    2. Professor;

      Thanks so much. When I was a poverty striken student at Williams, going out to eat meant colonial pizza and Constantine! At that time, 1978, restaurants were lousy, with the exception being Mill on the Floss. I remember a great breakfast place where the Orchards is located (???the British Maid)

      Glad to see things have improved, although the last time there (3 yrs ago), still nothing to write home about.

      1. For another great breakfast place, don't forget Bob's Country Kitchen in Lanesboro (rte. 7). They put out a great meal at a reasonable price.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Dana1949

          I haven't been there in some time but it was good back then. Do they still have kielbasa for breakfast and the communal tables?

          1. re: Harp00n

            Yes they do. In fact, the kielbasa egg scramble with rye toast is one of my favorite breakfasts. The communal tables are still in existence. The mix of people, tourists and locals, can get interesting at times. After 9:00 A.M., it gets a bit crowded on weekends so get there early.

            1. re: Dana1949

              I'm sure it can get interesting and, on reflection, I do remember a couple of good conversations with others at the table. Since we're talking about breakfast places, I'd have to say that the Miss Adams is better than the good Professor's opinion of it would indicate.

              1. re: Harp00n

                Miss Adams has gone through a couple of owners in the last few years. I wasn't impressed a couple of owners ago, maybe I should give it another try.

        2. Nice guide! Though I wouldn't recommend Blue Benn except for the diner car experience. The handful of times I've been there, the service was terrible and the food subpar at best. I grew up in Bennington and there's a reason you don't see a lot of locals in those long lines.

          My family's been eating at Colonial Pizza in Williamstown since before I was born and it's still the best pizza I've ever had. Constantine makes a mean turkey grinder, too.

          1. I recently tried Gramercy Bistro and I was underwhelmed. While the food itself was cooked "perfectly fine" the menu was not at all innovative for the price (particularly when I think that for $10/more per person I had a great meal at Market Table in NYC a few weeks ago...). It seemed reminiscent of non-threatening culinary school "classics." My crabcake appetizer was served with a huge puddle of wasabi cream -- about 1/4 of that amount would have been fine on the plate -- and some rather slimy curried shredded cucumber. Bizarre combination. My companion's puff pastry was soggy.

            Service was also problematic, the place seemed understaffed -- pacing of dishes and bread service was off, liquor service was slow (I did have a nice glass of Ribera del Duero with my steak, however). I look forward to trying other restaurants in the Berkshires, but I don't think I'll be going back to this one.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hollerhither

              Thank you for the list, I just want to suggest a tiny Gem in Pittsfield. My wife and I are from the San Francisco Bay Area and are surrounded by all kinds of fine dining of all kinds, but we would place Brix Wine Bar here in Pittsfield near the top of our list. www.brixwinebar.com

              They offer a full menu, affordable high quality bottles of wine, classy but comfortable atmosphere, and knowledgeable/friendly staff. I highly recommend the Dates Wrapped in Bacon and the Escargots as a starter.

              We look forward to trying La Fogata this week while we are here on vacation. I look forward to hearing more about the new restaurants popping up in Pittsfield.

              1. re: hollerhither

                I'd second hollerhither's review of Gramercy. There are a lot of fairly positive reviews of Gramercy out there, and they may do a great job some of the time, but after my first (and last) meal there I have to put up a red flag. The service is good and the atmosphere is great, but the food was mediocre at best. Our ap came out with wilted parsley in place of the advertised chervil and a gelatinous globule of dressing that looked like a deep-sea creature digesting the "salad" (composed entirely of beets and cheese - no greens) before our eyes. The entrées were passable but hardly worth the price, and the desert featured an ice cream which our waiter helpfully pointed out that we could find at the local Stop 'n Shop™ (presumably for less than the nine dollars we paid). There was also dust hanging from the ceiling fans, not something that concerns me until it falls in my wine, but watch where you sit.

              2. Both Spice and Jae's in Williamstown are closed. Spice is set to reopen at Jae's Spice sometime this summer but no word on what will happen to the former Jae's in Williamstown. His North Adams location, however, is scheduled to begin serving food again. This is also set to happen this summer some time.

                Some key places left out of this round up are Sabor in Pittsfield - good Latin American cuisine and Cafe Reva in Pittsfield - great breakfast spot.

                1. since july 2007, and especially since september 2009 :
                  Cafe Latino is closed.
                  Jae's Inn is in north adams. (not at the former Le Jardin.)

                  also, no one has mentioned the excellent burgers at The Lantern in pittsfield
                  and the pretty decent Fish and Chips at Lil Britain.

                  and the best coffee around is at Elf Parlor on ashland st. in north adams.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: chownopork

                    Since the previous post, Jae's Inn in North Adams has also closed. The building has been transformed into a dentist's office. Jae now focuses upon Jae's Spice in Pittsfield, which also offers a lounge/bar scene.

                    Mezze officially moved to the former Jae's location in Williamstown (formerly Le Jardin). While Mezze has good food, their offerings are way overpriced. We wish Nancy Thomas, the owner, would channel some of her energies to resurrecting Eleven or Cafe Latino. We really miss those small plate/tapas style offerings in quality-challenged North Adams, which still mourns the loss of Gideon's, as well as its sister restaurant, the Nightery. Gramercy Bistro (now occupying Eleven/Cafe Latino's former space in the MassMoCA complex) offers decent food, but it's overpriced and nothing to write home about.

                    Helen's in Williamstown also closed and was replaced by That's a Wrap, which I've yet to try, though I've heard less than stellar reviews.

                    We enjoy lunch and dinner outdoors at the '6 Pub on Rt. 7 in Williamstown. They offer a varied menu, with good soups, salads, appetizers and decent fish and chips on most Fridays. Our dogs are always welcome on the stone patio.

                    There's a new breakfast option at Big Shirl's Kitchen on Mass Ave. in North Adams. The omelets are generous, served with crispy home fries that aren't greasy. The hash was home-made, with big chunks of corned beef, peppers, and onions, as well as those crispy potatoes. The coffee tasted decent, with a hint of chicory. At lunch, there are good sandwiches and decent salads. There could have been more non-cheese or bread-free offerings, but it's a standard diner menu. Outdoor seating is available.

                    Another decent road stand can be found on Curran Highway/Rt. 8 in North Adams at Pedrin's, which has a vintage feel, with lots of fried seafood, fries, great onion rings, etc.

                    Crossing the border to Bennington, Vermont takes you to Lil Britain, which offers yummy fish & chips, as well as assorted seafood. They also offer other traditional British fare. The charming owners always have something cheery to say.

                    We also drive to Manchester, about 30 minutes north of Bennington, to have breakfast outdoors at Sherrie's Cafe, which features excellent breakfast and lunches. Zoey's deli, as well as its Double Hex diner, offer great salads, burgers, and sandwiches, all accompanied by superb home-made chips. They also do killer fried onions.

                    The Bean, also in Manchester, offers good Mexican food.

                    For fine dining, we also enjoy Rouge in West Stockbridge, MA, which offers French selections.

                    1. re: terrierboy

                      Update: The Bean also closed in the spring of 2011; they will be missed.

                      1. re: terrierboy

                        And Jae's Spice is now Spice Dragon. No more Jae's in the Berkshires.

                      2. re: terrierboy

                        Big Shirl's now has dinner Thursday through Sat. Not tried yet, but I bet good diner fare . I think they care about what they are doing.