The Brick House, 425 Park St., Housatonic, Mass., (413) 274-0020, brickhousema.com. Serving dinner 4-9 Sun-Thu, 4-10 Fri-Sat; lunch from 11:30 Sat-Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: hearty pub fare
Entrée price range: $10 (grilled cheese and fries or salad) to $20 (18-inch Godfather Pizza; dinner specials a little higher)
Ambiance: Williamsburg on the Housatonic
You can’t go home again, but can you go back to a family’s beloved watering hole and find satisfaction? That was the question when I returned to the Brick House in Housatonic for lunch with my family recently. The place for years had been the Macano, a place my oldest brothers frequented (we grew up, and they still live, nearby), sometimes with their wives, sometimes solo, to have a few beers and unwind. One brother actually played on the bar’s softball team back in the early ’70s. I remember sitting on top of my dad’s car, behind home plate, and getting hit in the head with a player’s foul pop-up, and thinking it would secure me a visit to “the Mac,” that mysterious place, for a cold Pepsi. As it was, except for showers or post-funeral buffets, my first official foray didn’t come till much later.
I found out recently from my brothers that the place had changed hands, and names, and was now a thriving bar-restaurant (I hate to use the term gastropub) with really decent food. So, on a blustery cold February Sunday, we went for lunch. The changes are apparent upon entering the front door: I can’t honestly tell you what the place looked like before, in terms of wall color and such, it was just the kind of old-fashioned, nondescript bar we grew up with, back before gentrification. The walls now are a warm paprika, and a strip of old, polished taps line the upper back wall, above a scattering of black-and-white photos of past softball teams and former Great Barrington bands. A place of honor is reserved for the original (or close to it) Macano sign. A stage aprons the right side as you walk in; there are more tables for dining in a back room, but the hub, the center of action, is the actual barroom, where, on our visit, a few dozen people in snow gear and flannel shirts relaxed around pints of beer and platters of appetizing looking-vittles.
A strip of chalkboard above the bar says, “Don’t know what to get? Need a recommendation Buddy? Here’s one. . . . Cut your hair and get a real job, ya dirty hipster.” And to its side, another chalk scrawl reads, “Soup of the Day: Whiskey.”
Honey, I’m home.
The Macano has been closed for more than 20 years; the building has seen other ventures come and go, most recently the Brick House Pub, which was bought in 2011 by Leland Kent and Mark Caiola. The did extensive renovations and reopened in June of that year as the Brick House, intent on serving pub comfort food featuring as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. “We wanted it to be a close to being a gastropub as we could,” says Kent. “We wanted fresh, local food in pub style.” As such, the restaurant features produce from local growers such as Equinox Farm, Farm Girl Farm and Foggy River Farms, bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, and beer from local breweries like Berkshire Brewing Company and Wandering Star Craft Brewery. And they were very particular about the vibe they wanted to create; though you can watch the game on the house TV, Kent says they had “no intention of ever being a typical American sports bar.” At the same time, “we also didn’t want it to be a modern, sleek, metro-style eatery. We wanted it to be a neighborhood bar that anyone could walk into and feel comfortable.”
On the Sunday we stopped in, there were about a few dozen patrons, ranging in type from small family groupings just in from sledding or skiing to quartets of buddies in ski hats and snowboarding gear. We sat at a table near the bar, from which we promptly ordered the Brick House Beer Flight, six 3-ounce tastings, and an excellent way to sample new brews. Of our flight, the best was Firestone Walker Double-Double Barrel Ale, whose subtle undertone hinted deliciously of Drambuie and, as such, was the fire in the belly needed on such a wintry day. A close second was the Allagash Brewing Co. White, which left a tingly snap of pepper on the finish, and which I can well imagine serving in warmer weather with a pot of unpeeled boiled shrimp with Bay seasoning. The Allagash Brewing Co. White was pert and lemony, but better suited to a warmer day, as was the golden Southern Tier Brewing Co. Eurotrash Pilz. The Abita Purple Haze had an alternately creamy and appealing/too-sweet taste of black raspberry sorbet. My husband liked the Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, but I found it far too yeasty.
But, as the kids noted, we weren’t there for the beer, or just for the beer, but for the lunch. It was rather late in the day, we were starving, and, comfortable with having worked out earlier, I was determined to blow out all the stops. First stop: the poutine. What better way to combat the cold than crisp french fries dappled with mozzarella and cheddar and served in a luscious meaty gravy? Okay, to be quite honest, I expected one hot mess, a platter of desiccated fries covered in orange cheese, like something out of a sports bar. I can admit when I’m wrong (sometimes). Incredibly, everything about this dish came together in such a way that it wasn’t a gelatinous cheese-whizzy glob. The fries were potato-y and retained their firmness. The cheese didn’t overpower. The gravy . . . ah. The gravy was heavenly without making you feel as if you had swallowed a metal cauldron. I was tempted to try the fried pickles or the chili, even the signature wings, which come with a choice of classic hot, hickory chipotle BBQ, Asian sweet chili, garlic parm and teriyaki sauces, but pacing is sometimes in order. Or so I convinced myself.
For most of us, the main event was burgers. The kids chose humble cheeseburgers while I opted for the Five Alarm, a tantalizing blend of hot jalapeno Monterey Jack, pickled jalapenos, and sriracha mayo over a succulent hand-formed patty and served on jalapeno ciabatta. I love hot and spicy, to the point where the family thinks I suffered grievous injury to my taste buds to the point where extreme fire just doesn’t induce a sweat, so I’m particular when the menu says it’s bringing the heat. It better. The Five Alarm was juicy and tasty, if a tad on the too mild side. For my side, I chose the truffle fries with parmesan and parsley, and while at this point I could barely put another morsel in my mouth, I did try two, and they—like their poutine cousins earlier in the meal— were spot on. Sadly, I meant to bring the truffle fries home but left the to-go on the table. . . . Such are the things that keep me up at night.
My husband ordered the Reuben special, which came on Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread and featured homemade dressing and the perfect amount of perfectly trimmed and sliced corned beef. Indeed, the proportions were so balanced as to avoid the usual Reuben fiasco of ingredients slipping out of the bread, Russian dressing slathering your fingers and great hunks of fatty meat threatening to paint smears on your cheeks. This Reuben was a thing of beauty, sandwich speaking.
The menu also features sandwiches such as the slow-cooked pulled pork and a battered and fried cod on toasted panini, and ample salads, although I didn’t notice anybody ordering any on this blustery afternoon. The pizzas are on tap for our next visit: the crust made exclusively by Berkshire Mountain Bakery and featuring six basic standards, including The Godfather (pepperoni, ham, bacon, coppa, mushroom, sausage and mozzarella), but there are also several options for other toppings, like broccoli, artichoke hearts and bacon.
The Brick House is open for lunch only on Saturdays and Sundays, and serves dinner every day beginning at 4. The hours, I think, reflect the ownership’s ability to make wise decisions regarding their resources and expertise. It’s welcoming and inviting, as befitting an establishment nestled smack-dab in the middle of a town that has welcomed and invited an influx of newcomers to its low-key streets. In the shadow of the old water tower, and just across from one of the area’s many old mills, now home to mom-and-pop startups and art galleries, the Brick House is the kind of place that can make anybody feel like they’ve come home.