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For the New American

by B.A. Nilsson on July 31, 2014 · 0 comments

Public Eat + Drink, 34 Holden St, North Adams, Mass., 413-664-4444, publiceatanddrink.com. Serving daily 11:30-10 (later when warranted). AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: new American

Entrée price range: $7 (Caesar salad) to $24 (steak frites)

Ambiance: industrially artistic

MASS MoCA artfully changed the aesthetic sensibility of North Adams, teaching the former mill town to appreciate its vast brick-and-mortar expanses. Public Eat + Drink, which occupies a space a scant couple of blocks away from the museum, decorates its fine but easygoing dining milieu with exposed brick and ductwork, illuminated by hanging barn lights.

It’s been open for nearly three years, and, if the busy-ness of a recent Monday is any indication, it has caught on with locals and museumgoers alike. The word “public” isn’t used accidentally: This is a welcoming gathering place. Owner Jared Decoteau worked for a predecessor restaurant and liked the space so much that he took it over when he got that chance. “I like its rustic artistic aesthetic,” he says, “which is what people around here are looking for.”

The menu offers plates of varying size, so that you can enjoy anything from a salad to a full-blown meal, and an emphasis on craft-brewed beer tastefully slakes that worthy desire.

My friend Malcolm and I arrived just after a MASS MoCA event, and spotted performers and other attendees among the throng. Servers are young and lack the confidence of those for whom it’s a career, but we were promised a brief wait for a table, escorted to it before very long, and, except for Malcolm’s futile attempt to get his coffee cup refilled during dinner, well attended.

And, anyway, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee with dinner.

The large space gives you a look at its presentation kitchen as you head for the tables—unless you stop off at the bar for a beverage. Otherwise, you’re seated at an industrial-type seat, something with the look of a high-school metal shop. But it’s well-planned, well-spaced and comfortable. I started with a glass of Berkshire Brewing Company Shabadoo, a gentle black-and-tan ($5), and selected a hummus and tabbouleh plate ($10) from the “smalls” portion of the menu. The hummus, homemade and tangy, with a pleasant grit to its smoothness (unlike the suspiciously oversmooth supermarket variety) had a garnish of a few roasted tomatoes and more than enough slices of warm pita with which to finish it. The tabbouleh portion had the surprise addition of peas. Untraditional, but I like it. And it’s served on a long wooden board that is both pleasing to look at and makes sense as a presentation vehicle.

Companions on the “smalls” menu are tempura-battered chicken tenders ($9), fried calamari ($10) and three types of salad, including a chopped salad with feta, kalamata olives and shallot vinaigrette ($9).

The “mids” menu includes mussels and sausage and what’s probably an appropriate use of kale ($14), blackened catfish tacos ($11), falafel ($11) and fish and chips ($13); among the “bigs” are mac and cheese (with pancetta and smoked gouda, $17), risotto ($17), steak frites ($24) and vegetable primavera ($17). But keep in mind that the menu changes every couple of days, so it doesn’t hurt to check the website if planning a visit based on the anticipation of a particular item.

With spicy housemade sausage calling to me, I ordered a linguine plate ($17) that worked the meat in well, chunks large and small decorating a sauce that itself had a sweet but robust flavor. And the portion size was generous to supply an extra take-home meal, had I only restrained myself enough to do that.

Decoteau believes in providing a menu “diverse enough to appeal to a broad cross-section of the community,” as he puts it, which is vital for a place that needs to look beyond the tourists for its survival. Thus, he and chef David Flick keep a selection of flatbreads and burgers available. The former range from the traditional tomato and basil-topped margherita ($11) to toppings of shredded chicken with salsa verde ($13) and a mix of summer vegetables ($13).

Malcolm chose one of the burgers, bypassing truffled mushroom ($12) and arugula and brie ($12) for the Public burger ($12), topped with bacon and onion and slathered with just enough jalapeno mayonnaise to make it sparkle. It’s served with fries. They’re good enough to be offered separately ($4) with aioli.

The menu lets you know what’s vegetarian—there’s plenty—and there are gluten-free options. The dessert list includes cappuccino cheesecake ($8), chocolate mousse ($8) and a French macaron ($1.75—but you can get 4 for $5). We had consumed more than enough by then, however, and contented ourselves with watching the sweets land before other lucky patrons.

Too far to travel? Decoteau is opening a second restaurant, in Pittsfield, which will be called District Kitchen + Bar and should be open by the end of August. I’m looking forward to it.

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