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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

New Homestyle

The Village Oven

30 Main St., West Stockbridge, Mass. (413) 232-7269. Serving Thu-Mon noon-9. MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza-pasta-panini

Entrée price range: $8.50 (12-inch pizza) to $23 (roasted beef shoulder)

Ambiance: bright and casual

By B.A. Nilsson

A fine-dining sensibility lurks behind this casual eatery on West Stockbridge’s Main Street. The Village Oven occupies two adjacent buildings of what was formerly a three-building art gallery, and was opened three years ago by Tom Tenuta and William Boudreau, who previously worked together at the Stockbridge Golf Club—and before that at Boston’s Mirabelle. They also forged separate careers at restaurants in the Boston area.

But West Stockbridge—that quirky artists’ retreat that maintains a hippie sensibility behind a Norman Rockwell face—proved alluring enough to persuade both of them to settle in this town. Tenuta discovered the area when he worked for a Boston-based catering company, and the idea of settling in at the former gallery was an easy call for Boudreau, who had patronized the place in its former incarnation.

The Village Oven suits the quirky town with its own quirky personality. The pizza is popular, but you’re also liable to find an entrée of sea scallops or veal parmigiana. It’s not fancy dining, and we found some shortcuts in preparation that suggest that haste is sometimes favored over painstaking craftsmanship. But we certainly got our money’s worth, and the cheerful staff and generally high spirits of the restaurant are compelling.

It’s impossible to miss the place as you make your way along Main Street. A maroon building, flanked by two buildings of blue, is where you enter. This is where pizzas are made and take-out orders collected. Seats are to the left, in one of two dining areas, all pleasantly decorated but still appealingly casual.

There’s a pizza menu, of course, and you also can order burgers ($7.75 and up), toasted subs ($6.25), pasta ($9.95) or panini and a small salad ($7.75). We sampled a marinated-eggplant panini, which also featured artichokes and tomatoes and a tapenade-like sauce of chopped olives. In addition to the side salad, which was a fresh assortment of greens, we ordered eggplant fries, a zesty, crunchy alternative to the potato variety.

Salads start at $5.75, increasing to $6.50 for a Caesar, adding another two bucks for chicken with that Caesar, and including a tuna-and-white-bean salad for $9.25.

A separate menu that changes regularly lists the fancier items, like mussels ($9), pan-seared tilapia ($20) and roasted half chicken ($18), each served with appropriate sides.

We ordered the chicken, which was scented with herbs and lemon and roasted to crispy-skin doneness. With mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus on the side, it was a like-mother-used-to-make dinner, provided your mom didn’t mind whipping up mashed potatoes from a mix.

The chicken and vegetable soup ($4.50) was a knockout, made fresh and sporting large chunks of tasty meat in the kind of broth that you can feel going about its salubrious way.

I hardly expect risotto on a menu like this, but a version with mushrooms was of fered that I chose as an appetizer. And I was right to be cautious: What was served was handsome enough and the flavor combinations were appealing, but the rice itself wasn’t the traditional arborio. It looked, in fact, like Minute Rice.

Although top sirloin of lamb ($22) is the kind of entrée with my name written on it, I passed it by in favor of meat lasagna ($14), a casserole that usually reflects something of the house style of cooking. Its arrival was preceded by a call from the kitchen: “Joe! Did you grab that lasagna out of the microwave yet?” Which really only gave us the house style of reheating. The lasagna itself was solid, classical, meaty, rich—and large enough to send home a midnight-snack portion.

Around us, as our courses arrived and plates were cleared, a busy pizza business buzzed. Rectangular boxes tower in stacks by the windows, and those stacks are continually refreshed. Take-out items flew across the designated counter. Behind a long, wainscot-fronted counter worked Tenuta, in chef’s whites and a gimme cap, shaping pizza crusts, dressing plates, schmoozing with customers.

A party of eight showed up. Tables were adjoined; the group was seated. A busy hostess never lost her good sense of humor as the place turned tables and kept up with the come and go.

We didn’t sample the pizza, which I regret, but I’m sure there will be a next time. Tenuta and Boudreau opened the place with the ambition of offering good food for under 10 bucks, if that’s all you have to spend—and they’ve certainly succeeded.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The 74 State Hotel’s Marché restau- rant in Albany is hosting a Farmer/Beer evening at 7 PM Friday, Sept. 14, that features ingredients from Indian Ladder Farm and Flying Pigs Farm, pairing each of the courses with an appropriate beer. The seven-course tasting menu will spotlight fruit from Indian Ladder, a fourth-generation orchard in New Scotland, and pork products from heritage Tamworth and Gloucestershire breeds at Flying Pig Farms. On Oct. 5 they’ll present a five-course meal featuring wines selected by noted négociant Joseph Carr. Pricing for both events is being determined this week, and reservations are required, so call 434-7410 to get the scoop and nab a table. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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