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Photo: Laura Leon

Brewer’s Feast

By Laura Leon

Barrington Brewery & Restaurant

Jenifer House Commons, 420 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-8282. Serving 11:30 to 9:30 Sun-Thu; 11:30-10 Fri-Sat. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: classy pub fare

Entrée price range: $11 (pasta pizza; add $1 per topping) to $18 (New York strip or baby back ribs)

Ambiance: rustic pub

I’ve never really been a big beer drinker, that is, if you disregard high-school keggers and the old QE2’s two-for-Tuesdays, when a struggling administrative assistant with big college loans could treat herself and a friend to a duet of Buds for 25 cents. Oh, there are occasions when beer is called for: taking a lunch break from Christmas shopping in Cambridge, Mass., stopping for barbecue at Finkerman’s in Montpelier, Vt., or grabbing a quick pre-RPI-hockey-game nosh at Holmes & Watson. But generally speaking, I don’t choose a restaurant based on its beer selection.

I could conceivably make an exception, though. The Barrington Brewery, which has been operating for 13-plus years under owner Gary Happ, features a nice selection of preservative-free brews handcrafted on the premises. There’s a solid lineup of “regular” beers, such as the Berkshire Blonde, an ale that has much more fullness than one might expect from such an appelation, and my preferred Barrington Brown Ale, a much fuller English-style drink. No matter what health kick I’m on, whenever I stop by the Brewery for lunch, I have to treat myself to one of these, if not one of a continually evolving selection of “special” beers. Not for the Barrington Brewery the mealy flavors to be offered in, say, any Coors product, or the warm-piss evocations of (sorry Dad!) Budweiser. These are beers that demand savoring and sharing. They are available in the pub by by the pint or the pitcher; if you’re impressed, you can also take them home in bottles, growlers or kegs (prices range from $3 for a 22-ounce bottle to $120 for a 15.5-gallon keg).

But the Barrington Brewery goes beyond the brewery business, with a solid menu of hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare that seems perfect for après-ski but somehow works quite alright on a hot summer day. The chili ($3.50-$5), both beef and vegetarian, is not to be misssed, a dense bowl of kidney beans, a tangy sauce and, if you prefer the former, chunks of delectable ground beef. There’s a solid cheddar ale soup—again, something that might work better after a day on the slopes—but the kitchen does admirable things with more seasonable fare, such as a recent corn chowder ($3.25-$4.25) that enhanced the yellow-eared bounty of the season with a nice hint of smoky bacon.

The Brewery was one of the first local places I encountered to offer, on a regular basis, grass-fed burgers, and my first encounter was a shocker—anybody who has been raised on factory-farmed beef has to develop a taste for the decidedly leaner grass-fed version and its completely different mouth feel. (That’s not a complaint.) Burgers ($9 before toppings) here are good and filling, with toppings like cheese, bacon, that yummy chili, salsa, roasted peppers, or sauteed onions and peppers. That last choice is a must go-with for the also highly recommended sausages (bratwurst, bauerwurst or kielbasa, steamed in beer and served on a roll, starting at $8).

Among the “super sandwiches” ($8 to $10) are thin-sliced barbecue beef brisket on a kaiser roll, a hot roast beef topped with melted cheddar and spicy horseradish, a nicely done tuna melt, and the “Brewer’s Pocket,” a pita stuffed with spinach, smoked turkey, bacon, sprouts, onion, blue cheese dressing and melted Swiss. The guys in my family have found favor with the Steak & Stout, sliced sirloin marinated in stout, served open-faced on garlic bread with sauteed onions and mushrooms and napped with gravy. That’s when they’re not opting for the chicken Philly cheesesteak or the mixed grill of corned beef and pastrami served like a reuben. Like I said, this is rib-sticking stuff, and it perfectly complements whatever ale you decide to go with.

There are the usual heavy apps, such as beer-battered fries (addictive) and onion rings (more addictive), and some aren’t as promising as they first appear. Case in point: The sweet-potato fries, no matter how often I’ve tried them, have been limp and greasy. But the Brewery does better with simple, lighter offerings, like the Plowman’s Lunch ($7.50), a tasteful plate of dried sausage, Brie, chutney, apples and ale bread that just seems to evoke October, as well as ample, classic salads (the house salad is $5; others are $9 to $10) such as spinach, chef and the brewer’s, which features mixed greens, hard-boiled egg, roasted peppers, sliced chicken breast, bacon, tomato and sprouts. Recently, my oldest son ordered the taco salad, and I envisioned the liked-named slop that used to come out of the school cafeteria. How wrong I was: First of all, there was a large bedding of good-quality romaine lettuce, something I don’t remember being part of the recipe but which added a nice crispness. The tacos themselves were good quality nacho chips, and the dish included chili, red onions, black olives, chopped tomato, and a chunky salsa. Really, really good.

Dinner options, available after 5 PM, include New York strip steak, a grass-fed ribeye, fish and chips, free-range chicken, and less-publike fare such as eggplant with peppers and cheese and pasta pizza. As at lunch, the sides can include a very decent cole slaw, various potato options, or the occasional pasta or macaroni salad.

When diners first walk through the door of the Brewery, they are confronted with the daunting sideboard full of amazing-looking desserts. It’s almost like a warning: You cannot avoid these tasty treats, no matter how much you eat or drink. In the name of good food journalism, then, we plowed ahead, ordering the wet-dream-inducing chocolate stout cake (which was featured in the 50th-anniversary issue of Bon Appetit), and a sloppy-looking but delectable blueberry crisp, topped with frothy fresh cream.

The Barrington Brewery is unusual in its ability to be both a good dining experience and a comfortable pub, usually populated with a number of locals and a smattering of tourists enjoying a pint or three while watching the Sox, Patriots, Celtics or Bruins, depending on season. The main dining area is roomy, with exposed beams and wooden floors, and vintage ale posters, advertisements and coasters on every wall. In warmer weather, the Brewery opens its back doors to reveal a tented patio, a good place to catch a breeze and to watch for the housecat who silently sidles between tables. The service is always cheerful, and the atmosphere convivial. The American palate for beer has evolved, thankfully, over time, and can easily be satisfied at the Barrington Brewery.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op is joining 70 other co-ops around the country to host an “Eat Local America” challenge—challenging people to try to consume 80 percent of what they eat from food grown or produced locally. The challenge begins tomorrow (Friday) and continues through Sept. 15, and all you have to do to participate is sign a large poster at Honest Weight Food Co-op and keep track of your own progress. The Co-op defines local food as that which is produced within 100 miles of the Capital Region, and the store itself denotes the local food it stocks with a blue ribbon. Jessica Allen-Hayek, the Co-op’s outreach coordinator, notes that eating locally produced food is “good for the economy, because money from each transaction stays in the region.” It’s also good for the environment “because the food doesn’t travel far, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions.” Best of all, it tastes better. You can learn about Eat Local America initiatives at eatlocalamerica.coop; to learn more about Honest Weight Food Co-op, visit honestweight.coop. . . . Grilled steaks and steamed lobsters are the culinary centerpieces, along with music and drawings for prizes as Schenectady Day Nursery holds its summer benefit from 5 to 8 PM on Aug. 21 in Schenectady’s Central Park. John and Karen Mantas, proprietors of Mike’s Hot Dogs, are catering this event for the eighth year. Advance tickets are $40 and get you a choice of a steak or lobster dinner that includes potato, corn, cole slaw, beverage, roll and dessert. A surf-and-turf combo is $65, and the children’s hot dog menu is $5. Tickets are available at the Open Door Book Store on Schenectady’s Jay St. Takeout will be available and you can refresh yourself at the cash beer and wine bar For more info: 370-4662. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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