Great American Pub, Asian-Style
in the early 1970s, my friends and I were not allowed to go
to Railroad Street in our hometown of Great Barrington, Mass.,
because it was a cesspool of dirty bars and drunken old men,
or at least that’s what our parents said. There was an Army-Navy
store near the intersection with Main Street, and we were
allowed to go there in groups to shop for school clothes,
but no farther. Then things started changing; there was an
influx of idealistic young entrepreneurs who bought up and
renovated properties here and there, and completely transformed
the landscape. By my middle-school years, Railroad Street
was the cool place to be, with interesting shops and eateries
like Noodles and, notably, 20 Railroad. The former was a hybrid
New American-Mediterranean, and had a healthy but relatively
short lifespan; the latter was good bar food with some Moosewood
Restaurant-type specials thrown in, and became a neighborhood
mainstay for roughly three decades.
From its inception, my family regularly frequented 20 Railroad.
It was a favorite catching-up place for college kids and others
returning home for holidays, and comfortably greeted diners
and drinkers of all stripes. (At least one Internet post claims
there are men who have enjoyed an after-work beer there every
workday for 20-plus years.) Then, in September 2008, my mother
informed me that it was closing. My husband, thinking Mom
had missed something in the translation, drove by to see for
himself, and there it was, the usually bustling establishment,
dark and empty, with a sign thanking townspeople for all the
years of patronage. There was the official story—staffing
problems—and the unauthorized versions shared by locals, but
the simple fact was that Great Barrington had lost a much-loved
But this story has a very happy ending, or, more accurately,
a new beginning, as last year 20 Railroad reopened under new
management. The new owners, Tom and Huy Huynh, grew up in
the business: Their parents owned the revered Kim’s Dragon
Restaurant in West Pittsfield, once home to the best spring
rolls this side of Montreal (the family still owns the Dragon,
which has been closed for about a year; they plan to reopen
it eventually, but are too busy now with 20 Railroad and other
Tom Huynh was living in Florida when his brother Huy called
him with news of the opportunity to buy 20 Railroad, which
they did shortly after it was closed by then-owner Paul Dickinson.
They sought to combine the comfort of the previous menu with
Asian influences to reflect their own tastes and talents.
“20 Railroad has been a living room for the locals for a long
time, so there was a lot of anticipation” of the reopening,
says Tom, who adds that there was little or no resistance
to the changes in the menu. Besides the obvious advantage
of the familiar location, Tom attributes the success of his
restaurant to the fact that a lot of the clientele who frequented
the Dragon already lived in South County (the half of Berkshire
County south of Pittsfield). And Tom and Huy also had a celebrity
boost for 20 Railroad: Their youngest sibling, Hung, was the
winner of Bravo’s Top Chef in 2007.
While the 20 Railroad menu has remained relatively similar,
with a heavy emphasis on burgers and hearty sandwiches, there
are plenty of Asian influences. Of note, the dragon wings
offer a pleasingly tangy alternative to the more traditional
Buffalo-style wings, also available. Happily, the Huynhs have
included Vietnamese spring rolls, a subtle blending of shrimp,
pork and vegetables rolled in rice paper that’s crisped to
perfection. Too often, spring rolls contain a lackluster filling,
or are encased in a too-sweet pastry. This is not the case
at 20 Railroad.
For those wanting something heartier, consider the compelling
variety of burgers and toppings, which enable the most adventurous
eater to experiment at will. First, you select the type of
burger: certified black angus, Kobe beef, bison, grilled chicken,
salmon or portabella mushroom. Then, choose a topping from
among a variety of cheeses, applewood-smoked bacon, avocado
and mushroom. Third, get even more creative by adding traditional
accompaniments like lettuce, tomato or onion, or take it in
a whole new direction with spinach, roasted or banana peppers,
sprouts or olives. Finally, choose a sauce, like Hellman’s
mayo, peppercorn parmesan dressing, cucumber wasabi mayo,
ancho chipotle or Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce. We’ve shared
several variations over the past year, and I simply cannot
find any fault with any ingredient or with its presentation.
Golden fries accompany the burgers. This is the kind of meal
that makes me wish I could ski, if for no other reason than
the post-lunch curative calorie burning . . .
For those a little more concerned with their waistlines, there’s
a good selection of fresh salads, including a Santa Fe Shrimp
salad composed of marinated grilled shrimp, a little crispy
bacon, avocados, organic field greens, tomato, onion, sprouts,
bell peppers, cucumbers, and roasted pepper, tossed with a
citrusy vinaigrette. A salmon harvest salad includes blue
cheese, raisins, apples, walnuts, and traditional salad vegetables.
It also is consistent with pub favorites like the turkey club,
grilled pastrami Rueben, Philly cheese steak, and bratwurst
topped with sauerkraut, all of which are perfect accompaniments
to the restuarant’s fine selection of beers. Included among
these are 20 craft beers like Ayinger Brau Weisse (Bavaria),
Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (Japan), Zatec Bright Lager (Czech
Republic), and Lindemans Kriek Lambic (Belgium). There are
also some organic beers and ciders, like Pinkus Organic Pils
(Germany) and Samuel Smith Organic Cider.
The hosts are very welcoming, and the food is uniformly good;
the only glitch in the rebirth of 20 Railroad is a very inconsistent
wait staff. While I’ve never found any of the servers to be
rude or short, there seems to be a breakdown when it comes
to style of service. One person takes your order, and then
you might not see that him or her again. Two or three people
will attempt to take your drink order. When it comes time
to pay, nobody appears, and getting your change can take another
eternity. The kitchen, too, has been known to have trouble
in timing; on our last visit, the two appetizers we ordered
took 25 minutes to come out, with our mains arriving about
three minutes later.
I’m willing to give 20 Railroad the benefit of the doubt that
it can fix these problems, because it’s shown enough promise
with its menu and welcoming atmosphere to warrant it. Given
the family’s proven business experience, that shouldn’t be
a problem. In the meantime, take the opportunity to enjoy
this local favorite in its new incarnation.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany, 689-7777,
provence-restaurant.net. Classical French cooking
with some modern twists, from bouillabaisse to
steak au poivre with plenty in between.
Serving lunch 11:30-3 Mon-Sat, dinner 5-9 Mon,
5-10 Tue-Thu, 5-10:30 Fri-Sat, 4:30-8:30 Sun.
AE, D, MC, V.
Joe’s Pizza Place & Restaurant, 2780 Hamburg
St., Schenectady, 355-7700. Forty years of made-from-scratch
pizzas along with a full menu of Italian specialties
and American sandwiches. Serving 11-10 Mon, Wed-Thu,
11-11 Fri-Sat, 11-10 Sun. AE, MC, V.
Daisie, 183 Jay St., Schenectady, 344-7082,
chezdaisie.com. Sweet and savory crêpes offered
on a bargain-priced menu in a quaint serve-yourself
setting within sight of Proctors Theatre. Serving
lunch 11-2 Mon-Fri, 9-2 Sat; dinner 5-7:30 Mon-Sat.
Biergarten, 895 Broadway, Albany, 427-2461,
wolffsbiergarten.com. A surprising variety of
German fare in a wide-open space with hanging
lights and picnic tables. Great selection of German
beer. Serving 11 AM-2 AM Mon-Fri, 9 AM-2 AM Sat,
9 AM-midnight Sun. Lunch specials 11-4 daily.
Brunch 9-4 Sat-Sun. Cash only (ATM on premises).
Tavern, 40 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, 393-3344,
turftavern.com. Scotia’s 60-year-old dining destination,
offering excellent steaks and an old-fashioned
attitude that includes old-fashioned prices. Serving
lunch 11:30-1:30 Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9 Tue-Fri,
5-10 Sat, 11:30-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Bar & Grill, 485 Main St., Great Barrington,
Mass., 413-528-3116. Aromabarandgrill.com. A broad
array of traditional Indian fare is cooked with
an extra emphasis on flavor and served with graciousness
and aplomb. Serving lunch noon-3 Tue-Sun, dinner
5-9:30 Sun-Thu, 5-10 Fri-Sat. Sunday buffet noon-3.
AE, D, MC, V.
Tacos, 319 Ontario St., Albany, 935-1096.
Tacos and burritos in homemade tortillas with
imaginative fillings at very affordable prices.
Serving 11-11 Tue-Sat, 1-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Vietnamese Restaurant, 307 Central Ave., Albany,
436-1868. Satisfy your craving for authentic pho,
along with a generous array of characteristic
meat and vegetable dishes, including curries,
salads, and plenty of grilled items. Serving lunch
11-2:30 Tue-Sat, dinner 2:30-9 Tue-Thu, 2:30-10
Fri-Sat, 11-9 Sun. D, MC, V.