Fenn St., Pittsfield, Mass., (413) 442-2457. Serving 11-10
Tue-Sat, 11-9 Sun. Lunch menu 11-3:30 Mon-Fri. AE, D, MC,
price range: $6 (spaghetti with no meatball) to $15
(filet mignon with mushroom sauce)
may think you walked into the wrong place, as I thought. It’s
not that the Highland doesn’t look sufficiently restaurant-like;
rather, it looks like you’ve entered an Italian joint from
your parents’ childhood. Which already probably projects the
Highland into its own future. It opened in 1936.
Twenty years is an eternity in this business. Three-quarters
of a century is freakish. But another anachronistic phenomenon
comes into play here once you’re seated and studying the menu.
You feel like you’ve been here before—been here often enough
that your server’s easy familiarity was earned by those repeated
visits. Why else would anyone be so friendly?
Read the online reviews and you’ll learn it’s the nature of
the place. Nothing in the experience of my recent visit proved
otherwise. It was a Sunday evening, going on 7. Downtown Pittsfield
was sepulchral, with open-for-business lights peeking only
from an occasional convenience store. .
It was a sweet transition from icy streets to warm, padded
booths, heightened by sharing the meal with a friend I’ve
known for more than four decades, whom I see too rarely. Having
shared several trips to Yankee Stadium during our teenhood,
a meeting in a retro Italian restaurant with life-sized photos
of baseball heroes on the walls was fitting.
I predict a big comeback for calf’s liver someday, and only
because it’s been out of any culinary spotlight I know of
for decades. But it’s here on the dinner menu, a $10 entrée
served with mashed potatoes and salad. I passed it up this
visit only because I’ve had it here before, a few years ago,
and I doubt that the preparation has lost any of the crispness
that heralds a tender inside.
It took but moments for John to make up his mind. “Italian
sausage and peppers with spaghetti,” said he, settling back
with a smile. The $10 dish was exactly as expected—no experimentation
here. It was peaceful and filling.
The Highland already had been in operation for more than 20
years when Italian immigrant Leon Arace became chef. In the
early 1970s he bought into the business, and, 20 years after
that, he and his three sons became sole owners. Those sons—Pasquale,
Gerardo and Dario—still own and operate the place and, as
Pasquale observes, the emphasis remains on homemade food at
been here 15 years,” said Linda, who was managing the floor
the night of my visit. “My husband, Richard, who’s over there
behind the bar—he’s been here even longer. And some of the
girls who work here have been here for even longer than that.”
I asked about a signature dish and our server recommended
pretty much anything in which spaghetti is involved. “If you
like pork, the tenderloin is nice,” she added, and so I opted
for that one, a $12 dish, and, yes, I wanted onions on my
home fries as well as on my salad. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Ah, I see. Someone bitched on a blog about getting automatic
onions. But note that the majority of the online reviews are
confessions from Highland-addicted writers, who agree with
my editor (a Pittsfield native) not only that the look of
the place is deceiving, but often so is the look of the food:
a blah-looking veal parm, for instance, has the breading and
tenderness down to a science.
My pork cutlet was similarly disposed. It looked disappointingly
ordinary, but proved as tender and juicy as could be. It broke
no ground in terms of flavor or presentation, and included
applesauce from a jar and the sort of home fries you’d find
on any good diner grill, but the effect—comforting, homey—transcended
the prosaic plate.
This is the point of the Highland. “Oh, if they try to make
anything different from the way it’s been, folks complain,”
said Linda. “We get people who come in after being away for
years and years and they tell us they’re so happy the food’s
still the same.” The salad is mostly iceberg lettuce, and
there you are. I won’t cavil. If ever there’s a restaurant
that has a right to serve iceberg, it’s this one.
You can get a hamburger for under $3, a hot dog for a buck
and a half. Most of the sandwiches—there are more than three
dozen to choose from—come in under $5 and include filet of
sole, pot roast, veal parm and Italian sausage as options.
French fries are $2.50 extra, and an order of onion rings
will set you back five, but this a la carte approach allows
you to lunch economically on sensible portions.
On the dinner side, no appetizers are listed as such, although
an antipasto is available for $9. The so-listed Italian dishes
include veal scallopini or parmigiana, southern-fried chicken
(southern Italy?), sautéed chicken livers, broiled mushrooms
with spaghetti and many more—and each of the ones I listed
Under entrées you find roasted chicken, turkey or Yankee pot
roast ($9 each), a $6 hamburger plate (fries and cole slaw
included), chicken croquettes or baked pork sausages ($8),
and, for the big-budgeted, a strip steak or filet mignon at
$14 each. A buck more for added mushroom sauce.
The dessert list includes a slew of homemade pies that we
were already too full even to sample, and I’ve been admonished
that this was a mistake. They haven’t changed the recipes
in a half-century, my editor notes, and he insists that the
pies put the confections from fancier places to shame.
Would pie have been too much? By the time our entrées arrived,
John and I already had traveled to a place where a sense of
past and future no longer exist. I used to think that was
a place called limbo or the result of really fine sex, but
now I know it’s a vintage Italian restaurant in Pittsfield.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
digging in as much as you are in order to eat
well while money is scarce. So I thought I’d share
some tips and techniques, and will do so over
four weeks at the Arts Center of the Capital
Region in Troy, with a class called Cooking
for the New Economy. Make your shopping trips
more efficient and plan menus without waste. Can
I cook anywhere as well as those I criticize?
Find out and enjoy some (putatively) tasty food
over the course of four Mondays (Jan. 24-Feb.
14) from 6 to 9 PM. More info at artscenteronline.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.