Recently I found myself admitted to North Adams Regional Hospital for a (thankfully) uneventful overnight stay. There was one interesting aspect of my time there that caught me off guard. After my nurse helped me find the requisite pajamas and showed me how to control the bed and TV, she handed me a menu - An honest-to-pete a la carte menu with a pretty reasonable selection of mainstream items and side dishes.
Within a few minutes a pleasant woman from "Room Service" called to take my order and ask when I would like my meal delivered.
I was shocked.
Not only did the food show up when promised, but it was of a solid quality. The fruit was fresh cut as were most of the salad fixings. Gone were the syrupy fruit cocktails with the peel back foil lids. My fish had obviously been recently cooked rather than sitting in a steamy hot box with 500 other meals for the previous hour or two. My expectations were, frankly, blown away by four separate decent meals, each of my choosing.
When I asked about the cost, I was told that this program actually saves NARH money by eliminating all the waste of the unwanted food that found its way onto the ubiquitous food-cart trays and then into the dumpster. Lower overall medical costs through better food. What a concept!
A hospital is just about the last place I expect to be impressed by way I am fed. Don't get me wrong. It's not the Ritz. But when you're wearing an ugly blue johnny tied in the back and you have a gangling IV sticking out of your arm, nice surprises are especially welcome.
Now if only the airlines could figure out how to let passengers order edible food. That'll be the day....
Greg Roach is the Chef and Prepared Foods Manager at the Wild Oats Market in Williamstown. He periodically blogs about food for iBerkshires and writes about all sort of other things at Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog.
We are served at Petrino's Cafe on Main Street in North Adams on Friday while Mark Petrino takes an order. Everybody wears a shirt with the cafe's basil leaf logo.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Petrino's Cafe has been operating for a week now and owner Mark Petrino says things have been going well.
We finally got a chance to try it today and really liked the new decor and interior setup. Mark made good on his promise to move the deli case so that it's immediately visible when you walk in the door. It's also easier to get to the counter because the tables have been rearranged in a much better pattern.
The Cup & Saucer was like walking into a classroom — all the tables lined up like a regiment, making things a little too cozy if you wanted a private conversation. If you were waiting for takeout, you were always standing next to someone's table.
The new layout gets you out of people's way while you're waiting; plus, you can see the (cold) sandwiches right in the deli case. The interior's a lot brighter and the couch in the front has been moved to the back. Tables have replaced it in the window, which makes a lot more sense from a business standpoint. Why would you want potential customers to see people lounging with coffee when the money's in the food?
The tables and chairs are nicer, too. No more old schoolroom furniture.
We talked to couple regulars of the old cafe who were trying the new cafe for the first time. Their impressions were very positive, although Joe Manning says ditch the big TVs. Not good for conversation, he says, plus it feels like you're staring at the diners below — or being stared at if it's your table that's below.
We tried the Cousin Mary, a chicken breast with spinach, provolone and avocado in a whole-wheat wrap with a hint of chipotle sauce. Pretty good but for healthy eating, we'd like something other than chips on the side.
The cafe's offering a variety of wraps and sandwiches with fresh meats and vegetarian choices, burgers, steaks and salads. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. with burritos, omelets and specials. On our list to try is the banana-stuffed ciabatta French toast with a meat side.
We've also been told the hours may change from 6 to 2 to 7 to 3 because more people are coming in later than earlier. The Web site's up, too, and actually posts soup and salad specials for the day. Yay for keeping the page current.
In an earlier posting, iBerkshires incorrectly special invitation-only event. We apologize for any confusion. (If we're invited to an open house, we assume everybody else is, too. It actually was a preview. oops.)
But the cafe will open to the general public two days later.
Anyone walking by Main Street can see the work that's been going on inside. The floors have been refinished, the kitchen expanded and reconfigured and a the deli case is right up front when you walk in. We can't wait to see the menu.
Petrino's is opening the space occupied by the Cup & Saucer for several years.
Cook Kathy Sage sets up a grilled burger and fries to go at North Adams Regional Hospital.
North Adams Regional Hospital has revamped the way it delivers meals to provide patients a better dining experience.
The dietary department switched to room service at the beginning of the month, abandoning a long tradition of assembly-line meals that worked in the days when the kitchen fed well more than 140 patients a day.
Changes in health care over the years mean fewer patients being admitted and shorter stays for the ones who are. With a patient count averaging around 40, it made more sense to re-orient meals around their needs, rather than keep them on the kitchen's schedule, said dietitian Kristin Irace.
"The patients love it," said Irace. "We've been getting tons of good comments from doctors, too."
Diet aide Nancy O'Neill scans the bar code on the order slip to track the tray's movement. Ordering is computerized.
Irace showed us around the new layout on Friday and demonstrated how the meals are entered as patients call in their orders from the menu.
"They can have anything they want as long as their diets allow it," she said. In other words, just because it's on the menu, doesn't mean you can eat it.
The computerized ordering system automatically keeps track of caloric intake, salt limits or other dietary restrictions. Prohibited items are grayed out on the screen.
That may be a disappointment for say, diabetics, but for the average patient, the menu offers a variety of hot and cold entrees, from breakfast sandwiches to fruit platters to homemade meatloaf. Also on the menu are items off the grill, create-your-own-pasta dishes, deli sandwiches and soups. Specials are offered, too, depending on what the cafeteria is offering.
The trifold menu is easy to read and the cover is a still life by local artist Ed Carson, whose work is exhibited at the hospital.
Patients can dial 5500 anytime between 7 a.m. and 6:15 p.m., when they're ready to eat. Their diet and ability to order is indicated on their admission charts; the computers can be taken to patients who have trouble ordering over the phone.
They can also order one meal for a visitor at a cost of $5 or $3 for breakfast.
The orders are tracked through a bar code system: Once the order is entered into the computer, an order slip with a bar code is printed to the cook and server. The slip is scanned when the meal tray is completed and again before it leaves the kitchen.
The wait to get trays out at mealtimes is 10 minutes or 10 trays, whichever comes first, said Irace. "This ensures meals are getting to patients within 45 minutes or less."
The new dishware and equipment required for the change to "At Your Request" dining, including a fast-heating charger, was provided by Sodexo, the company that's operated the dietary department for two decades.
"Meals are something that the patients can control in a situation that may difficult for them," said Irace. "It's gives them some comfort, so that's nice."
Gramercy's new look at Mass MoCA. The fine dining establishment opened last week.
Gramercy Bistro has settled into its new location in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts complex in North Adams.
The restaurant had a soft opening this past Friday in the space formerly occupied by Cafe Latino. Owned by chef Alexander "Sandy" Smith, the restaurant first opened in 2001 on Marshall Street and seated about 60 after renovations a few years ago.
The new location offers a more comfortable layout and adds about a dozen more seats in the bar area and allows expansion into a patio during the summer. The somewhat spare decor of Cafe Latino has given way to a more luxurious look, with creamy yellow walls and charcoal shades on the many windows. White tableclothes, gleaming dinnerware and upholstered booths gives the space a more classic feel.
"We really wanted it to be fresh and new," said Sarah Smith on Wednesday. "We wanted to make it our own."
The restaurant's added on a lunch menu on Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 2 and a brunch on Sundays from 11 to 2 with menu items including apple pancakes and eggs benedict. The bar will be open from noon until midnight, offering a small menu of light fare between meal periods and after dinner service ends. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays for the winter, but will be open seven days from July to October.
The Adams Lions will hold its third annual benefit 'Flavors of France' at Gramercy on Tuesday, March 23.
In a statement, Alexander Smith described the opening as exciting. "We have been looking to grow for a while, and when the space became available it was the perfect opportunity," he wrote. "We'll have more seating for our growing dinner business, seasonal outdoor seating, and a kitchen that can accommodate more meal periods."
Sarah Smith said the restaurant's opening days have gone well. "We've gotten a lot of good response from our existing clientele."
The bistro will continue to offer contemporary classics and its strong commitment buying fresh, local ingredients as a member of Berkshire Grown. Gramercy also offers full catering service. It's Web site is currently being revamped.
Cafe Latino closed in September when its lease was up. The restaurant and its predecessor, Eleven, were both owned by Nancy Thomas and Bo Peabody of Mezze Inc.