GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — I like to revisit food, at least, good food. In that way, we are like well-trained dogs. Good food feels good and makes me happy, bad food feels bad and makes me sick.
Ask me when was the last time I stepped foot into a Burger King.
On Saturday night, maybe because the full moon had us all swooning with the prospect of spring, or because it was late and we (we meaning myself, the kids and the nearly 7-foot eating machine called the boyfriend) were in the mood for some good spring eats.
And what says spring more than barbecue?
"Let's go to the Route 7 Grill," I said to the kids, whose faces were buried in their Nintendo DS game. Lucian was killing Anna; it seemed like a good time to break things up. They perked up immediately at the suggestion.
"I'm totally getting a cheeseburger," Anna said in her annoying, pre-teen voice. Lucian just nodded his head saying something about the cornbread and butter.
Let me back up for just a second. My first run in with the Route 7 Grill on Main Street was about five or six years ago. It was a spring day and I was scheduled to do an interview with the owners of this new BBQ joint that had just opened. I thought I could kill the interview and then make my way up to the DMV to get my license renewed, which was, like my inspection sticker, long overdue. So, there I was, the rookie reporter sitting with the owner, Lester Blumenthal, talking about slow smoking and roadhouse culture in the Berkshires. As much as I wanted to get in and get out, I could not refuse the brisket sandwich and fries that Lester put in front of me. I took a bite; he held his breath.
"That's d*mn good," I said, savoring the buttery meat and sauce. "Wow, really d*mn good."
My review/interview that day was their first write-up in print. Since then, the Grill has been in several foodie magazines and seen numerous reviews and accolades. But, we grew up together, Lester and I. The rookie reporter and the business guy turned professional meat smoker.
Filled with the usual good will and nostalgia, we dove into our meal by the light of the Crow Moon. Immediately I noticed something different about my salad. The smoked chicken was richer, much richer, almost as if it had been sitting in a hickory tree for weeks, waiting for me to enjoy. I took several bites, savoring the familiar flavor of my childhood.
The kids ate in silence, Anna just humming and chewing on her burger and Lucian deftly focused on his homemade chicken tenders.
"They've done something different here," I said. "This is so authentic."
Lester sidled up to the table, ever the awesome host checking in with his clearly happy customers. Before he could even ask the question, I jumped in.
"What's going on, man?" I said. "This stuff is amazing. You're doing something different, you can't fool me."
"Nothing too different," he said with an almost sly smile. "Just taking our time. I had an epiphany a while ago. We slowed down the smoker, got some new recipes in there, and really looked at our ingredients."
So humble. The mashed potatoes with a hint of blue cheese made my mouth tingle, the smoky mushrooms with the meat were a meal in themselves, and the dessert, oh the dessert. Chocolate espresso cheese cake (all homemade, bitter grounds, handcrumbled crust) and a polenta dish with spiced apples and caramel sauce.
Simple yet effective is putting it lightly. The savory sweetness of the dessert pretty well encapsulated the entire evening.
A roaring fire, familiar faces, and a delicious meal with hints of woodsmoke and lots of surprises.
Outdoor pig roasts are coming soon on Fridays. You know where to find me.
The Route 7 Grill is on 999 Main St. (yes, Route 7), Great Barrington. Its hours are 5-9 weekdays (to 10 on Friday and closed Tuesdays) and lunch and dinner on the weekends.Check out the Facebook page.