East Side Cafe: Cheap and Easy
So, it’s Thursday night and you’re looking to get a pizza and a beer. There are probably more pizza places in the Berkshires than any other kind of restaurant but they’re not all created equal.
|East Side Cafe
378 Newell Street, Pittsfield, Mass.
Pizza, pasta, full bar, takeouts
|Thin and crispy, charcaol oven-baked pizza from East Side Cafe.
Many are pitched as "family restaurants” some are just plain ugly and the pizza is all over the place too. To be fair, I think we in the Berkshires have more than our fair share of decent pizza joints for take out and most of them are pretty good but there’s something special about the East Side Cafe.
The place is cheap. Not inexpensive — cheap. For under $25 you can stuff yourself on pizza and beer. I'd describe the decor as 70’s funk. Brown vinyl upholstery covers the soft-to-saggy benches on either side of tables topped with a thick, syrupy layer of varnish so old it looks like cracked amber.
There’s nothing much on the walls but the pizza is the real deal. If you want to have pizza, you have to come on Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Otherwise, no pizza. They’ll make you a burger or a hot dog but no pizza. If you want to try their house made pasta your window of opportunity is even smaller; on Thursdays for lunch, you can choose from ravioli, gnocchi or ziti, Fridays you can have linguine with clam sauce. Only on those days and only until they run out.
The pizza itself is New York style, thin crust with a bit of char on the bottom, made in a charcoal burning oven, it’s tasty and slightly smokey which makes even a plain cheese pizza a little special.
We were feeling zen so we ordered a large one “with everything” and a small cheese pizza (to really taste the sauce) on the side. Pizzas are on the small side, 12 inches is a large but that’s enough for two for dinner and the most you can spend on it is $13.
Young families do show up here with their kids but the kids seem to know the place is not about them. While we were there families with babies, toddlers and school aged kids all came in, ate their pizza or took it out and socialized with a minimum of fuss. We were not subjected to someone’s children running roughshod over staff and patrons alike, there was no shouting, there are no crayons. It’s more of a pub than a restaurant, after all.
The East Side Cafe offers gluten-free beer and pizza as well as their more typical offerings. You can have anchovies on your pizza if you want them. Service was fast, friendly and no-nonsense.
Our pizzas were hot, fresh and tasty, covered in bubbling cheese with a tasty sauce serving as their foundation (East Side Cafe won best sauce in this year's Berkshire Pizza Competition, and it was deserved.) Toppings are traditional, you can't have goat cheese or fresh sage or pine nuts or anything like that - if you want that stuff, you're in the wrong spot. It was good, fresh, no-nonsense pizza and on a Thursday night, in my book, that's hard to beat.
We took the opportunity to try their pasta specials the following week. Gnocchi was fine, in a good, rich tomato sauce, the ziti was nothing special. Both dishes would have benefitted from a layer of melted cheese. (If I could ask this place to do one thing, it would be to retire the shakers full of powdery-dry “parmesan”) But the ravioli was excellent. Hand made pasta enveloped some very tasty filling, we were told the ravioli was meat-filled but we had both meat and cheese filled ravioli in our take out dish which was just fine with me. If you have the choice, the cheese filled ravioli is really a standout.
All three dishes were priced under $10 for a generous serving of pasta and bread. (I’m told they serve salad if you stay but we had ours to go, there was no salad offered.)
Unpretentious, totally local and old school, this is great comfort food for a night that’s not-quite-the-weekend yet.
We’ll be back.