NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mark Petrino is calling it quits and heading West.
"I'm ready for something new," said a cheerful Petrino on Tuesday, who opened his namesake cafe on the Main Street corner barely a year ago. What's new is an offer he couldn't refuse from Colorado State, which will put him back into college food service.
It was Williams College that brought him to the Berkshires, then long miles traveling to colleges around the area for for AVI Foodsystems put him back into restaurant mode. Now he's ready for academia again.
Petrino's is the third eatery to try the corner of Holden and Main, following in the footsteps of the Cup & Saucer and Applachian Bean. It offered up fresh and local fare for breakfast and lunch, with various wraps along with some really great burgers, coffees and specialties. All the sandwiches were named after "relatives" to give it a homey touch. Our favorite is the Cousin Mary (chicken, chipotle sauce and Provolone) with an occasional Counsin Paulie (turkey, spring greens and feta on a panini roll).
It's no secret that the restaurant biz is the hardest, and this season has been brutal — too much snow and cold was keeping people inside. The restaurant has been closed on Mondays since February and rumors of its closure were going around weeks ago. Asked last week on the eatery's status, Petrino said he hadn't made a decision yet.
But Petrino says the new owner (he didn't want to say who yet) is in negotiations with building owner David Carver and is expected to take ownership as soon as next week. The new proprietor is considering getting an alcohol license and change to later hours, he said.
The cafe could close for a couple weeks to give the new owner a chance to do some renovations and "put his stamp on it," said Petrino, but it will be open in time for the avalanche that is the Solid Sound Festival in June.
"He knows Wilco is a cash cow," said Petrino, "he'll be open."
On a related note, we received some concern over the status of Desperados on Eagle Street on Monday after a large blue tarp was seen covering the entrance. No vandalism, broken glass or anything drastic — the restaurant was putting down new floor tile and had covered the entranceway to create a workspace.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — It's been five years but local favorite Desperados is back. The Mexican restaurant will reopen downtown on Monday.
After purchasing the 23 Eagle St. location in September, owner David Atwell only has to wait for a few more permits and a little fine tuning before opening to the public.
"Monday we did a meet and greet with some of my vendors, some people from town, City Hall and friends and family to show them what we did to the place," Atwell said on Wednesday. "We'll have a soft opening to the public on Monday, Tuesday at the latest."
Confident the final licenses will be approved in the next couple of days, Atwell expects to fire up the kitchen this weekend. The North Adams location will feature the same menu as the one in the Colonial Shopping Center in Williamstown. It will be open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It will be closed on Sundays.
Atwell previously said that his first North Adams attempt, on Ashland Street, failed partly because of rental costs. This time, he owns it. Atwell closed with Legacy Bank to purchase the 4,200-square-foot property and its contents for $156,000 in September.
Despite taking over a location that has hosted a string of failed businesses, most recently The Alley which shut down abruptly in January, Atwell expects to stay for a long time.
"We've got 19 years of history in Williamstown so we finally got it right," Atwell said. "It's a small place, easy to manage and we've got a good following in North Adams. We expect to be in this location for a long time."
Atwell also said being one of the few Mexican dining places in the county will help him succeed where others have not.
Colleen Taylor of FYP and Taylor's was chatting up Michael Gallagher of Square Roots Farm.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Food Festival on Sunday had easily its best showing in years, if not best ever. There were more restaurants, more variety, more music and more people — many more people — than the past few years.
The 9-year-old event has had its ups and downs, plagued by rain or searing temperatures and inconsistent participation. Some of the eateries from that first fest don't even exist anymore.
But there's always been a hardcore dozen or so restaurants and food vendors that set up under tents for an afternoon of dining.
Shish kabob & chicken jambalaya
This year, hundreds, likely well more than a thousand, packed Main Street from 1 to 4 to sample from 17 food purveyors. Rod Bunt of the Office of Tourism, which organizes the event, said more than 18,000 tickets (at 50 cents apiece) had been sold by 1:30. That's compared to nearly 15,000 total last year.
"I don't know how many people that is but I'd say it's a lot," said Bunt.
The new setup certainly helped the event's success. Instead of clumping the tents at the east end of the street the entire south side of Main Street was closed off and the tents spread down from about Hoosac Bank past Holden Street. The layout also offered far more seating than before and kept people walking along the street between the tents. The new benches also offered a spot to sit and listen to the musicians playing.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer, chairman of the Community Development Committee, said the idea was to include the galleries at the west end of the street and open the way to grow it next year.
"This was much better," said Kate Schilling of The Hub, whose booth was just a hop away. "It's much more spread along the street and it's a better layout."
The foot traffic also helped Creations, which owner and City Councilor Keith Bona had opened for the afternoon. (Sadder was the "almost free stuff" being picked over in front of Tangiers, which is closing at the end of the month.)
Romaine fresh from the field.
There was a lot of variety, too. Along with the usual pizza suspects, attendees could chose from Spanish, Italian, diner, fine dining, vegan and Indian. And, what seems an obvious addition, fresh root and early garden greens from Square Roots Farm in Clarksburg. I picked up bok choy and some nice-looking radishes; Bona was spotted munching on a stalk of romaine.
Being a regular customer of most of the downtown eateries, I opted to try something different: a beef shish kabob from Lucia's Latin Homestyle Spanish Cooking washed down with a pale ale from Girardi Distributors. The sausage tasted a lot like kielbasa. The beef was great — rare, moist and tender. I also tried some chicken jambalaya from Wild Oats Market that was a lot lighter than expected and had a nice spicy kick.
A half pan of jambalaya was all that was left, said chef Greg Roach, who figured he'd gone through more than 200 servings. The cookies were long gone. Many of the vendors ran out of one or more items by the end of the afternoon; Schilling was cleaned out and the final few bread puddings were given away.
Seven Blakeman of the Elf Parlor said she'd run out of everything by around 3 p.m. "I never did anything like this before," she said. "I didn't know what expect."
Make more mini food like these baby burgers.
Overall, the restaurant owners as well as the organizers were pleased with the turnout. There were plenty of politicians on hand, too. Both candidates for sheriff, Dan Bosley and Tom Bowler, were there with their T-shirted posses; all three candidates for 1st Berkshire District, Gailanne Cariddi, David Bissaillon and Edward MacDonald, were schmoozing. Also spotted in the crowd were a number Clark Art and Mass Moca stickers, a very good sign.
Organizers are hoping for even bigger and better next year. One suggestion, encourage the vendors to offer more small bites for fewer tickets: think amuse bouche. Supreme Pizza was offering its version of Bananas Foster (very sweet) on a toothpick ("That was perfect," said Blackmer,) for a ticket. Lickety Split had peewee cones (Blue Blazer) for two. I had both, and would tried more if I hadn't been full of shish kabob and jambalaya (mostly shish kabob). I forgot to go back and get a mango lassi from Spice Root but I'm not sure I could've fit it in.
What was the best dish in your opinion? Post here or on our Facebook page.
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.