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Wing Fling Draws Hundreds, Tingles Taste Buds

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. More photos can be found here.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Olde Forge Restaurant took home the most awards at the 21st annual Wing Fling on Saturday while some others popped into the rankings for the first time.

The people's choice for both the tradition and hot wings as well as the ribs all went to the Olde Forge while Ozzie's Steak and Eggs reeled in the people's choice for best original wings.

In the judge's picks, Zucchinis won the traditional category, with Olde Forge in second and Spice in third; Mission Bar and Tapas won the original, with Betty's Pizza Shack in second and Zucchinis in third; and Halpin's Grub and Grog won the hot category, followed by Olde Forge and Flavours.

The judges also picked the Olde Forge for the best ribs.

For the second year in a row, iBerkshires has sacrificed our taste buds to help out judging at the annual contest. We, again, voted in the hot category and we're starting to get pretty good at judging these things.

Last year, I found that many of the entrees in the hot category focused on bringing the heat and that may have hurt their overall flavor. This year, the heat was tamed a bit and it resulted in great tasting wings.

I like hot wings, so I am looking for the restaurant that handles both taste and heat — I want to both sweat when I eat and for the wings to taste good.

I was torn on my top picks this year; as a judge you cannot tell which restaurant is which, so I can only deduce which ones I voted for. My choice came down to two and it was not easy.

I think that my No. 1 choice was Halpin's because I remembered the sauce was the talk of the competition last year. The chefs at Halpin's certainly don't want me to taste any other wing after theirs with the use of what I suspect is ghost chili. The atomic red color obviously stood out and I held those wings off until last.

While last year, I ranked them lower because of the intense heat, this year they had a much fuller flavor. The heat was mostly a back heat and came after eating the wing and then lingered for next half hour or so. But before that intense heat, the sauce tingled the taste buds with various flavors. They mixed the heat and flavor perfectly this year.

Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski was one of the members of the judging panel, which included some of the county's political and social leaders.
My second place choice, which I suspect was from the Olde Forge, had a great, great flavoring to it. While it was hot, it didn't blow me away. I went back and forth because the judging is supposed to be for the best tasting wing and not the hottest. When I first ranked them, I listed these wings first.

I moved further down my list and looked over my notes and then I didn't know what to do with the hottest ones. I couldn't take away points because of the heat this time because it did not overshadow the flavor. 

I went and ate each wing again. The second wing from each changed my rankings. Those atomic hot wings really did it right — it hurt to eat but was well worth the pain and for that, they earned my vote.

I have no idea who my third place vote went to but I know they had a very sweet but hot sauce.

I am not a food expert but I am getting better at these judging food competitions. In the last year I've judged pizza, chili and wings. It is never an easy task because the chefs take tremendous pride in the food they make and when it comes to a competition, they make even more of an effort.

These competitions really highlight the quality of food being cooked in these restaurants. While the Wing Fling is another source of pride for the restaurants, that isn't the best part about the event. The Wing Fling is one of the largest fundraisers for the Pittsfield Family YMCA.

The competition supports youth programming and 21 restaurants volunteered to enter the competition — many of them have never taken home one of the coveted awards. While they do get free advertisement and some get plaques to hang on their walls, they are the force behind the fundraising efforts for the YMCA that attracts thousands of people every year.

The Wing Fling is a great example of the businesses and the community supporting each other and for that, every restaurant should be commended.
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Annual Strawberry Festival Returns To Stephentown

STEPHENTOWN, N.Y. — Strawberry shortcake will star at the 31st annual Strawberry Festival on Sunday, June 24, under the tent at The Berry Patch on Route 22.  
This fundraiser for the Stephentown Historical Society runs from 11 to 4  or until supplies run out. Locally grown, freshly picked strawberries will be served on biscuits or sponge cake with whipped cream, or with ice cream for sundaes.  Strawberry-rhubarb pie a la mode and  whole strawberry-rhubarb pies will also be sold. The Berry Patch offers jams, jellies, strawberries and a wide array of marvelous fruits and vegetables to take home.  
The Stephentown Strawberry Festival began in 1982 when the historical society was in its infancy and was preparing for the town’s 1984 bicentennial celebration. In the course of 30 years, volunteers from the society have picked and prepared about two tons of strawberries and dished up over 6000 servings of this delectable local product.  
The Berry Patch is 1.7 miles south of the Stephentown traffic light. For additional information, call 518-733-0010, 518-733-1234, or go to www.theberrypatch.net.
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Mad Jack's is Smokin'

By Stephanie Farrington
Berkshire Food

Mad Jack's BBQ recently moved to larger quarters at 295 North St.; below, sides and ribs.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Every time we drove by the little barbecue joint on Fenn Street, I used to say, “we really need to check that place out.” 

Well, by the time we finally did, they had hauled up stakes and moved to a much larger location on North Street. Mad Jack’s is that good.
We made our way there in plenty of time on a Wednesday night about two weeks after the move. The liquor license isn’t ready yet and because of a small fender bender, we arrived pretty late but we still managed to find enough to fill the barbecue craving. If anything, a brush with danger sharpens your appetite, so we were famished by the time we sat down.
Mad Jack’s has moved from being a little hole in the wall take-out place to being a sit-down restaurant big enough to host a live band, something I’m hoping they’ll eventually do.
We ordered dishes to share, a rib sampler, pulled pork, collard greens, mac and cheese, cole slaw and mashed sweet potatoes. They were out of beef ribs so they let me substitute a Texas favorite, smoked brisket.
When you go to a place that’s newly opened or just moved, you need to be a little patient with things. Wait staff are still finding their way, the kitchen is still finding its rhythm and while all of that is true at Mad Jack’s right now, I’m confident it won’t be true forever. 
No matter what, if you want to eat ribs in the Berkshires, this is the place to go. 
Mad Jack’s ribs, dry-rubbed Memphis, baby back ribs and spare ribs, were delicious, sweet and meaty and falling off the bone tender. They were smokey and flavorful, everything you want in a rib. And if you’re not from Texas, the brisket was pretty darned good, too. (Texans prefer their brisket sliced and as an honorary Texan, I do, too.)
The pulled pork was smokey and tender, portions were generous, too. Just before our dinner arrived, Soleil, our server, plunked a beer case on the table, it was full of different sauces. Five different kinds — decisions, decisions. 
About the sides, here’s the thing; when I go out for Southern food, I don’t want it gussied up. Southern-style collard greens are the only vegetable I know that benefits from being overcooked — and I mean way overcooked. If you’re serving barbecue and your greens aren’t olive drab, limp and swimming in “pot liquor” (the juice from the greens mixed with fatback drippings and whatever seasonings are in there) they’re not greens. 
An emerald-green, barely wilted baby bok choy plant sliced in two and arranged artfully on a plate, well, it might have lots of vitamins and it might be pretty but that’s not greens. 
Thankfully, Mad Jack’s gets it. Our greens arrived in a bowl, suitably limp, oozing flavor and having been cooked for more than an hour, yum.

Top, the man behind Mad Jack's: Jabari Powell. Right, hush puppies.
Macaroni and cheese was exactly right, not too mushy but stodgy and cheesy, a great foil to the sweet sauce on the barbecue and the near-bitter tang of greens. And while the peach cobbler was not actually cobbler but peach pie, it, too, was really very delicious. It was good enough that we ate the whole thing despite being far too full to finish our dinners. (You have to order the cobbler when you order your dinner so we didn’t know we’d be that full.)

There are some debates to be had over things like hush puppies (I think they should be fluffier) and cole slaw (I like mine on the sweet and tangy side, Mad Jack’s is salty) but you can get sweet potato pie at Mad Jack’s and that’s something to be cherished — I could eat it all day.
The salads looked fantastic, imaginative and tasty, there’s fried chicken for those days you really need it (and who doesn’t have those days?) And the prices are down-home sensible. The bill came to $40 before the tip. My rib sampler came with enough food to feed both of us, easily. 
As it was, we ate leftovers for lunch the next day and were happy to have them.
But really? It’s all about the ribs. Mad Jack’s does a great take-out business and no wonder but it’s a place that’s really poised to become somewhere like the legendary barbecue and blues joints they have in Texas and the Carolinas. Add in some music and some local beer and you have a perfect place to spend a hot Friday night.
Can’t wait.

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Mount Lebanon Fest Promises Herbal Delights

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — The first annual Mount Lebanon HerbFest celebrates the intertwining of herbs and local history in the heart of Lebanon Valley, the birthplace of the nation's herbal pharmacy on June 9 and 10.

The two-day festival starts on Saturday, June 9, with downtown events sponsored by local businesses around herbs. Restaurants and stores marked by green balloons will provide samples and promotions on meals, products and services. Guided walks and talks will take place in several local venues. Local lodging establishments are offering special rates to festival attendees.

On Sunday, June 10, the HerbFest moves to the historic Shaker grounds of Mount Lebanon on the Darrow School campus. Thirty workshops, walks and seminars include hands-on sessions that utilize herbs for a variety of products and cooks will demonstrate techniques with herbs and garden experts will speak to growing them.

Admission to the June 10 activities is $10 per person or $20 per family. Registration is suggested at www.mountlebanonherbfest.com. The HerbFest is held rain or shine.

The HerbFest is a project of the Lebanon Valley Business Association. For information or vendor application contact Linda Hursa at 518-794-8800 or angelstrumpetflowers@yahoo.com.
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Haflinger Haus Bringing Austrian Cuisine To Adams

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

The main dining room is decorated with a historic feel.
ADAMS, Mass. — The wait for wiener schnitzel, kasespatzle or hahnchen gerostet is over.

The Haflinger Haus in the former Harrington's Restaurant on Commercial Street is open for business with a menu filled with Austrian favorites. The restaurant and inn had a soft opening on Monday — opening for the dinner hours.

"It's got charm," said 25-year restaurant business veteran Dan Dougherty, who is the general manager. "It reminds me of walking into 1925."

The historic building was purchased last December by former Selectman Donald Sommer as a "reclamation project." Sommer and his family purchased the building for $110,000 and has put what Dougherty estimates is about $100,000 worth of renovations into it. The goal, Sommer previously said, is to "bring life into the building" after it has sat dormant since 2010.

Sommer hired Alexis Girhiny, former director of career services and instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, as head chef. Girhiny boasts more than 25 years in culinary including two stays in south Germany, where she learned to cook Austrian food.

"I lived in a town that borders Austria for six years. I understand the whole 'hearty' culture," Girhiny said on Thursday.

There are four rental rooms upstairs.
Sommers often travels to Austria, which is his heritage, and owns Haflinger horses, for which he named the restaurant and decorated with photos of — bringing that culture to a town that has no other restaurants like it.

The Haflinger Haus will be open from 5 until 9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 5 until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It will be closed on Mondays. The tavern will open at 4 p.m. The menu is available below.

Once reconstruction is completed on the porches, which Dougherty said will "hopefully be completed in a month," there will be outdoor seating. Four upstairs rooms were renovated for rental so the restaurant operates as an inn as well.

The last two operations out of that location, once the Adams Rest Home, went into foreclosure. The first was Silvia's Inn and the second, Harrington's Restaurant. Succeeding where others have failed will be based on providing "good food, good service at a fair price," Sommers previously said.

Haflinger Haus Menu 2012
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