High-End Italian Meets the Laid-Back Berkshires
Fiori more than fills the empty void at the end of Railroad Street.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The haunting of Railroad Street has come to an end, hopefully. The dark shell of Pearl's, which has stood empty for nearly two years, is now bustling with a stylish crowd and an impressive menu of new Italian classics.
Enter Fiori, which opened recently at the "bottom" of Railroad Street. Of course, I wanted to go in on opening day and do my little write-up then, but reviewing a restaurant when its first opens is, I feel, in bad form. So, last week when a friend suggested that we meet at the bar for a drink, my curiosity got the better of me.
"Of course, sounds great," I said, thinking that I was being rather gallant by steeling myself against ordering any food, because then I'd absolutely have to write a review.
When I arrived there, I was relieved to discover that my usual attire of jeans and black T-shirt was actually fine. In fact, the place was crawling with jeans and T-shirt folks (one was even wearing a baggy sweat shirt) just looking to eat some good food. But, again, I was not there to eat, just to sip a cocktail and watch everyone's dishes go sailing by leaving the delicious fumes behind to torture me.
Needless to say, the torture didn't last long. I tried sipping my Old-Fashioned with indifference, until my friend piped up.
"You want to get some apps or something? I'm a little hungry."
And that was that. Before I knew it I was looking at a little bar menu (on very nice card stock, I might add) deciding on whether I wanted the cheese plate, the fries with garlic anchovy sauce or the duck liver pate over crispy bread. I finally settled on the pate and this curious little dish that sounded so intriguing I had to try it — anchovy-stuffed sage leaves fried with a panko breading. How could I not. My friend ordered the fries with the sauce and scallops from the dinner menu.
"I'm not trying to impress anyone tonight," she said.
We waited and chatted and enjoyed the general feeling of vibrancy around us. Once our pungent order came, it was all business. In fact, we didn't even try to carry on a conversation for the first 10 minutes. We just savored and sighed.
The pate, which is always an acquired taste, was the perfect mix of salt and the mild, irony tinge of all things liver-related. It was served on warm bread (spread for you) and that warmth seemed to allow the flavors of the pate to mix and soften. After taking a few bites of that farm-y deliciousness, it was time to move on to the anchovies. What struck me immediately was the breading. It was practically greaseless and when I bit into it, my mouth did not fill up with the oil that usually comes out of such a dish. In fact, the panko breading was just a formality compared to the explosion of sage on the palette. It seemed that the flavor would stop there, but the anchovy in the middle immediately dissolved the taste of the sage so that all that remained was a salty, herbal taste on the roof of the mouth.
"You've gotta try one of these," I said, pushing the basket of little fish to my friend. She dove in and had three while I took liberties with her saucy fries.
Don't be intimidated by Fiori's Manhattan, hipster-esque reputation (thanks to Pearl's). Although the high-end Italian cuisine gives pause, especially to local diners, it also encourages you to eat with your hands and savor every bite.
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Riverbend Cafe Serves Up Healthy Fare
Riverbend Cafe, dares her customers to try something new and healthy.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Lindsey Tuller's got a good thing going and she knows it.
For the last eight years, the 31-year-old owner of the Riverbend Cafe (formerly Uncommon Grounds) at 403 Stockbridge Road has been serving up organic coffee, vegan biscotti and specialty smoothies to customers looking for a healthier food experience. And for eight years, they keep coming back for more. The secret to her success, she said, is not being afraid to try something new.
"I get a lot of suggestions from customers and from my employees. I take their input seriously," she said.
The cafe offers up several specialty fair trade coffees.
"We really get everybody in here," Tuller said. "We definitely get more of a family crowd, but we also get the construction guys. At first they come in here and kind of make fun of each other for ordering, especially the soy meats. I guarantee them that they will like the breakfast sandwich with soy sausage, and they always do. It's about trying something new."
In addition to the breakfast sandwich, which is "affordable and fills you up," the menu also includes baked goods, all of which are made on the premises.
"We now do all of our own baking. All of our flours are organic, the bread is homemade, there is no butter in any of our cooking," she said. "We do try to cater a little bit more to the vegans as far as our bakery items go. I don't think any other cafe does what we do."
And does it well. Tuller said the Riverbend is solely reliant on its local clientele to keep the place hopping. Art, statuary and good food make Riverbend home to a diverse crowd of skiers, writers, builders and, most importantly, area residents.
Art, statuary and good food make Riverbend home to a diverse crowd of skiers, writers, builders and most importantly, locals.
The family atmosphere, according to Tuller, is a natural offshoot of the atmosphere surrounding the Riverbend staff itself.
"It's hard to stay inspired in this business. I rely on my employees to keep me inspired. I need them to tell me what I'm not seeing," she said. "We call each other family. We are a family."
Tuller's place at the head of the family table was hard-earned. At 23, she bought the business (that she managed for two years prior to the sale) and became an instant entrepreneur. While most people were supportive of her endeavor, Tuller said she would have done a few things differently.
"For the first four years, I wish I'd asked for more support. I learned that over the years," she said. "A lot of business owners, especially women, have come forward and given me things that they think I need and that's been great. This isn't the kind of business that will pay you while you're not here. I'm not a vacationer. I'm here, every day, right alongside my employees. I'm in it."
The Riverbend Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 413-528-0858.
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