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Partners CJ Garner, right, and Marcus Lyon opened Common Table in May.
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The building has been completely reconstructed inside.
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Common Table seats about 40 people.
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The Tortured Poet, a cocktail made with Berkshire Mountain Distillery's Greylock Gin, lemon juice, blackberry syrup, and egg white.

Common Table Brings Modern Comfort Food to Cheshire

By Daniel MatziBerkshires Staff
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Marcus Lyon mixes his Taylor Swift inspired cocktail, the Tortured Poet.
 
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Common Table is a transportation device. Walking into the month-old restaurant on South Street in Cheshire, surrounded by the quiet of the sleepy church across the street and the still trees all around, one might feel a shock of displacement on discovering a packed dining room, buzzing with the  energy and life of a city several orders of magnitude larger.
 
Nevertheless, partners CJ Garner and Marcus Lyon hope locals and visitors alike will feel at home here, where their take on "modern American comfort food" has already found a solid base of regulars in its five weeks of operation.
 
The 40-odd seat room, with tall white wainscoting against gray walls, and a bold white-tiled bar, has a streamlined farmhouse feel that complements the simple yet inventive menu Garner and his kitchen crew present each week.
 
A curated mix of pop tracks and classic rock songs lays a backdrop for the many conversations mingling throughout the space.
 
At the beginning of the year this room bore no resemblance to the sleek, welcoming restaurant it is today. Serving as a makeshift storage space for its owner after the last in a string of pizza joints closed here in 2017, the space had to be completely updated and renovated to be usable, let alone attractive.
 
Garner and Lyon, accompanied by Garner's father and friend Bob, installed new plumbing, new heating and cooling, new electrical, and a lot of new kitchen equipment. A wall was built to serve as the bar's backdrop, the drop ceiling was removed and raised, and the ceiling was vaulted over half of the dining room.
 
Windows all along the dining room let in beautiful daylight during lunch, and at night the darkened space is cozy and intimate. 
 
The project took five months and the work speaks for itself.
 
Those months of preparations were just a brief step in the journey Garner has taken since graduating from McCann Technical School where he studied culinary arts. He furthered his formal education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and acquired early experiences interning at The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, and running the cafe at Jacob's Pillow in Becket.
 
For the past 10 years Garner has been heavily involved in local favorites Public Eat and Drink in North Adams, and its sister restaurant District in Pittsfield.
 
Working extensively both in the kitchen and the dining room, Garner is finally applying his experience to his own restaurant, a goal he developed from the very beginning, waiting for the right opportunity to open up.
 
When he saw the "For Lease" sign on the shuttered building in his hometown this past November "it literally was a 30-second decision" to call the landlord and meet with him, which he did the same afternoon.
 
That decision is paying off as Garner, Lyon, and their team welcome about 100 guests a night into the restaurant.
 
If the food is inventive it manages to stay familiar. Garner stresses simply, "I just like good food … I want people to come in hungry and leave full and happy."
 
Diners will certainly leave full, and if they can carry through with a plan to bring part of their meals home with them they'll leave happy as well. Portions at Common Table are generous as well as delicious.
 
On a recent Friday night scallops arrived on a bed of coconut-lime jasmine rice, topped with a sweet Korean barbecue sauce, and served with a side of garlicky spinach. Amazingly Garner created the dish from the ground up, starting with a base of garlicky spinach and taking inspiration from there.
 
A bone-in pork chop would not normally be described as "light," but somehow in Garner's hands, the one served at Common Table gives that impression (though it was large enough to pack up half to-go, with an eye on dessert). It was served with rhubarb compote and a creamy polenta that was pleasantly al dente.
 
The meal began perfectly with a stunningly tasty curried carrot bisque. Chickpeas added a complimentary texture to the creamy soup, and a touch of chili oil provided just a hint of heat.
 
Lunch, served Thursday through Saturday, is essentially a pared-down version of the dinner menu, featuring such dishes as the steak and fries, fish and chips, BLT tacos (the "B" is confit pork belly), and their salads, with the addition of a spinach, onion, and cheddar quiche. Burgers are available day and night.
 
With several entrees on offer at any given time, and a menu that changes at least somewhat on a weekly basis, Common Table could easily serve as a frequent destination for locals. Garners says that even after just one month the restaurant has "created a really strong base of regulars."
 
Garner and Lyon have focused as well on bringing in quality beer and wine. Four taps pour local beers from East Rock, Jack's Abbey, Big Elm, and Beer'd Brewing, and more local breweries are represented in nearly a dozen cans.
 
The wine list is small but varied, and modestly priced. Ten wines are sold by the glass.
 
Lyon creates the restaurant's signature cocktails, including the Tortured Poet, a nod to Taylor Swift and a variation on a gin fizz, here made with blackberry syrup. The house-made syrups also include mint and basil, as featured in the Strawberry-Basil Marg (that's margarita).
 
The pair hope by the fall to create an outdoor lounge where guests can enjoy a cocktail after work, while waiting for a table, or for a late weekend night out.
 
Meanwhile Garner and Lyon plan to keep serving the best meals they can, staying creative, and creating new dishes for their growing number of fans.
 
The restaurant's appearance on an otherwise ordinary stretch of Route 8 is a welcome addition to the Berkshires dining scene, and a bit of good luck for the town of Cheshire.
 
Common Table is open 4 to 9  Tuesday and Wednesday; 11:30 to 10 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The menu is updated on the website

Tags: new business,   restaurants,   

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United Counseling Service Wins Wellness Award

BENNINGTON, Vt. — United Counseling Service is a winner of the 2024 Vermont Governor's Excellence in Worksite Wellness Gold Level Award, presented by the Vermont Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health. 
 
This award is presented each year to organizations across the state that make employee wellness a priority.
 
The UCS Worksite Wellness Committee engaged staff in several worksite wellness initiatives this year, including a Community Supported Agriculture program in partnership with Full Well Farm in Adams, Mass., chair massages for staff, a potluck soup event for staff, quarterly lunches at rotating office locations, and facilitating ergonomic updates for workspaces following recent ergonomic assessments.
 
"We are honored to receive the Excellence in Worksite Wellness Gold Level Award," said Amy Fela, director of operations and co-chair of the Wellness Committee. "This achievement highlights our ongoing dedication to creating a supportive and healthy work environment."
 
UCS is a private, non-profit community mental health center that has been a part of Bennington County's integrated health-care system since 1958. The organization has been designated as a Center of Excellence by Vermont Care Partners.
 
Learn more about the Department of Health's Worksite Wellness Awards here. Learn more about United Counseling Service here.
 
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