Pleasant and Main: A restaurant that should be embraced
Last Saturday was one of those remarkably beautiful, sunny, cool, perfect days we’ve at times been having in June, and our closest Berkshire friends suggested going out together for brunch. With Martin’s (of Railroad Street) lamentably gone, we consider the alternatives and head for Housatonic to Pleasant and Main. Actually, though we all really liked Martin’s as admirably solid and serviceable, the Housatonic cafe is on another level, an utterly different experience altogether. There’s artistry here. The food we had was distinctive: Two of us had an asparagus/ morel quiche made from ingredients harvested nearby; another had pancakes—light with the freshest berry sauce; and the fourth had wonderful French toast with fruit. The last time we had brunch at Pleasant and Main, we had crepes that were the most delicious we could ever remember or imagine having. None of us are foodies or food critics, though we’ve all enjoyed the various restaurants and cafes in Great Barrington, Egremont, Stockbridge and Lenox for many years, but Pleasant and Main Cafe stands out. Even for the two of us, who spend much of our lives in Manhattan and have culled our favorite places there over decades, this Housatonic restaurant’s food holds its own with the best things we’ve had there—and the really generous portions and very reasonable prices are added bonuses.
The heart of the operation is Craig Bero, who came to Housatonic after many years of restaurant experience in Greenwich Village. To speak to him about this bar, that iconic restaurant and cafe, is to see that he knows all there is to know about the West Village from the late 1970s on. Talking to him arouses many of our memories of those places, years, people—most of the places long gone to high rents and the city’s constant flux. (One of our most indelible memories is of Food, an artist-founded and -run restaurant in ‘70s SoHo and one of the first significant restaurants in a gritty neighborhood of artists that was slowly transforming into yet one more upscale Manhattan area filled with tourists and high-end consumers.)
But back to Pleasant and Main: It’s all the restaurant experience and flair Craig brings to food preparation that makes him truly a gift to us in this area. He puts in long hours and manages, cooks, waits, grows and picks some of what he cooks, and he may even wash the dishes. In addition, he has a strong community consciousness, offering $15 community suppers most days of the week. Our feeling is that if this place were located on Railroad Street, it would daily have long lines of people waiting an hour for entry. But the mere 10- to 15-minute drive to Housatonic, though it directly borders Great Barrington, seems an obstacle to Barrington residents. And Housatonic—once an old paper and textile mill town and full of history and character—has not yet become an upscale tourist village, so it contains little pedestrian traffic. In fact, when we were in town, there was not another person to be seen on its silent streets. Consequently, the restaurant is not a place that people accidentally trip over—one has to consciously decide to go there.
Lori works in the kitchen—a warm, hospitable presence—and Michael at the tables. And the huge idiosyncratic space of the place can itself be an attraction, with its walls lined with old objects, stained glass tableau, a garden with a zany, antique charm. Though we find it a bit excessive, most people, including our friends, love it and find the books and objects add to the restaurant’s attraction. You feel welcome in a personal way in the place, and you can linger in lively talk with your friends as we did, without feeling you should move on. A soothing Miles Davis recording was playing, adding to the pleasure of sitting there.
But above all, it’s clearly Craig’s love of and talent for food preparation (and foraging) that makes eating in this place so distinctive and sophisticated an experience. It’s a gem of a place that needs to be rediscovered again and again.