Macaroni and cheese in the middle of the menu, in the section with the largest entrées? Mussels with fennel sausage and kale in a rich broth of tomato and spice? Sticky toffee pudding?
When the cold snap came, my friend Sandy suggested we go out to dinner. Two days before, the peepers were singing in a thunderstorm so loudly that I could hear them from my study, and she had come in telling me to step on the porch and listen to them. On this Sunday afternoon the late April snow had frozen two inches deep on my windshield. We decided we needed a little frivolity.
We remembered a recommendation from old friends and, on a whim, without stopping to think too much, we met in North Adams at Public Eat + Drink. It’s a block or two off the Main Street, and it took me some circling to find the front door, but once inside the room opens into brick walls, wooden tables and a wall of broad windows looking over the town lights to the mountains.
And we looked over the menu and crowed. Purple potato chips. Broccolini and fried Brussels sprouts. Falafel with Maple Brook Farm feta. Here was a mix of comfort food from many places — Greek wrap, British pudding, Spanish flatbread … — and a mix of local sources and flavors as unexpected as they were cheering. Whoever put this menu together, we said, they had a good time doing it — and they were smart about it.
She offered me a taste of her ginger beer, not the soft drink but a beer with a pungent kick, and we were laughing as we debated our choices. When’s the last time you saw an ice cream sandwich in a dessert menu? I remembered a bakery café near UCLA where a friend brought me many years ago after visiting the desert plants in the botanical gardens — you could choose any two cookies and a flavor or ice cream to put together.
She started with the fish and chips. The white fish came meltingly flaky, lightly breaded and crisp, and the french fries, skin on, were silken and lightly sweet.
“This,” she said, holding one up, “was a potato this morning. It was probably a potato this afternoon.”
I pried mussels gently free, using a mussel shell as a pair of tongs. My sister taught me this trick years ago at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, on a summer evening when we shared a meal under a tent. But these mussels came with the kind of sweet Italian sausage I’ve had all my life at the local Neapolitan pizzeria, and kale steamed soft, and two thick slices of a spongy ciabatta to soak up the sauce.
On a raw spring evening, as the lamps touched the oil paintings of mill-town scenes on the wall, it felt freeing. We traded family memories and relaxed into a good cup of coffee. The ice cream sandwich came with chocolate chip cookies and a vanilla ice cream as rich as frozen custard or Jersey cream.
And her peach-mango cobbler came as an individual pastry baked in a glass jam jar. We stared at it as a thing of beauty, and I said I had to learn how to do that — in peach season.
So we sat and talked until the last of the coffee got cold and told each other we would come back here again. Next time we have something informal to celebrate, we said. Finding this place gave us a jolt of energy, like hearing the peepers call for the first time after the equinox.