FOR 23 YEARS, MARTIN LEWIS HAS BEEN COOKING IN DOWNTOWN GREAT BARRINGTON, the busy hub of southern Berkshire County. He is the owner and chef of Martin’s Restaurant (413-528-5455, martinsgreatbarrington.com) at the top of Railroad Street, and his front room offers a panoramic view of the town below and the mountains beyond. With plain wood tables and a linoleum floor, Martin’s is not the kind of place whose regular menu waxes poetic about its produce. Yet, like many low-key spots in the Berkshires, ingredients here are as local as they can be — and always have been.
“I’ve always bought locally before it became popular,” says Lewis, who trained in several different New York City restaurants before opening Martin’s in 1989. “If you have a farm in town, it doesn’t make any sense not to buy from it. Why would I get something from California if I can get it here?”
The benefits to local food are clear: It tastes better, may have a higher nutritional content, and is easier on the environment than items shipped across country. But the locavore movement sometimes goes hand in hand with food snobbery and high prices. In Boston, it often feels like you pay a $5 surcharge each time the word “local” shows up on a menu. In the Berkshires, where a farm can be closer than the nearest grocery store, and even the big fluorescent-lit chain options carry local produce, it’s not just high-end places that feature local meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Whether you are visiting the region to see the fall foliage or catch the end of the performing arts season, a weekend of tasty, sustainable dining is possible here with almost any budget.
Martin’s is a friendly, fast way to start a visit to Great Barrington, with many breakfast platters (served all day) for under $8. In season, the fruits and vegetables come from two farms less than 5 miles away. Lewis gets his goat cheese in the neighboring town of Monterey and his eggs, which make for delicious omelets, from a farm just over the New York state line.
There’s plenty of other reasonably priced local food right in downtown Great Barrington, whose blend of boutiques and specialty shops makes for a pleasant morning of strolling. On Saturdays until the end of October, you can visit the farmers’ market (413-528-8950, gbfarmersmarket.org) at the railroad station for local vegetables, eggs, meats, and cheese. Other days, you’ll find some of the same local offerings at the Berkshire Co-op Market (413-528-9697, berkshire.coop), where all the produce is labeled by point of origin and there’s a small cafe alongside the store.
Pizza aficionados may want to brave the lines for lunch at Baba Louie’s (413-528-8100, babalouiespizza.com), which offers gourmet toppings on thin sourdough crusts. Try the Cole’s Creation, decorated with a heavenly blend of feta, tomato, arugula, garlic, red onion, mozzarella, and balsamic vinaigrette ($12.95 for a 10-inch pie).
If you’re traveling with kids, a nice downtown choice for either lunch or dinner is the Gypsy Joynt Cafe (413-644-8811, gypsyjoyntcafe.net). It’s a big, bead-draped room that feels a bit like a disco, but playpens are often parked in the corner for the owner’s grandchildren and extra rolls of paper towels are lined up on the countertops. Owner Keith Weller places a heavy emphasis on buying local, both for taste and to support the region’s economy, on which his and all the restaurants depend. “We try to buy as much as we can as close as we can,” he says, adding that he takes a pragmatic approach: If a farm in town can’t give him the volume of lettuce he needs for his hearty, meal-sized salads ($9.99), as happened recently, he’ll try to get what he needs 50 or 100 miles away.
Order at the counter from Weller’s huge, vegetarian-friendly selection of salads, sandwiches, and pizzas; help yourself to water from a nearby jug; and choose your table. The homemade focaccia is excellent, and a family of four can dine here for under $50 easily, though the savings do come at a price: Customers bus their own tables.
Like all the establishments mentioned above, Gypsy Joynt belongs to Berkshire Grown, a nonprofit formed in 1998. Its executive director, Barbara Zheutlin, says members pledge to “buy and utilize locally grown products to the fullest extent possible.” The organization establishes relationships between chefs and farmers and draws public attention to the importance of these pairings. “Before there even was a [local food] movement, the chefs who care about what food tastes like were buying from farmers because it tastes more delicious,” says Zheutlin.
Some chefs point to an additional benefit of a close relationship between farmers and kitchens: It pushes cooks to be creative. Adam Zieminski is the chef/owner at Cafe Adam (413-528-7786, cafeadam.org), one of the best bets in the Berkshires for a more upscale dining experience. Tucked into a commercial strip a few miles from downtown Great Barrington, Cafe Adam has a swanky, somewhat urban feel, nice for either a romantic meal or dinner with friends. While some items are on the menu year-round, like the delectable pan-seared Massachusetts scallops with parsnip puree ($28), others change seasonally according to what the farmers bring him.
In the fall, Zieminski does a lot with game birds, rabbit, root vegetables, locally foraged mushrooms, and orchard fruits. Interviewed in August, he says he expects his fall offerings will include a smoked local pork belly with caramelized fall mushrooms and a pumpkin tart with coffee syrup. And each day, there’s one special that’s “spur of the moment,” says Zieminski, and might be based on a farmer dropping by with some new item, like Padron peppers from nearby Equinox Farm or an unusual variety of peach one of his staff discovered at a roadside farm stand. Each night’s special “is unique and we try not to repeat it,” Zieminski says. “So you come in that night, you’re part of history.”