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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Comfort Food

There are many nights, certainly, when you want sophistication and complexity, to cook or to eat. Many of the dishes we have made  and restaurants we have reviewed for this blog are aimed precisely at satisfying this impulse--the layering of diverse yet complimentary flavors, the excitement of an unexpected fusion, and the satisfaction of taking a risk and succeeding. These nights are not all nights, however. On some nights, it is getting late, and dark, and the sunshine of the prior weeks has given way to pounding rain and wind that rips thick branches from the trees, and you find yourself alone, and uncertain, and missing someone. Tonight has been that sort of night for me. If I'd had the means of making them, it would have been the kind of night for a grilled cheese sandwich (perhaps according to Anne's excellent ideas for them), some tomato soup, and a Star Trek marathon. Instead, I decided to wander down through the rain to Hops and Vines.

The Williamstown area has several good places to indulge such an urge in fact. In a coming post I'll review two more of them: the Purple Pub, which opened a couple of years ago (replacing an earlier but unrelated place of the same name that burned down)  at the end of Spring Street, the main commercial strip on campus, and The Forge, a local institution about 25 minutes drive away that offers terrific wings and a truly massive selection of interesting beers. Hops and Vines is of particular interest, however, in that it actually aims to satisfy both of the impulses I specified above at once. It inherited a space (from Mezze, which has migrated about 15 minutes drive away, sadly just out of walking distance) with two dining rooms separated by a passageway, and has built this division into its core identity.  On one side is Vines, a brasserie and wine bar, offering dishes such as beet risotto with goat cheese ($16, or $10 for a small portion), Italian eggplant with white bean puree and house-made dolmades ($16), and pan seared diver scallops with fennel, coriander, and orange ($24), as a wide variety of wine and signature cocktails like the Berkshire Apple Rye, composed of Bullet Rye, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, apple cider, and sparkling wine ($8).

Many of these are items I look forward to trying, but on this night I steered straight for the Hops side, a bar with low, sturdy wood tables, two flat screen tv's, and a popcorn machine. The bar side's menu only has four items (though anything from the Vines side menu can be ordered): wings in three varieties ($10), poutine, sliders (with onions, bacon, and cheddar) and fries, and my choice for the evening, Belgian ale macaroni and cheese with a pretzel crust (all $9). It also boasts a fairly large section of craft beers on draught, including several that I very much enjoy: several IPA's including Dogfish Head's classic, well balanced 60 Minute, Sam Adam's crisp Latitude 48, and an intense, intriguing Black IPA  by Otter Creek, as well as a Belgian Abbey-style ale by NY brewery Ommegange, a classic English bitter called Old Speckled Hen, and a coffee porter by the local Berkshire Brewing Company (all between  $5.50 and $7). In an attempt to watch my spending, however, I decided to try the house lager (a very affordable $3.25). When it arrived, I was pleased to discover a crisp, smooth beer with a well-rounded, lightly woody flavor and hints of a honey-like sweetness. The macaroni and cheese similarly did not disappoint; the pasta was al dente, the sauce hot and flavorful, with a mustardy background  and plenty of contribution from the Belgian ale (though a bit on the thin side), while the well-browned crust packed plenty of aged cheese flavor and made surprisingly good use of the substitution of hard pretzel pieces for the standard breadcrumbs. I ate, drank, munched popcorn and watched the Red Sox rack up a few runs (somewhat uncharacteristically for this season), and when I departed, things did not seem nearly so grey as before.

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  1. Sounds like the perfect local spot. I happen to love many of the beers you mentioned. Maybe they will see your post and add the grilled cheese sandwich to the menu!

  2. Great review: makes me want Hops' mac-and-cheese NOW!

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