GREAT BARRINGTON, Massachusetts — What's better than chocolate cake?
For you, it might be a really good beer or a great sandwich, even a really fresh salad but for me, it's chocolate cake. So you should know, even if the rest of the menu at Barrington Brewery was just OK, I'd still go there for the cake.
Situated on Route 7, on the fringe of Great Barrington, the Barrington Brewery prides itself on serving "solar powered" beer brewed on the premises. For $4.95 you can try five of them served in three-ounce glasses set in a wooden tray. It was fun to try the beer but the real appeal of the Great Barrington Brewery for me was the food.
We arrived at 6 on a Friday night. The place was pleasantly busy with beer lovers enjoying happy hour in the pub while couples and families had dinner in the rustic dining room.
The decor is typical for a Berkshire pub, rustic and low key with a whiff of "Ye Olde English" about it, but unpretentiously so. Rough-hewn wooden tables and benches are surrounded by walls decorated with quaint farm and brewery memorabilia. It's comfortable and makes for a congenial setting for a relaxed Friday night supper.
Barrington Brewery offers specials for every weeknight. On Friday, the special is a New England Fish Fry. Served with salad, it includes scallops, cod, shrimp, cole slaw and fries. The Fish Fry is a big meal, so if you also want to try their soup or share an appetizer, you might want to share one plate between two. That's especially true if you plan on dessert.
We started with cheddar ale soup. I have never understood the appeal of soups that are basically melted cheese and beer heated together but this soup was excellent, sharp, tasty, rich and satisfying. Topped with crunchy croutons and served with a good loaf of bread, it was a great start to the meal. A cup was ample.
The salad that comes with the nightly specials is a good-sized side salad. It's balanced and fresh. It's a real salad that you'd pay extra for in many restaurants, which made it a pleasant surprise. It arrives at the table before the entree. The contrast of the fresh, crisp salad with the rich mellow soup made me feel a little less guilty about eating an entire plate full of fried food.
Our fish fry was good, hot and fresh. The batter was crisp and tasty and the plate was not overwhelmed with french fries. The fish fry is served with cole slaw, tartar sauce and cocktail sauce — with the ketchup on the table and vinegar available on request, I don't think you could ask for much more.
My partner found the scallops a little small but I think, for $14.95 for a good-sized serving of three kinds of fresh seafood, that's quibbling.
We talked, we laughed we ate and when we were done, my thoughts returned to the dessert display and that great, big cake. We asked for a dessert menu.
If you don't want cake, you can choose from three different pies, a lemon tart, choclate tart, brownie sundae, cheesecake or a fruit crisp. All of them looked good, but for me there was no question. We ordered a piece of the chocolate stout cake to share and I will be back for another to keep to myself on a night when I eat a much lighter dinner.
Because there is nothing light about this chocolate cake. Wrapped in fudgy dark chocolate icing, it is three layers high. Rich and heavy, moist and soft — deeply chocolatey with a mellow undertone that could only come from the addition of house-made stout. This cake calls out for an ice cold glass of milk, if you can manage it. But with or without milk, it's a classic.
And it's huge. Honestly, between three of us I wasn't sure we would finish it. I was wrong.
So, do yourself a favor, any night you're in South County and don't feel like cooking, head down to the Barrington Brewery. The prices are modest, (three of us ate well for around $70) the service friendly, and most important of all, beer or no beer, they're cooking what you want to eat.