Brew & ‘Que Hits Home in Sheffield
By Nichole Dupont
Just a few short months ago, the only sign of life after dark in the center of Sheffield, Mass. was the light shining from the congregational church tower. But Berkshire native Jesse Watkins and his business partners Jim and Ana Olivieri changed all that when they opened Bash Bish Brew and ‘Que, a no frills — but still warm and welcoming — barbecue joint.
The thick wooden bar is the centerpiece of the vintage-style eatery. Bright red chairs and stools lend an ironic pop to the space, which is often full, even on week nights.
The simplicity should not fool you. The extensive beer selection — local Big Elm collection, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, Allagash White, Pabst, even Coors Light — is a perfect whistle wetter while you mull over the one-page, no-regrets menu.
And what a menu; the stuff of roadhouse dreams. Starter plates include loaded fries (with pulled pork, mozzarella and house gravy, $11); homemade pretzels with beer cheese and horseradish mustard, $6; and a slew of wings with your pick of sauce including Carolina vinegar, habanero-maple or buffalo, $11.
It goes on from there. Sandwiches — pulled pork or chicken, brisket — and burgers, including the Beetnik black bean, beet and quinoa patty ($14), are piled high and served with a healthy side of fries and coleslaw. Dinner platters, all served on aluminum trays, include thick brisket ($18), four-piece fried chicken ($25), St. Louis-style ribs ($16 for quarter rack), and the Pitmaster, a meat extravaganza of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken ($39).
There is no pretense of Southern authenticity here. All of the meat is smoked in-house, using rubs and an alchemy that Watkins and his pit team developed through a series of trial and error, and then success.
The meat is smoked to perfection. Maybe it’s the wood they use, which includes old whiskey staves from Berkshire Mountain Distillers and massive bundles of pear tree kindling that used to line Great Barrington’s main drag. Even the pulled chicken, which always runs the danger of being dry without some added sauce once it hits the plate, is juicy. Each meat has its own unique flavor, unaltered by an overabundance of sauce or so much doctoring it could be anything. The portions are generous. And the buttermilk batter is solid, not corn-flaky, yet it melts on the tongue and gives way to a tender, herby bite.
Meats are the star of the show, they almost have to be, but less than halfway through the meal we realize that the sides are not obligatory ornaments. The crisp and colorful coleslaw is fresh. The golden cornbread — made with a recipe handed down from Watkins’ preschool teacher to his mother, then to him — is nearly as thick as cake, the outside crisp and buttery. The baked beans (made with black beans) are rich with molasses and little bits of bacon. In fact, rendered bacon becomes the base for many of the sides, including the not-to-be-dismissed collard greens.
Brew & ‘Que collards will haunt you after the first bite. They’re salty in the best possible way, and soft (not soggy) and creamy. You can’t get a bite big enough to satisfy what is happening on your tongue. Watkins won’t reveal the exact secrets of this alchemical miracle, but he admits to using rendered bacon (among other ingredients) to etch out the bitterness and bring forward the earthy green.
My dinner date took a bite. Then another.
“I was not expecting that,” she said.
None of us were expecting Bash Bish Brew & ‘Que. We in South County had grown accustomed to the comfort food void. No longer.
Bash Bish Brew & ‘Que
113 Main St., Sheffield, MA
Monday & Wednesday 5-9 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday, 12-3 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.