Out of the Blue and Into the Mouth of The Red Lion
Jane, an old anthropologist friend who has been living overseas for many years, suddenly announced she was coming on a visit to the Berkshires and wanted to take a day to revisit a number of her favorite places here. “Could we get together for lunch?” she asked. Expecting her to want to go to some terribly exotic new place, she surprises me by adding, “I want to go back to The Red Lion. I hear that the chef is a locavore.” You’d have thought that after spending time in the wilds of Madagascar and the rain forests of Brazil, Jane might have preferred something other than was caught in the jungle the night before. But, I guess, we both have always liked fresh things.
And so I found myself sitting down in the more intimate and relaxed Widow Bingham’s Tavern, a space that adjoins the Red Lion’s main dining room but is more cozy and informal. The ceiling is low and the tables smaller, but it makes for a chance to chat quietly, just what we needed to do after not seeing each other for so many years. Jane had many Margraret Mead-like tales of cavorting with the Yananami and adventures in places you or I wouldn’t be caught dead in, while I just talked about Edgar and, of course, the blossoming food scene in the region.
I tend to enjoy a light lunch, but Jane is a big eater, and I knew from past experience that the extensive lunch menu would allow us both to do well. Moments later Kathy, our waitress, bustled over with water and a list of specials. I knew Jane would be pleased that they had hearty specials such as spaghetti and meatballs or the irresistible-sounding pizza with roasted yellow and red tomatoes, olives, and white sauce ((daily specials are priced between $10 and $22). Tentatively I say that I would like to take some time to review the long menu, while at the same time Jane states — quite firmly — that she knows what she wants.
Turning to Kathy she asks if the chicken pot pie ($17) is still on the menu, and if it was good as it was the last time she had it ten years ago. Now, my friend can be quite formidable, especially when dealing with lunch, but Kathy looked her squarely in the eye and, without missing a beat, said that it was as good as it had ever been. Whilst Jane was having her tête-à-tête with Kathy I had had a chance to pick one of my old time favorites for lunch: half a turkey sandwich and a cup of the vegan tomato soup ($12.00). Within minutes Bob, the ever efficient bartender, came over with our glasses of red wine.
My soup came, fresh and zesty with a sprinkle of herbs on top. My sandwich came on a large bed of fresh salad and the slices of turkey and stuffing were thick, moist, and full of flavor. One lovely touch was the smidgen of mayonnaise and cranberry sauce on the bread. Not too much or too little.
Now to the chicken pot pie, which comes in a bowl with a very light puff pastry on top. Kathy offered to help serve it and delicately placed the pastry down on a plate, covering it with thick chunks of chicken and vegetables. (The recipe is on the Red Lion web site). “Excellent,” Jane murmured, finally quieted.
Well, suffice it to say, that executive chef Brian J. Alberg really knows his stuff. The restaurants and bars at the Red Lion have not just kept their old standards up but have seen substantial improvements under his leadership. The ingredients are local and top quality. This is not so much a case of upholding strong traditions but building on them, setting high standards to which future generations will have to aspire. An hour later we had caught up with our news and started to think about more pressing matters: dessert, for instance. The choices were a lemon tart or Indian pudding ($9.00 each). But this was overkill for Jane, who was more than satiated and ready to go and run off to do more exploring. “Let’s see what they have done to the Norman Rockwell Museum!” —Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson