20 Railroad Public House: New Kid On The Block Is A Fast Friend
By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett
20 Railroad Public House, the eatery marked by a green and white striped awning on iconic Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass., is sporting a new moniker and coming alive just in time for the busy summer season. This collaboration between Great Barrington native Ben Downing and Laura Shack of Firefly in Lenox was born of Downing’s “plotting for years to build something with a sense of community.” Not surprisingly “20,” as locals still call it, is doing just that.
Downing, whose first job was working for Dominic Polumbo at Moon in the Pond Farm in Sheffield “one summer many years ago,” has made it a point to connect with local food purveyors. His goal? To make locally sourced, farmer direct produce, antibiotic and hormone free meats, and fish driven fresh from the docks in Boston the focus of what “20” is calling “pub food done right.”
The atmosphere inside is decidedly casual yet updated; an entire wall of exposed brick, punctuated by trendy, metal cage wall sconces, defines the bright dining space. Light streams in through a wall of windows that affords diners a view of life unfolding on Railroad Street. On a recent Friday afternoon at 1 p.m., there were just three tables open in the bustling pub-like atmosphere where I had decided to meet a friend for lunch. I was immediately taken by the day’s blackboard specials, and started with potato croquettes ($9); the appetizer arrived on a white oval plate, atop a generous yet artistic puddle of bright romesco sauce, crumbles of Rawson Brook Farm chevre and a sprinkling of parsley. The presentation was striking, and the accompaniments were just the right pairing of cool and smooth to balance the hot and crunchy indulgence.
There were two additional blackboard specials, both indicative of chef Drew Jacobs’ creative flair and passion for local and seasonally inspired foods: a fried chicken sandwich served with remoulade, bread and butter pickled peppers and a side of potato salad ($14) and a lamb sandwich boasting caper raisin puree and garlic yogurt on a brioche bun with mixed greens ($15).
For lunch, I chose the mussels ($12) from the “Starters and Shared” section of the menu; they arrived in a towering heap, bathed in coconut curry, basil, cilantro, mint and scallions, served with toasted focaccia for mopping up the sweet and creamy broth. I was equally interested in the two versions of the French Canadian specialty on this section of the menu; poutine ($8), featuring house-cut potato frites, cheese curds, Guinness gravy and fresh herbs, as well as the Southwestern poutine ($10), which substitutes tomatillo salsa, pulled pork and cilantro for the cheese curds and gravy.
My friend Patti ordered the Reuben ($14) stuffed with housemade pastrami, Hosta Hill sauerkraut, Swiss and mustard aioli on rye bread, served with house-cut potato fries. The sandwich was ample, piled with tender meat, and the fries were exceptional.
Other menu items that caught my eye were the creative salads — from a kale salad ($9) served with roasted grape tomatoes, creamy manchego dressing, Aleppo pepper and manchego tuile to an asparagus salad ($9) marrying shaved asparagus, roasted asparagus tips, local greens, romesco, foccacia crisp and sherry vinaigrette. There was also a Skyview Farm sweet Italian sausage ($12) from nearby Sheffield, a pulled pork sandwich ($13), a house-ground burger ($15) and a black bean burger ($14). Of particular note is the fact that Jacobs grinds, cures, brines and smokes all of the meats in house.
As we lingered after lunch, the impressive 28-foot mahogany bar from the 1800s began to fill; bar manager Eric Rudgunas, formerly of John Andrews in Egremont, brings a strong focus on craft cocktails to “20,” and as we were leaving a pile of fresh lemons and limes were being put to good use. His creativity was apparent in both the Borracha Fresa ($11) featuring Chinaco blanco, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, strawberry-rhubarb and lemon, as well as in the Stiggins Daiquiri ($11) made from Cana Brava Rum, plantation pineapple, lime and simple syrup.
For the beer enthusiast, “20” offers 10 taps ranging from a 20-ounce Guinness ($7) and Shacksbury Farmhouse Cider ($9) to Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA ($8.50) and Troegs Cultivator Helles Bock ($6). Additionally, Downing and Rudgunas are working on bringing a strong wine presence to the restaurant.
Whether for a weekday lunch, an intimate dinner for two or drinks after a show at the Mahaiwe, 20 Railroad Public House is sure to be a hit in an iconic locale that has been turning out food and drinks for nearly 40 years.
20 Railroad Public House
20 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, MA
Tuesday - Sunday, 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. (bar stays open until midnight)