Cantina 229: A Convivial Gathering Space In New Marlborough
By Hannah Van Sickle Barrett
Photos courtesy Cantina 229.
Cantina 229 — a nod to both the restaurant’s address and the New Marlborough, Mass. telephone exchange — is less about the menu, neither Mexican nor Italian, but rather the owners’ vision for a space that would be a destination, a proverbial watering hole-turned-gathering place. Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel splashed onto the dining scene last summer in an experimental capacity, opening the gorgeous 1,500-square-foot post-and-beam barn on their country property for Taco Tuesdays. What began as a simple family tradition — Irwin crafting tacos for up to 25 friends and extended family members on any given week — quickly became a South County destination once word got out. Taco Tuesdays will return this summer, to honor the restaurant’s beginnings, but for the rest of the week Cantina 229 will be showcasing world fare made local.
Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel
Last Friday night I reserved two seats at the bar, a deep, L-shaped construction made of exotic Douglas Fir milled from the property. Bartender Austin Rapisarda welcomed me and my friend Dawn, and mixed up a round of refreshing cucumber margaritas ($12), a pleasing combination of tequila, cucumber-lime slush, and Combier. He explained how he had built the bar over the winter out of remnants of beams found in a burn pile out back and fronted it with original barn doors from the property.
The concept for Cantina comes from the couple’s appreciation for top-notch ingredients, a passion for creating fun food and serving it in a way that encourages diners to share, to experiment, to taste and to enjoy. “We’re taking a worldly menu and making food with ingredients we raise ourselves while supporting the farmers around us” says Irwin.
Cantina’s open-concept kitchen is visible from every seat in the house. With Irwin’s penchant for creating food for tasting and sharing in mind, I ordered an array of small plates that would allow us to understand not only his culinary vision but also the dining experience the couple is hoping to cultivate. We started with rillette croquettes ($12), crispy pulled pork piled atop pickles, cilantro aioli and mustard greens followed with beet tartine ($10), a base of Berkshire Mountain Bakery olive bread, roasted red and golden beets, Rawson Brook chevre and black pesto.
It’s clear that Irwin knows his ingredients; what becomes evident, impressive really, is that he knows the farmers just as well. He raised the pork we were served, his greens were from Jan Johnson at Mill River Farm, and he told us that Susan Sellew, of Rawson Brook Farm, had been out of chevre that morning but had whipped up a batch at his request. A visit to Steve Cunningham’s Berkshire Bounty Farm, just down the road, allowed Irwin to “fill up a bucket, and make up the menu.”
We ordered a second round of drinks, this time opting for the Road Runner ($12), a festive mix of bourbon, Campari, hibiscus syrup and lemon balm from the lawn just beyond the bar. What then followed was a showcasing of Irwin’s culinary magic, punctuated by echoes of his varied experience living in India training with a home chef, learning street curries in Thailand, and making soup dumplings in China. Pork and ginger dumplings ($10) were made with more of Irwin’s own pork served with sesame and scallion dipping sauce. Then came pa jun ($8), a crisp leek, scallion and chive pancake.
Both Dawn and I were treated to our first experience with bibimbap ($15), a melange of crispy rice, marinated vegetables, kimchi, fried egg, crispy shallots, bap hot sauce and bulgogi beef. Perhaps my favorite was a diminutive serving, two gorgeous bites, of the MA striped bass entree ($24) served with a bright green basil spaetzle from the kitchen garden, baby squash and buttered garlic scapes.
The atmosphere is lively and convivial yet intimate; The bar seats eight, and there is one centrally located community table, a smattering of two-tops and four giant picnic tables outside. Irwin and Rachel are excited to debut this season, serving dinner five nights a week year round. “There are restaurants and there are places you go to eat; we want to be the latter… a place to socialize,” says Irwin. Despite Cantina’s remote feel, it’s a mere seven miles from downtown Great Barrington and well worth the foray into the “wilds” of New Marlborough.
229 Hartsville New Marlboro Road
New Marlborough, MA
Open nightly (closed Wednesday and Thursday) , 5-9 p.m.
Sunday brunch beginning at 10 a.m.