Pera Mediterranean Bistro Brings A New Accent To Williamstown
By Amy Krzanik
The first thing you notice about Pera’s owner, Fahri Karakaya, is that he’s there. I mean, he’s in the restaurant and he’s handing you the menu and he’s pouring your water and he’s checking on your food. The restaurant employs friendly servers, so these things aren’t necessarily his job, but Karakaya does them gladly because he wants to make sure your visit to Pera is enjoyable.
Karakaya was born and raised in Turkey, and worked for ten years in the Pera district of Istanbul. Though very well traveled (14 countries and counting), Karakaya decided to move to his favorite country, the U.S., in 2001 to study Hotel and Restaurant Management in Connecticut. After taking an internship in Florida, he settled there for 11 years, earning an MBA, and working as a food and beverage manager at The Breakers in Palm Beach, one of the world’s toniest hotels. He returned to the Northeast only when his wife, Mel, was offered the job of innkeeper at The Porches in North Adams.
The Pera Sampler ($15) includes hummus, tabouli, grape leaves, falafel and smoky grilled eggplant puree. Photo by Ralph Hammann.
The move to the Berkshires was a lifestyle change in many ways for Karakaya; after excelling for years in the upper echelons of his industry, he now found himself unemployed and, frankly, bored. Karakaya looked for work for several months with no success. Even though he had 30 years of experience under his belt (the man had even taken a 6-month-long wine course!), Karakaya says he wasn’t looking for pay commensurate with what he was making at The Breakers. “The money was not important to me,” he says. “I just wanted to work, to use what I know to help people.”
He eventually gave up and had a heart to heart — with himself. “I said ‘Fahri, you’re old, short, bald and ugly. No one wants to hire you, so you need to start your own business.’”
He opened what is now TaBellas Italian Cuisine in North Adams in April of 2012, but had his eyes trained on Pera’s current home on Spring Street in Williamstown. He’d noticed the busy street had an international flavor (Indian, Thai and Japanese, Mexican), yet no Mediterranean establishment. “It was always a dream to have this spot,” he says, and last year, he got it. Pera opened this past October and weathered (sometimes literally) a long, slow winter. But locals have taken to his new venture, and the restaurant’s word of mouth is good.
From top: Sauteed falafel, Greek salad, and spanikopita that the author couldn’t wait to eat.
And, more importantly, so is the food. I’ve always been a fan of spanikopita, and Pera’s Executive Chef Randall Beaudoin does it well — a deliciously flaky appetizer with just the right spinach-to-feta ratio. Falafel, too, has always been a favorite, but until I had it at Pera I had absolutely no idea what I was missing. Falafel usually comes round and deep-fried, but Pera’s appetizer ($8) is flat, sautéed in olive oil and served with cusabi dipping sauce (a creamy concoction made with cucumbers and wasabi). Consider me a falafel snob from now on.
In fact, nothing on Pera’s menu is fried; the lamb for the lamb burger ($10, with arugula, feta cheese, and cusabi dressing) is ground fresh daily; the menu includes seasonal offerings like a summer watermelon salad; and the popular mussels appetizer changes flavors daily. Dinner ($15-$29) is a mix of American and Mediterranean dishes, and includes the popular Calamari Fra Diablo, Mediterranean scrod, and chicken or lamb kebabs.
Save room for dessert ($6-$7), though, because they’ve got amazing baklava, gelato from SoCo Creamery as well as flourless chocolate cake and Irish whiskey cake from Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery located right over the border in Bennington.
Karakaya and Beaudoin excel at their goal of serving quality food at affordable prices. And locals appreciate it, evidenced by a packed house at lunch and dinner times. Outside tables are available, but the inside, with its warm colors, elegant dark wood tables and nighttime candlelight, might be even better.
Pera Mediterranean Bistro
60 Spring Street, Williamstown, MA
Open Sunday—Wednesday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.