Mezze Bistro + Bar Makes Its Move in Williamstown
Photographs by Jason Houston
When Nancy Thomas opened Mezze fourteen years ago on Water Street, she was behind the stove. Her restaurant had 50 seats and served mostly mezze—small plates of exoctically spiced food inspired by her Moroccan mother. It quickly became the hangout for academics and the dot.com crowd (led by Bo Peabody of Tripod.com) that was working and partying hard in Williamstown. Eventually, she moved the restaurant up the street, expanded to 100 seats, partnered with Peabody, and refocused the menu by hiring chefs who were as excited as she was about local farm-to-table cuisine. She then opened Café Latino at MASS MoCA (now closed) and Allium in Great Barrington while Mezze and its catering division became as integral to the community as The Clark, MASS MoCA, and Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Now, Thomas is wearing high heels and dresses at Mezze’s new, airy home just south of town on Cold Spring Road (aka Route 7.) “My bankers said I should really own my locations,” says Thomas, an Oklahoma native, who purchased the old Jae’s Inn (previously Le Jardin) at auction. “I really wasn’t expecting to get it, but it allowed us to own our catering kitchen, too, which really made sense though we were sad to leave MASS MoCA [where her catering operation as based].” Located in a park-like setting next door to Sheep Hill (50 acres proteced by the Williamstown Rual Lands Foundation), Mezze is surrounded by a newly planted native, edible landscape that will develop over three to five years. “I am not planning to farm here,” she says. “But I am trying to tell my story in a new way and express a real connection to the land.”
As a farm-to-table advocate, she believes in supporting local farmers and celebrating native foods. “My chef, Joji Sumi, goes to Mighty Food Farm almost every day,” says Thomas, whose current menu credits Cricket Creek Farm, Peace Valley Farm, Berle Farm, Northeast Family Farms. Although most of these farms are within 15 minutes of the restaurant, she believes that the Berkshires is best suited to raising animals, and that the adjacent Hudson and Pioneer Valleys can grow vegetables more efficiently on a larger scale. “Part of my outreach to young talent is to explain what incredible animals people are raising here,” she says. “Young chefs like to butcher their own meat and make charcuterie.” She loves Sumi’s “American Charcuterie Plate” ($10) that pays homage to his midwestern roots by remaking middlebrow classics with local ingredients: beef jerky, summer sausage, and a walnut cheese ball that is a riff on a women’s magazine favorite from the 1960s. But most of the menu is totally contemporary: local radishes served with minted English pea butter ($7), warm asparagus salad with morels & Mighty Food Farm egg ($12), fried organic tofu with mushroom miso broth and Mighty Food Farm bok choy ($12); fettucine with Cricket Creek Farm pork & veal Bologonese ($21); grilled bistro steak with mizuna & arugula salad ($20).
The new Mezze, which opened to the public on June 6, has a lovely graciousness. “I think I have gotten more feminine in my taste,” says Thomas, who had the walls painted a stylish pale gray and the ceiling a vibrant peacock blue. “I did funky things like have all the built ins painted a hot-pink beet color, and used 1960s chairs from the old Taconic Restaurant. I recycled the marble tops from the sushi bar that was here before and brought the bar that I saved from Verdura where Allium is now. I had been storing it in a barn. And the outdoor furniture on the deck is recycled from Café Latino. I wanted this restaurant to have a sense of our history.” The bar, which stays open most nights until 1 a.m., is designed for dining earlier in the evening. “We have a lot of mature diners who want to eat casually at the bar,” she says. “I always have lamps on the bar. They make it cozy.”
Although she’s a very hand’s on boss, she defers to North Adams gallery owner Kurt Kolok about what contemporary art to show on her walls. “I love working with Kurt,” she says. “This is such a serious art community with so many scholars. I could never choose art myself.” There are guest rooms upstairs but she hasn’t yet decided what to do with them. “I don’t want to be an innkeeper,” she says. “But I wouldn’t mind having chefs and farmers spend the night.”
777 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown; 413.458.0123
Sunday & Monday 5 - 9 p.m.
Tuesday - Thursday 5 - 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5 - 11 p.m. (summer)
Bar open most nights until 1 a.m.