By Nichole Dupont
The first thing you notice about Botanica
, the newest torchbearer of café culture in Great Barrington, is that there are a lot of plants. So many, in fact, that they steam up the windows — a marked tropical rebellion against the cold outside. Big glossy banana leaves, dozens of brilliant red and pink amaryllis, some succulents… all in pots, all beautiful and all for sale.
This is not the first time I’ve been to Botanica since its quiet opening the day after Thanksgiving. And I know I wasn’t the only one who was chomping at the bit, waiting for the café/plant shop to open. In fact, according to co-owners Carla Blades, a well-known local baker, and designer Adam Medina, they had to paper the windows while they remodeled the space at 34 Railroad Street (formerly the Seeds housewares store) because so many people were peeking in. Now, the 12-foot front windows give way to ample sunlight in the long galley cafe, which enjoys even higher, pressed tin ceilings and a clean, open layout that is equal parts sunroom, eatery and micro-market.
“A place like this is kind of like a cultural establishment,” says Medina. “There is an immediate sense of belonging where we can contextualize ourselves in our daily lives.”
The second thing you notice about Botanica: there is no official, recognizable percolator. Instead, eight single-cup glass filters hang from the wall behind the bar. It's a guarantee that every cup of coffee is fresh, made with beans roasted exclusively for the café at Assembly Coffee Roasters
in Pittsfield. In addition to pour-overs, the beverage menu includes the usual suspects — espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, flat white — all churned out from an impressive Slayer espresso machine and served in Botanica’s now signature red cups. I ask if they have milk alternatives for lactose wimps like myself. Blades is already shaking her head no.
“We don’t have almond milk, we don’t do soy milk,” Blades says.
“But I want to try the cortado,” I say. “I can’t do milk. It will ruin me.”
“Oat milk,” she says with finality. “Seriously. It’s delicious.”
Turns out I’m not the only one with a milk "difficulty" (a few of the charming baristas and Blades herself can sympathize). The oat milk cortado — I’m a devoted coconut milk girl — is rich, and, of course, complements the coffee. Other non-coffee beverage offerings include Burnt Sugar Lime and Rose Petal Honey house sodas, a Maple Steamer, assorted teas, and even root beer floats.
The temptations are many. And there’s the food. Everything on the one-page menu is familiar, yet foreign within the context of the Berkshire victual culture. Definitely something you’ve seen before, just needing a little nudge out of palate nostalgia. Steel cut oats served with rock salt and marmalade, or with seared pears and almonds ($9), baked eggs with bacon, leeks and fresh ricotta (served in a small skillet, $13), and egg tacos with a healthy hit of chorizo and lime sour cream ($11) all round out a simple, yet flavorful breakfast menu. Salads highlighting seasonal offerings — pears, oranges, olives, lavash crisps — give way to flavorful mains and soups.
“I love food, we love food,” says Medina. He is waiting on his own polenta bowl to power up for the busy day ahead. “What we have here, people are familiar with. It’s traditional food but it’s interesting. It’s not limited.”
There are subtle changes in the menu from week to week, but one staple that many revisit is the Sopa de Lima. I’ve had it at least three times. You can actually feel yourself not wanting to carry on casual conversation while savoring this wide bowl of chicken, mountain yam and chipotle lime ($12). It is… spoiler alert: cliché… healing. And the borscht is a delight for caraway lovers. Both soups, just like the rose geranium plant that I continue to covet and will most likely purchase, are fragrant, and require focus and reflection.
“We still have so much vision for this place,” says Blades. “We’re constantly stretching that to see where it can go.”
For now, Botanica is keeping pretty strict café hours, but plans to extend beyond the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. window are already underway. Talk of opening the back patio at the first sign of warm weather, as well as opening the house for special evening events, is already on the proverbial wind. But for now, excellent coffee and soup will suffice.
34 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA
Open 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.