The Lantern Bar & Grill: A Treasured Pittsfield Tradition Returns
Best burger in the Berks? Possibly. Photo by Mary A. Nelen
Tartare and chips
Roasted carrot steak
These days, restaurants calling themselves “bar and grill” allude to the roughish appeal of having an actual grill where bar patrons can gaze at their burgers while guzzling beer. Modern fire regulations have relegated grills to the back — that was partially the reason for the demise of Pittsfield’s Lantern Bar and Grill last year — but at the new Lantern Bar and Grill circa February 2019, the roughish appeal is the real deal without the front grill.
From the outside, the decades-old establishment doesn't look much different than in the days when jazz music mingled with smoke from the grill tended by owner Mike Papas, who poured beer while waxing eloquently about Dizzy and Ella, and had only one waitress on staff.
The night I visited The Lantern it was still early but there was a line out the door before 6 p.m. The place has been recently re-opened after being closed for more than a year much to the consternation of the community who saw it as a beloved institution. News stories fueled opinion. Some folks missed the place because it represented the end of an era, a place where you could go with your buddies and leave the missus at home or nurse a hangover or listen to jazz music.
In the line, just inside the front door, was a high schooler wearing a basketball uniform under her jacket. She looked sweaty and hungry and said she had just gotten out of practice. But despite the cold weather and the fact that a table of 12 was taking its sweet time, she was happy, like everybody else in the place, that The Lantern had its lights on again. Through divine intervention, a local guy with a gourmet establishment in a nearby tourist town bought the place and shouted out to his peeps in the restaurant business: go forth and make the Lantern exactly as it was, but better.
Since Bjorn Somlo, the owner of Nudel in Lenox, stepped up, the neon is back on and Ray Stalker, formerly of Nudel, is on deck with grass-fed burgers, shrimp and grits, and fried pickles because, according to Stalker, “pickles are a thing in bars but I wanted to make them a good thing.” And so he did, with a version that's crisp, light and easy to inhale.
Out of all of the food I tried — the aforementioned shrimp grits, fried pickles, fried chicken and a very well-executed corned beef sandwich — the burger at the new Lantern is an ephiphany. (If you’re not doing meat, get the carrot steak, sublime.)
The meat is grass fed and local because this is now and we are in the Berkshires, but more importantly it is seared to perfection and very rare in the center, if you ask for it that way. The lettuce is a nice big piece of tasty greenery, the mayo is mayo, the onions are brined, the cheese is a white cheddar providing just the right amount of fat for a lean-ish burger. Instead of ketchup the burger is dressed with a tantalizing tomato jam, which is part one of the genius of this burger. Part two is the bun. It isn’t a fancy brioche bun (too filling) or a sourdough bun (healthy, but just too much bread). Instead, Stalker uses a sesame bun with a subtle crunch of seed and low profile flavor.
It should be mentioned that the perfect burger is made more perfect with fries, not hand cut fries, not bathed in goose fat, just plain fries, crispy on the outside, discernable potato on the inside. These fries are willing to be side men to a headliner of a burger.
Go to the Lantern because of the new menu. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion like a hangover or the desire to go somewhere without the missus. Go for the food, the expanded wine and beer lists, and most importantly, for the vibe of Mike Papas.
The Lantern Bar & Grill
455 North St., Pittsfield, MA
Monday – Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
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