Serious Comfort: District Kitchen & Bar
By Nichole Dupont
It’s getting hard to keep the toes warm these days. Once the smell of wood smoke pervades the sky, and dry pine needles the ground, it’s time; we all know it’s time. So, I guess our recent jaunt into District Kitchen & Bar, Pittsfield’s latest homage to the gastro pub, couldn’t have come at a better time. A little freezing drizzle outside instantly evaporated off of our coats once we entered the West Street restaurant, which on a Friday night, was just packed enough to feel hopping yet welcoming, like we’d found the cool spot in deserted Gotham. While we waited for our table, my friend B and I ordered specialty drinks and admired the décor of the new digs.
“I never thought gunmetal gray could actually be a warm color,” she said looking at the dark painted walls. “And even the photographs are warm somehow.”
The larger-than-life, vibrantly creepy portraits by local photographer Eric Korenman adorn the long dining/bar area. Exposed copper piping, high ceilings and steel chairs all scream industrial, but decorative incandescent bulbs and non-intrusive overhead lighting give the place a Victorian warmth. The end result is a kind of non-pretentious steampunk that no one would outright call steampunk…perfect.
It’s hard to choose from the list of specialty drinks (all under $10) not only because District boasts a pretty healthy craft beer (from Ommegang to Left Hand Brewing) and wine list (Stag’s Leap, Oh Schist!), but also because all of the cocktails look pretty damn good. And flavorful, as if they too are to be contemplated. I end up with the Leaf Peeper, a bourbon and cider concoction with allspice dram and lemon. Despite the rocks, the drink is warming. B sips at a Door No. 3, an alchemical mix of silver rum and basil syrup. It’s fresh and simple. A palate cleanser for what’s to come.
If you’re familiar with Public eat + drink, District’s sister eatery in North Adams, then the Pittsfield menu will be like an old friend. It’s broken up into sections: smalls, mids, bigs, sides and desserts. It was hard for us to tackle the thing, only because everything looked so good, and like the signature cocktails, so creative. We settled on the cheese board ($16) and the tempura battered mixed mushrooms with chipotle aioli ($10).
Let me say this, I don’t normally order the cheese board because, well, I can do that at home. But this baby was magnificent, mostly thanks to the crisp lemon onions and the garlic jam, which was a surprising mix of sweet with the savory of garlic. The cherry compote was a nice tart touch as well, and we basically ignored the baguette and loaded small slices of creamy local cheeses—some aged, some soft, some potent—with the accompanying condiments until everything was gone. The mushrooms held their own, exploding under the crisp panko. There was a lot of finger-licking and exclamations about the onions and the garlic jam.
“I never thought I could like jam so much,” I said.
Our long focus on the smalls left just enough time for the “bigs” to arrive. I took a chance with the seared duck breast, factoring in the grease and the fact that it is waterfowl season and banking on fresh bird. I’m glad I took the risk, because this duck, while completely rich and Henry VIII-esque, was not greasy. In fact, it was perfect. I had to savor its presentation before I dove in, fork first (although the dish invited fingers, it really did) to the perfect meat, lightly covered with a fragrant apple-pomegranate sauce. Little potato balls mounded the side of the dish and were blended with a bacon (yes, I ate a little bacon for you people) shallot hash that was salty at first but dissolved on the tongue for a mild, crispy finish.
B ordered from what we thought was the mids section of the menu. What she got was a hearty, fall-off-the-bone short rib ($14) glazed with cider and flanked by a squash gratin that neither one of us will soon forget. It was the quintessential seasonal dish. Here was New England in a bite. Her orange hues, her apple tinged flavors, her warmth.
Of course, there was sadly no room for dessert — apple pie, pumpkin cheesecake, cider crème brulee — to finish off the experience, but we did just fine in the cold air after that meal.
District Kitchen & Bar
40 West Street, Pittsfield
Open Wednesday - Sunday from 4 p.m.